put on your war paint.

My mother taught me about red lipstick.

Not in a tutorial type way, but strictly observational.

No matter what our house or family was going through, the mornings were always the same – my mother, sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee and toast and an open, blue glitter Caboodles make-up case in front of her. Specks of foundation and powder caked the corners of her mirror, framing her face in a thin halo of ivory-beige dust.

Some days she looked tired than others, thoughts weighing heavy on her mind, decisions on her shoulders. I would watch, either through my periphery when reading a book or from the brim of my own morning mug. There was calculation behind the art form, care put into every crease. When the blue case closed, she’d walk back into her room and come out moments later wearing a powerful suit – she was the boss and she knew it but she never flaunted. It exuded from her, an aura of subtle confidence sharpened by years of struggle.

The last thing she did was apply her lipstick. It was her way of kissing the morning and wishing it well. There were shades of blue-reds, brick reds, crimsons, and coral reds, some bright as a rose, others subdued even on her alabaster skin. In comparison, I never thought my olive pallor would work, even if I had tried. I couldn’t get away with something that fierce. My Cherry LipSmacker was the closest I came to daring. I tucked my books away into my bag and hung my head low, eyes quickly darting to the sidewalk, wondering if I could ever be that strong. It wasn’t until a couple a few years ago that I braved my first shade.

My mother suffered and overcame many things in life, all while working a demanding job with three kids, one of which had a learning disability. For the majority of our childhoods, she did this alone. We suffered too, but always had her to lean on. It wasn’t until I recently became a parent myself that I truly understand the weight of that. But everyday, without fail, she put on that red lipstick and strived to be the best that she could, not only for us, but for herself. In a way, we were her shoulders too. And in the close of the first Act of our lives, she sees our success as hers. She left everything behind – her home, her family, her friends – to start a life here, and while it wasn’t necessarily the life she expected, it was the one that she herself built.

There are many things that stand to her character – no small, pocket size object could every truly symbolize all that she is worth, but to me, that tube of crimson or coral or brick red always reminds me of strength, power, respect, kindness, laughter, confidence and overwhelming love. And so, I break out my small drawer of reds and long for the day that my daughter will watch me while I tell her stories – of what life and dreams can be like and the strength she holds to pursue them.

 

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“If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack.” – Coco Chanel

 

 

 

Thirty One.

I don’t like odd numbers.

Something ticks in my brain with an unusual discomfort, an itch I can’t scratch. The OCD sneaks its hands on the reins and pulls every so often, reminding me that there are 364 days left of this feeling, 364 days until we’re back at something divisible.

It was my birthday last week. I’ve never been fond of it. Since the Dreaded 17th Year, I’m not one who’s particularly prone to celebrate it. I wake up in the morning, I kiss my husband, I put on the prettiest earrings I own at the time, I fake smile in the mirror. My nose twitches. My skin is usually picked over and scarred again at this point of the year – I’ve gotten the hang of finding better make-up that doesn’t look too caked when I try to hide the spots. However, the weather is dry and hormones are unforgiving.

This year, I’m 8 months pregnant and severely sleep deprived. The earrings went on but the smile did not. I take my morning medication medley, feel the push under my ribs and try not to trip over cats on the way to the kitchen. I make coffee like any other day when I commute. I work the day away trying not to think about getting older but reminiscing at the days when Facebook didn’t exist and your phone was actually ringing off the hook from family members calling you. All of the emojis in the world cannot replace their voice, let alone their physical presence.

I ate as much pizza and cookies as I – or the fetus rather – could fit, which still wasn’t enough. I keep imagining what it would be like to sleep for an entire night undisturbed. I know it’s just the beginning. I relish in the times that I can get more than 3 or 4 hours at a time.

Apparently, 31 is starting off on complaint mode.

There are good things, of course. I’m a published author and encouraging words from readers have helped keep me motivated when other situations, more so physical, have not done nearly as much. Renewed friendships and validations for actions in the past have brought me emotional closure when I needed it most. I’ve caught up with a lot of reading, while still drowning in the stack of books on my nightstand. I welcome the anticipatory stares of the hardcovers that have waited so patiently for me to get back to flipping pages. My mother visited me for the first time since I moved to Oklahoma City and, unbeknownst to me, was a huge conspirator in the planning of a surprise baby shower. It was one of the busiest, but best weekends of my life. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so much love in one room. It gave me a renewed vigor to see these last 6 weeks through.

Perhaps that renewed vigor will last through postpartum. I have ideas and plans, characters gestating in my head, excited to be brought into the world. In the meantime, I am working on Dee’s comeback, the second side of her mix tape starting to to bleed through the speakers. It will all come together. Perhaps maternity will be a motivator. Perhaps I will learn to work through the insomnia and exhaustion. Perhaps I will just cry it all out until the words find their way through my fingers. Either way, I’m reassuring myself that it won’t stop. The stories can’t stop – they are my children as well.

Perhaps the combined experiences will make this year less odd despite the number; you never know – it could be the best year yet.