Alert the media: I plucked my eyebrows today!
I tilted my head back, raised my chin and zoned in on the littered half-inch territory under my brow line. I then grabbed my bifocals and quivered with glee as I tugged almost 10 hairs loose from subcutaneous follicles.
You're probably wondering why I'm making such a big deal over a simple act of feminine grooming—an act usually associated with tearing eyes, reddened skin and facial wincing, rather than joy. Doesn't plucking hurt?, you might ask. Not nearly as much as not plucking, I'd reply.
Let me explain: For the first two years that I lived in New Hampshire, I devised means to keep myself alert while driving alone on endless rural roads. Drumming on the steering wheel, eating hard candies or bouncing my knee helped. Singing aloud also worked when I could find rock music on the radio, instead of country.
Then, one day while idly appraising myself in the rearview mirror at a red light, I noticed a chunk of hair missing from my right eyebrow. With one eye on the road and one eye on the mirror, I felt my life flash before my eyes. Could I really have a bald spot—a blank space like a sand trap in the midst of a well-groomed putting green? Surely, I was not going to lose my eyebrows and wind up with artificial semicircles drawn on my face like my grandmother or Olive Oyl.
In panic mode, I tried to recall the colors of eyebrow pencils in the Clinique displays. I convinced myself that they didn't make pencils in my colorless tone of dishwater blond. I screamed in my head, "I'm not old enough to be a cartoon character. I don't want black rainbows beneath blue hair perched above precariously drooping basset hound eyes. I'm too young for this."
For almost two years, I examined my eyebrows every time I looked into a mirror. I turned my head from side to side, raised and lowered my chin. I closed one eye, moved from sunlight into artificial light and back again. I remember emailing my older cousin. "My God, I think I'm losing my eyebrows." Wasn't it insulting enough that crows planted their footprints at the ends of my eyes; did they also have to peck out the hairs?
At meals, I watched my 13-year-old son's boyish, triangular shaped brows evolve into a thicker, darker, more distinct "manly" visage. I watched my two daughters' brows take shape as they tweezed them into flattering arches over beautiful eyes. I listened to their callous jokes about "unibrows" on hairy kids in school. My husband's brows grew bushier as more wild hairs broke loose from conformity, sticking up wildly out of line as though taunting me. "Look at us," they cried. "We don't have to lay flat in line any more. We are so wiry that we can poke out whenever and wherever we choose."
While watching "Breakfast at Tiffany's," I became mesmerized with Audrey Hepburn's thick, dark eyebrows. You could see the individual hairs, which had been carefully brushed up and outward in the close-ups. I recalled Elizabeth Taylor's blackened arches in "Cleopatra." My father once told me she had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen after a chance encounter in NYC. I remembered Doll McGowan assessing my 13-year-old brows in a soda shop in South Philadelphia.
"Your brows are almost a straight line," she said. "Mine are arched perfectly."
I tweezed my brows into graceful arches in defiance of her cruelty as soon as I got home that day. I labored over selecting which hairs to seek and destroy. I painstakingly tended those arcs for years and never noticed that I had to yank hairs less and less often. Even when I watched my mother-in-law "fill in" her brows, I never thought about my own. Until that day in the car, scanty brows were someone else's problem, not mine. I grew my bangs longer and gradually resigned myself to my newest deficiency.
Then, today I glanced into the rearview mirror to see if my mascara had smeared and spotted errant hairs. The sand traps had hairs and the missing chunk had returned home, too. Had the follicles moved from my now naked armpits up to my brows? I wasn't dead or dying after all. I plucked with glee. I trimmed my bangs. I laughed at an eyebrow joke.
I think I'll schedule an appointment for a waxing. Why should the young girls have all the fun?