I saw the back of her neck, first. And then just a brushstroke of her face. Her profile.
She stood in front of me in Starbucks this morning. (The one on Columbus and 66th Street, where skinny, manicured white people walk in with Hermes bags over their shoulders, holding the ever present identifier of the rich and important: blackberrys).
By contrast, she wore a wrinkled, linen skirt. I loved that it was wrinkled. Her light blue tank top was covered with pink rose buds. The profile of her face revealed an unplucked, full and uneven brow. When I saw that brow, I started to remember. Tiny white flower earrings adorned her ears. Here was a woman who did not exist on salad alone. Among all the shiny, unreal-looking toe nails, hers were unpainted.
Quicker than time, she caused a memory to flood me; one I didn’t know I’d forgotten: Being in the car with my parents, age 11, seeing white sheets blow on a clothesline in a town whose name wasn’t even on the map. My dog, who’d just jumped in the river, wet, sat in my lap in the back seat of the car, her tongue sticking out. I wore jean shorts and a polka dot bathing suit.
My father loved to drive my mother and I to different towns when I was a kid living in upstate New York. We’d get in the car, not knowing where we were going. We just drove. We stumbled upon wrap-around porches with people rocking, sipping ice tea, old covered bridges, teenagers swinging on tire swings, ice cream stands run by families who we laughed with and traded stories.
At that time, I did not not know that people plucked their eyebrows or got manicures. Did not know what botox was. My mother’s daily moisturizer was 99cent vaseline from the dollar store.
I loved these drives where we rolled down the windows and let the summer in. Where my father sang Louis Armstrong tunes and reached back to tickle me. Turned my mother’s face towards his to kiss him.
But, of course, I couldn’t wait to “get to New York City.”
And I did. I’ve been here fourteen years. I now stop and pause at the beauty of what is not airbrushed.
The wisps of her imperfect ponytail framing her neck this morning reminded me.