The stubborn hair on my chin is just too short for my tweezers to reach, but thick enough I can feel it every time I touch my face.
These aren’t just any tweezers. These are crafted from the highest quality steel with a custom-slanted top and calibrated tension, as explained to me by the turquoise-lidded Sephora salesgirl. The Cadillac of tweezers, I’m told.
You see, I come from a long line of hairy women. We Hinson women tend to be thin, doe-eyed, but unfortunately quite shaggy. I’m talking bushy eyebrows, stubborn chin hair, even the rogue thick elbow hair. It’s a pain but adequate payment for a metabolism that allows for french fries at midnight. Even at 32.
And we know the importance of hair removal.
My mother didn’t tweeze. She would go to the strip mall on the corner. Lysa’s Nails was in the middle of an aging stretch of faded pink stucco wedged between a Subway and Bronze Bodies tanning salon. It offered manicures, waxing and “thearding,” which I hoped was a misspelling of threading but feared it to be yet another way in which women shelled out cash to be tortured. At $75 a session, it will forever remain a mystery to me.
Phuong, or “Phyllis,” as she would offer to struggling Southern tongues, would nervously giggle when my mother came to visit. “Been many days Ms. Barbara. Many days,” as she would buzz around my mother, taking her purse, testing the wax, humming the latest Taylor Swift ballad. Her warm garlic breath spilling onto the tiny strips of paper on my mother’s face to the tune of “Dear John.”
My mother would return to the house with rectangular strips of rosy pink under her eyebrows, lip and if it had been a while, parts of her chin. This would fade after a couple of hours to reveal her game face. She would be ready for the holidays.
You see, Phyllis was right. It had been “many days” since my mother’s last visit. Typically she would stop by Lysa’s nails a day or two before Christmas or Thanksgiving in anticipation of battle. At her mother’s. With her sister.
And when the family would gather for a holiday, my mother knew the Hinson women would notice her smooth face. She thought nothing else would matter. Not her slurred words. Or her shaky hands.
The game face would prepare her for such invasive questioning to include, “How are you?” “What have you been up to?” She did not have to say anything. Wasn’t the face enough?
And when her perfect sister with her perfect house and her perfect kids asked if she was sure she wanted another glass, asked her how she was getting home, she thought she had it covered. She thought she had them fooled.
In between holidays, she could relax. Carefully alternating between work and Chablis, her eyebrows a little bushier. Her whiskers a little longer. There were no questions. Only Phyllis would know.
I saw her for the last time at Dad’s funeral. The room filled with both his family and hers. Twice the amount of people to judge and inquire. But this time she wasn’t ready. There was no smooth face, no formerly rosy lips. I felt her long grey whiskers as I kissed her cheek. She was without armor. She had stopped fighting.
Six months later, I insisted the mortician wax her face. Of all of the decisions I had to make during that week – flowers, services, obituaries – it was the only one about which I was confident.
I continue to tweeze my face, the one that looks so much like my mother’s. So much so that now, in my thirties, I look in the mirror and she looks back at me.