The boar-bristled brush grumbled through the mess known as my hair with a minimum of pain on this bed-head morning. Looking at myself in the mirror with a resigned shrug, I pulled the somewhat tamed tresses into a haphazard ponytail and called it good enough. A little lipstick, a caress of brown eye-shadow, and a dusting of powder on my shiny nose. Socks, underwear, t-shirt, jeans. Done.
The morning air felt cold as I walked Booker. Even the sun seemed to be shivering a bit when I caught glimpses of it through the gauzy clouds. I forgave it for at least it was trying to cast a glow, a pseudo-warmth, as we made our zig-zaggy march up the road. As usual Booker had many pee-mails to catch up on along our route, and was particularly happy when he riled the neighbor’s boxer, Lily, into a barking frenzy as we walked by. Hunching my shoulders, I blew out a plume of breath and watched the swirls disappear into the day. It was a portent of my feelings, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Returning to the warmth of our kitchen, I took my knitted hat off and felt my bangs dance straight up in about ten different directions. Static is not known for being hair friendly. Hats aren’t either for that matter. Using my fingers as a comb, I made clawing diagonal motions through the greatest offenders before heading into town for a workout and errands.
As I drove home I caught a momentary reflection of my face in the rearview mirror. Yikes. I was a mess, and yet I had been willing to present myself that way as I went about my morning’s tasks. It occurred to me that this was a change over my former self, and felt I needed to thread it through a bit. Was I getting lazy or sloppy as I aged? Perhaps indifferent? No, those descriptions didn’t feel right. I do care how I look because I adamantly feel appearance represents how you feel about yourself. I come from this mindset through my genetics by the way. I can’t help it. My great-grandfather worked his fields in a three-piece suit. It wasn’t vanity or misguided fashion that drove him. He dressed as he did because after he left the fields in the morning he’d work in the post-office or the general store he had started. He was a gentleman farmer and dressed the part. If he didn’t see himself as successful why would folks want to do business with him?
So, if I care about how I look down to my German-Norwegian-Bohemian core, what was with the messy hair and minimal make-up? I ran words through my brain like fingers going through a mental dictionary-style rolodex. Was I feeling old, depressed, shoddy, or inconsequential? No, not really. And then, like the frosty breath I had blown out earlier that morning, I found my descriptor. I was feeling invisible.
Since puberty I’ve refused to get started in the morning without full make-up. I love the way make-up allows me to create my identity. Today I’ll be demure. Today I’ll be a bit brazen and go with a nearly red lipstick. Today I feel sparkly and will add a bit of gold to my eyelids. It’s harmless and fun and allows creativity when the world is feeling boringly routine. But this morning, as I thought about my day and how I wanted to dress, I had dismissed the errands as if I were alone.
More and more as I get older I find store clerks and bank tellers make little eye contact with me. I’m there, but I’m not. There’s a brief acknowledgement and then they go back to running the groceries through the peeping scanner or to slurping up my funds through the drive-through window. I’m hands and voice but not a connected whole. My younger self drew a lingering gaze, a compliment on my outfit, a potentially contrived conversation, but now it is a rarity.
When I blew out my breath this morning it was warm and moist in a cold environment. The forced air leaving my being created a pattern of fleur-de-lis that was worth the effort before it succumbed to the greater world. I’m still breathing, I’m still creating, and I’m still trying to have fun. Maybe I need to remind myself that I am not invisible and dress like I matter once again.