Caroline Watson's story, "Vaseline," is not only a finalist in the fiction contest, it's kind of about makeovers! (Yes, it is. Just go with it.) —Miss Marm
At the end of every drugstore checkout line is the woman contemplating her $39. 99 purchase of Olay Regenerist Skin Care Starter Trio Pack™. Therein lies the model of a woman I will never be.
Call me old-fashioned or call me $39.99/month richer, but here it is, The Truth: nothing touches my skin besides Vaseline. I don’t know what is best for you in life (e.g. if your crush is just a misunderstood bad boy like Ryan Attwood from The O.C. or a real Mel Gibson-type), but I can tell you about my relationship with skincare products. Hopefully in this story you will find a way to avoid the romantic misconnection, the medical bills, and tips on how to keep your face from looking like a mixed marshal arts student got into a fight with a sharp-clawed bear.
Growing up, I went to a K-8 school that permitted a pair of dime (or smaller) sized earrings…and that’s it. No nail polish, no trendy haircuts, and certainly no makeup. I’ve seen people get slapped on the wrist with a ruler for a lot less than an orange jawline that mismatched the neck of Allison Thompson and stained the collar of her uniform shirt. We were like boys that way; we had hormonal 6th grade braces lip-glossless smiles with blemished foreheads/cheeks/noses and no concealer. And also like boys, we learned nothing during this time about the proper practice and form of makeup application. Actually, boys had it better because they could wear their hair out of their face, while we were using relaxing creams in our humidity attacked, yet natural colored hair. These creams would smear across our pubescent cheeks all day and left blemishes on our jagged bang lines.
Also, I’m pretty sure all of the boys used Accutane (but that is a killer story for another day, my friends).
When I finally got to the normal kids’ non-tuition funded school (read: public school), I thought boys were going to see me as the face of innocence, a teenage pregnancy story waiting to happen. But alas, my lack of confidence in The Smokey Eye resulted in an eerie resemblance to their mothers in the morning (and no Oedipus Complexes to back me up!). Thus these growth spurting boys didn’t recognize me as a natural beauty. (NOTE: it’s not their fault! They were on Accutane and probably having some (suicidal) side effects impairing their judgment).
Brandon Anderson was the first friend I made on my own at the new school. I had the same class as him before lunch, and both of us were devastated to find that everyone else we knew had A lunch. Brandon Anderson caught my radar easily as a boy I could go out surfing with, stay up until midnight talking on his private phone line, and get to know on a deep level because he was a junior who (unfairly!) had to take Spanish I again, but more importantly he was 6’2” with aloe colored eyes, and I’m super deep like that.
Over vending machine purchased Coke products, I was shocking him with stories from my plaid skirt days (I know what boys like!) when he told me I had something on my face (or not). He went to wipe it off and like a Nerf Super Soaker™ surprise attack, the spot on my face shot fluids back at his unassuming finger.
Brandon had just popped a zit on my reluctant-to-master-the-art-of-flirting face. I bolted for the bathroom where I decided to spend the rest of B lunch.
That night, I cried to my sister, Katie, with whom I was sharing a room at the time. She told me that I’d probably never see him again cause people really do switch 3rd period if they don’t have the right lunch with the right upperclassmen.
“Should I switch then?” I said.
“No. You should get to know more people in your class,” she said. Then she closed her textbook and stood up. Grabbing my hand, she pulled me into our (also) shared bathroom, sitting me down on the counter next to the sink.
She pulled my hair into a tight ponytail.
“OW!” I said and slapped her hand and weapon (read: comb) out of my hair. She ignored me and continued to pull. With pity on her little sister, she gave me a quick tutorial about patching up my acne and under eye circles with concealer.
There were certain techniques to apply each layer on my virginal skin, like ways to blend, and places where shadows and light can work to my benefit. I thought we were having a real sisterly moment, but then Katie barked at me when I was using too much of her expensive brands during this free tutorial. We finished up with eyeliner and mascara. The Smokey Eye would have to wait.
“People don’t usually use that for day-to-day,” Katie said.
She went to our room and turned off the light. I washed my face with her Proactive 1. Then I applied the Toner 2 and the Lotion 3 (so easy to follow!), but I still worried about the sun damage, the freckles, and my koala bear under-eye circles! Now that I was really looking at myself I couldn’t imagine this reflection ever being beautiful, so I went to town on the nasty, polluted, face of mine. I used more toner, masks, blackhead remover strips, and a prescription level under-eye bleacher, meanwhile picking away at old scars and spores (the tiny spots on my face too big and disgusting to be called “pores”) to become the face of innocence by the end of my first therapy session.
What seemed like only minutes later, the door opened my sister was screaming, “YOU’RE SUCH A BITCH!” Pushing armfuls of expensive creams and moisturizers and sunscreens and blemish treaters into the drawer I’d turned upside down somewhere between hour 2 and 3 of my frenzy.
“Do you know how much this shit costs?” She turned off the light while I fumbled down from the counter, hitting my leg on the faucet, thinking about what kind of cream there might be for a bruise. It had been 4 hours since I’d sought my sister’s advice. It was 1 am, I hadn’t started my homework, and my face looked like an insolent kitten had scratched me with purpose to kill. I crawled into bed, ignoring the itchy sensations on my cheeks and fell asleep.
The next thing I remembered was feeling a needle enter “the dirty, dirty drug spot” in my double-jointed arm, and the shrieks and screams of my sister. Or was it my mom? My dad? Or the paramedics?
I appeared to be on a gurney, but I remember thinking that there was no way the rescue workers were keeping me safe by yelling so much. My head hurt from the bright lights and the screaming. I just wanted some Tylenol.
EMTs were screaming, “WE NEED 200 CC’S!” “SHE’S LOSING BLOOD!” and stuff like that right into my ear. Like an angel heading toward the white light, I fell asleep peacefully.
Something like 26 hours later, I woke up to find out it was Saturday. I’d had a reaction to one of the numerous skin treatments I’d self-medicated with and reached a poisonous level of Alpha Hydroxy Acids, and numerous other toxicities. Not to mention the fact that the zit whisked off of my face during lunch left an open sore for the deadly ointment to enter my bloodstream directly—or something like that. Maybe you’re a doctor and you can tell me how this works.
I laid in the sterile white twin-size bed for two more days as my stats went from “Not good” to “Honey how could you be so self-conscious?” to “You know we think you’re beautiful just the way you are” to “You’re going to have to work to pay off these medical bills. Insurance doesn’t cover stupidity.”
After the doctors released me, and the antibiotics seemed help me stop itching like a flea-infested Pug, I was released from my quarantine.
Back at school, I kept my lunch schedule. So did Brandon Anderson. It was time for me to face the other hormonal teens that were also worrying about their spores and koala bear under-eye circles.
I had cost the whole family a few nights in the hospital with me, so I knew I needed to make it right. That’s why I called each skin care product helpline and informed them of my new (and so unfortunate) hospital bill. Each operator thought I was threatening them with a lawsuit, so they sent me hundreds of samples of their new products to test (which I gave to my sister) and enough hush money to cover the hospital bills and to leave me to my new routine of the same, simple product my mom used on me as a baby: Vaseline.
Brandon and I never became anything but two people who shared Cokes during lunch my first semester of high school. But with the help of a little blue-lidded petroleum jelly, I now get compliments on my skin all the time!
Thoughts on/suggestions for Caroline's story? Leave them, constructively and kindly, below!
Previous finalist: An Allergy-Based Love Story