A long time ago, someone who shall remain unidentified asked if he could finance little feminine excursions for me, facials and manicures. I stared at him uncomprehending before murmuring that I never got such things, thanking him, moving away to start sorting a load of laundry. He stuttered but dropped the subject. We never spoke of it again. I avoided his glance for an hour, hoping he would forget, wishing that he would not take my refusal as a personal affront but knowing that he likely would.
Women like me don’t feel we deserve those rituals of girlishness. Somewhere along the line, we’ve been given to understand that we should clip our nails and rub baby lotion on our sunburned arms. We might occasionally buy a tube of lipstick but it will later gather dust in a drawer. We’ll try it, once, an hour before dashing out to meet friends. We wipe it off and twist our hair on top of our head with bobby pins. We button our jackets over drab dresses and tie our shoes a little tighter before dashing to the car.
I started getting proper hair coloring a few years ago. I ran into Robert, who had once cut my hair, outside my office. “You look like hell,” he said. “I’m right next door, come and see me.” I peeked in the mirror later, stealthily, so nobody would notice. I had let my color go because I thought the box job seemed too brash. The grey looked worse, streaked and chunky amid the artificial red. Robert had been right, of course.
He made it all better, shaping the mess of curls, evening out the red, massaging the back of my neck and exclaiming over my latest divorce as though I’d been lucky to escape. I assured him it hadn’t been like that but he knew his loyalties. “Girl, you’re gorgeous now, never you mind about him. It’s his loss.” Paying him a hundred bucks every six weeks seemed substantially cheaper than therapy, and it came with a glass of cold white wine.
But Robert died; and I let the grey grow back until his parents sent out a form e-mail encouraging me to try Kelley Blond, who owned the salon where Robert had been working at the time of his sudden and tragic demise. It felt disloyal not to go. Her rates were a bit higher than his had been, but she was just as brash and just as spunky. Also cheaper than therapy, and she served coffee with Bailey’s. There was no denying that I still felt like an interloper in the world of real women, but Kelley made me welcome, even if I could never quite settle into the chair. I clutched my coffee cup and stared over its rim at the other women, with their unabashed cleavage and their firm round shoulders. They seemed so self-assured. I had no idea why that gene escaped me.
Once in a while, I thought about getting my nails done, but I type for a living and that seems like a waste. My feet though — there’s where the little indulgence could actually do some good. I snuck a pedicure once in a while, daring myself to enter that sulky sultry world. One time it came to disastrous ends. The woman used some kind of whirring tool and I bled for days. Another time, I paid seventy bucks with tip for a half hour’s work. My feet felt like silk but I walked around stunned for days. A hundred forty an hour to clip nails and smear a little oil on someone’s skin?
Today, I took myself into Rio Vista and surrendered to a Vietnamese woman who told me that her name was Kim. I didn’t believe her, of course — she spoke very little English in my presence, and her name could have been anything. It didn’t matter. I struggled trying to take off my shoes and socks. Kim knelt, quietly, with a sweetness that stunned me into silence, and slipped the socks from my feet, setting them inside the shoes after smoothing their curled edges.
She studied my feet for a few minutes before she began her work. I know what she saw. The condition is called “hammer toe”, and in me, it is complicated by arthritis. If that isn’t enough, the spasticity in my legs combined with the three ruptured disks in my lower back inhibits bending. Draw your own conclusions about the state of my feet.
She said nothing. She just went to work with a lightness of touch that I cannot do justice by attempting to describe. An angel’s kiss might come close, or the flickering of a butterfly’s wings.
She spent an hour working on my crippled toes and spastic feet. She held them with such soft hands, such tenderness. I could not stop the tears which formed in my eyes. I lowered my eyelids. The salty drops just barely trickled from behind my lashes. I don’t know if she saw. But I think she knew.
It’s the twentieth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.