Let Me Clarify #3: Unsolicited Advice by Genia Blum

Don’t Forget the Lipstick

If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack.
—Coco Chanel

In seventh grade, I fell under the spell of a perky blonde whose come-hither tongue caressed her glossy lips in a full-page ad in Seventeen Magazine, a periodical approved by my parents, at a time when no one objected to this kind of copy:

Cutex Forbidden Fruits look delicious, taste delicious—and so do the girls who wear them. Could you ask for a newer, cooler way to collect men?

Flavored lipstick! During lunch break, when the nuns at Immaculate Heart of Mary School weren’t paying attention, I snuck off to Woolworths on Winnipeg’s Selkirk Avenue, and bought a shade called “Caramel Kiss.” The subtle color was barely visible on my lips, but its luscious, buttery, burnt-sugar aroma was so intense that it led to my fantasizing about being kissed on the mouth by a boy one day. The following week, I purchased a Maybelline eyeliner pencil and applied it in the school washroom. Sister Ruth intercepted me as I exited, dragged me back in and rubbed my eyes with toilet paper, and forced me to scrub my face with soap from the dispenser.

“If God had intended for you to have black circles around your eyes, he’d have made you that way.”

A few years later, I was a student at River East Collegiate, and no longer hampered by the strict rules of the barefaced nuns. Advanced experiments with eye shadow and lipstick led directly to actual kissing and other experiments with a real boyfriend named Jack who broke my heart in twelfth grade. I stopped studying and didn’t graduate from high school.

I forgot about Jack, became a ballet dancer, married, moved to Europe, performed onstage, and hid my unhappiness under layers of Leichner greasepaint and Max Factor Pan-Cake Makeup. A decade passed. I divorced.

Several summers before meeting my second husband, I visited my widowed father in Winnipeg. One evening he asked me to accompany him to the supermarket and since I’d just showered in preparation for watching TV in bed, I reapplied all the makeup I’d washed away. I blew out my damp hair, put on a silky skirt and top, added a silver necklace and, already completely over-groomed for a casual trip to a Canadian strip mall, painted my mouth a bright, cherry red.

At the air-conditioned Loblaws, we filled a jumbo cart with groceries, and waited for the cashier to scrutinize our purchases—which she did with exquisite deliberation, sighing over each item before entering its price in the till, bidding it a reluctant farewell, following it with her eyes on its slow slide toward a young clerk doing the bagging. While my father paid, I observed the other customers: everyone seemed to be in baggy tees and rubber flip-flops; a few women even had their hair in curlers. Why had I wasted so much time primping?

A man entered the store: slim, bearded, heavy-rimmed glasses slipping halfway down a short nose. He stared, and started walking toward me.

It was Jack.

And I looked fabulous.

Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian dancer, writer and translator. Her literary work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. When not writing her memoir, Escape Artists, she tweaks fonts and photos on her website geniablum.com, and haunts Twitter and Instagram as @geniablum.

"Let Me Clarify: Unsolicited Advice by Genia Blum" a series of short pieces, based on Blum's personal opinion and experience.

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