youth and all its glory
I sat in front of my computer on Sunday of last week, staring at the blank page that was awaiting my words of wisdom. I had the sudden urge to explore the abrupt devotion to collagen by many of my acquaintances. Women in their late forties and surprisingly enough, in their early thirties, were overly infatuated with erasing the signs of history and age on their faces. I had no qualm why it had become such a trend; people all over the world have been looking for the latest working treatment against wrinkles and skin elasticity. Some were even considering cutting their face in order to look young and beautiful. What is it about looking young that has women and even men completely engaged? Is it the fear of death being too close, or is it the resiliency of giving up to all those beautiful young women and men making their way into the world?
You can’t go anywhere in New York without hearing about the infamous collagen treatment. The word was so easily thrown around and praised, that I had to go and check it out for myself. I made an appointment early Monday morning and was scheduled for a check-up the same week. The night before my bulb was to be lit, I stared at my reflection. My skin was as tight and supple as an eight year old. The fine lines under my eyes had always been there and were part of my so-called beauty. I gently caressed my youthful, soft skin and rejoiced in knowing that the doctor would absolutely insist on me rescinding the surgery. I dressed exquisitely the next morning. I had my hair pulled back in a French bun, revealing my childlike features and youthful visage. My white blouse was light enough to allow in the cool breeze I was sure would violate my exposed chest. I squeezed into my old high school jeans and enclosed my unpolished feet in black pumps. I was ready to go and take on the world of cosmetic surgery.
I arrived in Dr. Greenburg’s polished office and immediately felt the burn of the many stares fixated on me. I strutted myself to the receptionist’s desk and asked about my appointment. “If you would please fill out this form Miss Lange, Dr. Greenberg will be with you in a mere moment.” She had a soft welcoming voice. She seemed reserved, definitely not the kind of woman one would associate with cosmetic surgery. I took the clipboard from her and made my way to an empty seat near the window. As I looked at the form, the bad memories of working in a health clinic as a sophomore in college rushed like the waves of Niagara Falls . I hated doing any type of paperwork. Why do they need to know my height? What does that have to do with injecting animal protein in my face? I occasionally glanced up at some women sitting in the brownstone clinic waiting to look and feel young again. One woman had a shawl around her shoulders with a Hermes bag next to her. She was a petite older woman, probably in her fifties. Her feeble fingers were tightly griping the pages of this month’s Vogue. Her round face was engulfed with strands of blonde hair. Her mannerism indicated that she was undoubtedly a housewife, trying to please her husband. Her unbelievably pointy nose and full lips showed the marks of her being here once or maybe twice before. She shot me a quick look which directed my attention to another woman who was sitting across from me. She seemed fatigued and impatient as she shook her leg persistently, looking at the receptionist. She had long flowing black hair, held back with this season’s Mark Jacob’s shades. Her eyes seemed overly tired and her hands looked rough and overworked. There was the single mother, with her two kids who were shockingly quiet. I studied everyone around me; they were all older women, some clearly in early thirties and late twenties. They all looked stunning and extremely rich. Their Chanel and Prada suits were embellished by beautiful custom made jewelry.
“How long will I have to wait?” I asked as I handed her the form. “Not very long, the doctor should be with you shortly.” I looked around some more, and began to notice how upscale this office was compared to my gynecologist’s. The fine marble floor sparkled, revealing the prisms of light reflected from the large chandelier above. The glass table seemed untouched, and had various editions of Vogue and Cosmopolitan neatly arranged. A sweet fragrance lingered, giving the room a sense of calmness and beguiling beauty. “Miss Lange, the doctor is ready to see you now, follow me.” I followed her carefully into a wonderfully kept room. She pointed to a brown leather chair, and left me standing in front of the most beautiful man I had seen since Sebastian, a model I dated back in college. He was definitely too gorgeous to be a surgeon, he instead, belonged on the cover of Men’s Vogue. “Hello Miss Lange, please have a seat.” His voice sent echoes in my exposed ears. For a moment I hated myself for putting my hair in a bun, I have always been told that I looked sexier with long flowing curls. “Thank you sir..umm, I mean Dr.” Why do I get so nervous in front of sexy accomplished men? He got up from his rolling chair and took a seat on his desk directly positioning himself in front of me. “You are here for a collagen treatment?” his eyes were lost in my paperwork. Damn forms, I hope I didn’t write anything too embarrassing or revealing that could turn him off. “Yes I am, I want to look stunning for an event I’m hosting downtown.” I cleared my throat as the lie tickled its way out. “Well let’s have a look, shall we?” His abrupt movements to move my chair close to him sent my heart on an escapade. I was sure he felt the uneasiness in my demeanor. He immediately let go and approached my face slowly. He caressed my skin with his thick fingers and to my surprise, suggested to do the corners of my mouth, the arch of my left eyebrow, and glabella. I shot him a shocking stare; he didn’t even notice. He was too busy finding more imperfections on my small face. “Are you sure? I thought maybe just the areas around my mouth...” He nodded as to dismiss me completely. “There are definitely some other areas that need work too. A few injections here and there and we’ll have you looking absolutely gorgeous for your event.” He said as he touched my shoulder. I followed his hand as it made its way to my neck. I turned to look at him still shocked. “Thank you…” I replied, not knowing how to respond to such an insult. I was completely overwhelmed. “I have an opening for next Tuesday, my assistant will put you in.” I looked up at the beautiful face and felt like I had been crushed by a massive tree. His beautiful coffee eyes no longer sent a rush through my spine but elevated a hate that was slowly forming in my stomach. How could this be? Does he really think that I need the treatment? Was my skin starting to lose its essence? Am I staring to look old? As a bubble filled with questions formed over my head, I started to realize why it became so important to look young. It was our own need to be perfect, because in this world, in our society perfection is forced on us!
I called my friends and explained my shameful visit. We met for a quick lunch at Antique to discuss my unflattering morning adventure.
“I’m telling you, it was like taking a bullet. I’m twenty two! What am I going to hear when I’m thirty? That I need a facelift or a whole body lift? Is it even possible to have a body lift?” we laughed as we devoured our burgers. “Wouldn’t be surprised if one could, but you have to understand that it’s also a business. They’re in it to make money; they’re there to tell you your flaws, not your perfect features. How would they ever make money if they turned away clients?” Catherine was right, but for some reason it hadn’t helped, especially when Damien had asked me why I was there in the first place. “I was doing research; why else would I be there? Unless you too think I need some work done.” I felt my eyes bulge out of their sockets as I burned Damien’s face with an angry stare. “I was only asking; please draw your horns satan." I let my hands catch my face as I let out a loud sigh. “No wonder why women are so self conscious, it’s because of bastards like Dr. Greenburg, sitting in his expansive leather chair, with his handsome face and beautifully coiffed hair telling us we’re not good the way we are! You guys should have seen them, they were all so beautiful, and they definitely do not need surgery.”
“How do you know that surgery didn’t produce the beautiful faces you saw?” It was just like Damien to say something absolutely correct when you least expected it. He bit into his burger and winked. He was probably right; they did look quite made-up as they waited patiently with their overpriced bags and shoes. And there was that lady with an engorged chest, it looked quite painful. “Are you gonna go through with it?” Catherine’s question hung above the table like a dark cloud as I found myself looking for an answer. “The things you gotta do in the name of research.” I teased. “That’s my girl! When’s your next rendezvous with your handsome surgeon?” I knew why Damien was so ecstatic, he had been thinking about getting a collagen treatment for a few months now. He wasn’t against anything that could make him look refreshed and polished. “Next Tuesday, you wanna come?”
“Oh poop, I have a meeting with a client on Tuesday. This woman has a stick so deep in her butt that if I cancel she’ll probably eat me and wipe her lips with my unswallowed remains.” Damien was an event coordinator at Perse, and always had crazy self-absorbing clients he ragged about over lunch and dinner. “I’ll let you guys know how it goes. I have to go; I have a phone call at three with the Villas in Buffalo.”
“I still can’t believe you are leaving us for cow country.” Catherine said.
“I know, I know but it’s only for a few months.” i replied, still shocked that i was leaving my home and friends to go to a place unknown to humanity, at least to us New Yorkers.
“A few months, you’re staying for a whole year! You are basically abandoning your wonderful life to go live in God knows where, to do some stupid research on a cemetery.” Forest Lawn was not just any cemetery. It had some interesting buzz late last year, about a distinct light that appears twice a year. The locals were getting married during those two days, hoping to enhance their chance at happiness. My Editor at Essence had asked me to look into. I jumped at the offer and started to pack the minute Julian and I broke up.
“You guys can come visit, it will be nice to breathe some clean country air, you know purify your lungs a bit.” I tried to polish the place as much as I could but none of them were even moved by the desperate tone in my voice. “No thank you, I’d rather stay here with Mrs. Stick in the butt.” Laughed Damien.
I left Antique with the same cloud above my head. I no longer felt stunning as I did this morning; my beautiful shoes had become my enemy. I had a constant desire to take them off. The wind was now cold and ill-tempered as it made its way effortlessly through my shirt. I got home and talked to the owner of my next haven in Buffalo . “Everything will be ready for you to move in next month.” The woman sounded happy. She was probably in her 50’s and probably had no work done and yet had the most serene joy in her voice. I chased away all thoughts of Dr. Greenburg and his fatal comments and started a new mystery book by my favorite author, Mary Higgins Clark.
It was now late in the afternoon and, like a couple of bad habits, those nasty thoughts had made their way back in my head. What did he mean I would look stunning for the event? Was I not sunning this morning? I had dressed to the teeth, I felt great! How could he be so insensitive as to point out flaws I had carefully searched for the night before? I ran to the bathroom to inspect my face. Like a poisonous tongue, his words disheveled my perfect skin. All I could see now, were lines that were not there and opened pores I had not noticed before. What was happening to me? I turned off the light and thought about how manipulating the surgery world could be. In an effort to look beautiful and perfect, women all over the world were going under the knife. I know it was a simple injection, but deep down I knew it wouldn’t be right. Would I feel the same afterwards? However, I needed to do it in order to write my article and also to put it all behind me and feel great about myself again.
A whole week had gone by and the thoughts were growing like a malignant tumor. I had now convinced myself that I had to do it. My face seemed faint and no longer fresh. I was finding new imperfections every day. “Damien I’m obsessed! I can’t stop staring at my face!” Damien answered the phone half asleep and muttered something before hanging up. Furious, I started to dial his number, until the phone rang. It was Sebastian! I felt a massive wave of joy engulf my entire body.
“Sebastian, to what do I owe this honor?” I said nonchalantly.
“You mean to whom. My mother saw you coming out of Dr. Greenburg’s office Monday morning. She told me you looked even lovelier than your picture in the newspaper. I had to call and see if I could see for myself.” His obvious smile embellished his blunt response. I felt my cheeks flush as I thought of him knowing that I had gone to see Dr. Greenburg. “You haven’t changed a bit, still as arrogant as always.” I answered, hoping he wouldn’t ask about my reasons for seeing a cosmetic surgeon. “Tell your mother I said thank you, for the compliment.” As I formed the words with my naked lips, the inevitable happened. “Say, what were you doing there anyway?” I paused and stared at the undecorated wall my desk was so carefully pushed against; my mouth slightly opened in awe. “I was there with a friend. I’m doing some research on collagen treatment and its benefits for my next article.” I applauded myself, relieved and sure that it was the best response I could give. “Well, good luck with that. Listen, I would love to see you before I go back to London . I miss you Babsi.” His voice awoke an unimaginable lust for his lips I had been keeping safely locked since we last met a year ago. “Well sure, just let me know, it would be great to catch up.” I said the words knowing that the day would never come. “What about tonight? Are you free?” Not knowing what to say I let the pause take over the conversation. It had now turned into pure silence and was rapidly becoming overbearing. I was not ready to see Sebastian; I was not up for it. “Barbara, are you there?” His voice echoed through the phone. “Yes, sorry... Yes, I can meet you tonight.” The words flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to process their possible outcome. “Ok great. How about Botanica, on 47th east Houston in an hour?”
“Sounds great, See you in an hour” I hung up the phone still staring at the empty wall. I rushed to the bathroom took a quick shower and pulled out every dress in my closet. I was in desperate need of Damien’s undying devotion to fashion.
“What? Will you stop calling me? Some people have to work tomorrow morning.”
“Damien, Sebastian called, I’m meeting him in a half hour. I’m freaking out! I don’t know what to wear!”
“Ok, calm down. I won’t have time to come over. Do you still have that black lace Prada dress you got from Tokyo last year? The short one that hug your hips.”
“Oh Damien, you’re a genius! I forgot I had that dress.” I screamed ecstatically.
“You can never go wrong with Prada. Wear the pumps you had on the day of your surgery fiasco and you’ll have him eating out of you palm, literally. Now, let me sleep in peace cruella.” Damien spoke in a monotone voice, yet i couldn't stop myself from babbling on.
“Oh my God, I hope I don’t fall walking in. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be? The first time I’m seeing him in a year and I fly across the room while my shoes go the other direction. I can vividly imagine him laughing at me. Or he’s probably gonna ask me to come back to his place. Oh my God! What if he asks me to come back to his place? I haven’t had sex in so long, I’m gonna be bad at it!” The image of me trying to take off Sebastian's shirt and not succeeding was now all I could see.
“Barbara, have fun, and I want details tomorrow, and no you’re not gonna fall. You’re gonna look stunning and poised and you’re gonna remind him how sexy you can be. Now please let me go to sleep, I have a meeting with Mrs. Jensen at 8, have a heart. He said pleadingly. I hung up with Damien, quickly did my make-up, put my dress and shoes on and was ready to go.
I walked in the bar, poised as Damien had anticipated. I felt like a million bucks. I saw his slender, gorgeous body made his way towards me. His brown hair was, as usual, coiffed back, and his defined jaw was impeccable just like I remembered. He took me in his arms, my nose brushed against his black shirt and i took in his sweet scent. He was definitely handsome. “You are looking as sexy as ever?” he said as he undressed me with his blue eyes. I felt a little uncomfortable but instantly chased all bad thoughts away. I wanted to enjoy this evening. “So, how are you?” he asked as we both took our seat at the bar. “I’m good, just trying to keep up with the magazine, it’s becoming more tedious to work with Nancy.” I answered still nervous. “Yeah, I saw Cat the other day, and she told me you were moving to Buffalo to do a story on Forest Lawn Cemetery .”
“Yes, I make the big move next month. I’m still not sure why I accepted the offer.” I replied as I took the drink he had ordered for me. He still remembered my favorite drink, a cold glass of strawberry Mojito. “I always knew you were gonna be alright kid. I mean look at you! You’re gorgeous, successful and the most amazing young woman I’ve ever met.” His eyes sparkled as he looked at me. His gaze awoke millions of butterflies in my stomach ; I could’ve sworn my head was visibly growing. “Oh stop it! You’re exaggerating. What about you, I heard you landed the cover of GQ as the most successful man under thirty. The girls at the magazine were gushing about it last week.” “Well at twenty seven I had to do something to surpass you.” He laughed. I couldn’t believe I was once again sitting in front of him. After a couple of drinks we found ourselves talking about us skinny dipping in Lake Tahoe one summer and how great we were in bed together. “You never fail to amaze me Sebastian.” I said smiling, and it was the truth. He was the youngest lawyer at his firm and managed to keep his contract with Elite models. His last editorial spread for Vogue landed him the cover spot for GQ. We talked the whole night and laughed as we reminisced and talked of the future. We were one of the last people to leave the bar. He hailed for a taxi and gave me a kiss on my neck, his signature move. I got in the cab then looked up at him, he was leaning against the cab as he said, “Until next time my fair lady.” "Still a Audrey Hepburn fanatic?" "Audrey is like a Chanel perfume, she never goes out of style." Ouu how i love when he winks at me. My heart flutters everytime that man is around, i should really think about moving to London.
The next day, I woke up with a vivid memory of Sebastian’s smile. I had no memory of anything before last night. I spent the whole afternoon telling Damien and my friend Jacquie about the flawless night. Not once had Dr. Greenburg flashed in my mind. I was happy and truly grateful, for Sebastian had done the unthinkable. He had returned me to my fabulous, natural self. When I got home after lunch, I looked in the mirror and found no lines. My face looked marvelous, almost flawless; which was ok with me. I then wondered why I had been so driven to believe that I needed the treatment, because in all truthfulness, I didn’t. I was fine, and the same as before. I had imagined all the imperfections that Dr. Greenburg had so carefully pointed out.
Do women truly feel the need for surgery or are they pushed towards it by their friends, doctors and by society?
I went in the office, looking stunning; at least to my standards. I let my hair hang freely around my shoulders. I wore a long white linen dress I had gotten on a trip to the Bahamas. i topped it with my favorite green sandals . I filled out the paperwork and looked around to see the many faces that were waiting to be checked, flawed and those who were ready to go plastic. It was soon my turn to be seen. I walked in the room and examined the beautiful floral sheet that neatly covered the bed. “You can just lie down and relax; Dr. Greenburg will be right with you.” His assistant was sweet just like last time. Dr. Greenburg walked in and told me exactly what he was going to do. I’m just going to insert the needle, it will not hurt. It’ll feel like a mosquito bite.” I listened to his soothing voice and realized I didn’t want to be here. “Stop! I don’t think this is for me. ” I yelled. He stepped back as I sat up and grabbed my purse. He looked confused. “Is everything ok Miss Lange?” he asked still confused. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this, it’s not me. I am twenty two years old, my skin is still firm. Maybe in a few years I’ll be back, but for now I gotta get the hell out of here.” I buried my purse in my arms and ran out of the room as fast as i could.
He stood back in disbelief and didn’t utter a word. I ran out of the elegant office without looking back. The minute I got out, I felt as if a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulder. I felt fabulous. I smiled as I thought of the scene and how Dr. Greenburg was probably still in shock. I let the wind caress my untouched face and knew that I had done the right thing. I walked a few blocks before I took a taxi to Pastis; Cat and Damien were undoubtedly impatiently waiting to see my new improved face. I arrived at our regular table and kept smiling without saying a word. “Well, how was it?” asked Catherine anxiously waiting for an answer. “You tell me, don’t I look fabulous?” I replied still smiling. “Girl, you look great!” exclaimed Damien. “It's the best thing I've ever done. It was refreshing just like the ads say.” I closed my eyes as I whispered the words against the wind. “I’m putting an appointment with Dr. Greenburg as soon as we’re done here.” Damien exclaimed as he allowed his excitement to conceal his appetite.
“I walked out of his office free. Free of Collagen and free of guilt”
“Wait, you didn’t do it?” Damien was shocked at my reply.
“Nope, I just couldn’t” I said looking at both of them.
“What? How are you gonna write your article then, your deadline is in three days.” Catherine seemed to be even more surprised than Damien.
“You had me fooled! What the hell did you do to your face then?” Asked Damien disappointed.
“The usual stuff, Aveeno cleanser, moisturizer, and foundation.” I couldn't stop smiling.
“I don’t believe this! So how are you writing your article then?” Catherine asked again.”
“Well I’m sure Damien wouldn’t mind a free collagen treatment tomorrow at noon.”
“The things you gotta do in the name of research.” He replied with the biggest smile.
The wind frequently lifted my dress as I sat across my two best friends having a normal conversation, about injections. I somehow had a feeling that a group of women and men somewhere, were having the same one. After Pastis, I went home to my almost empty apartment and thought about the past week and wondered if Buffalo would have as many spontaneous adventures awaiting me as New York always did. I took a seat near my window and let the wind touch my face, knowing it was flawless and beautiful. I was, once again the fabulous old me, comfortable enough to not sit across my bathroom mirror, and confident enough to face the beauties of Manhattan .