Labor of Love
By Erin Waters
Her slightly pale cheeks give off a rosy glow as the soft pink powder dusts her skin with each gentle stroke of the brush.
“Close your eyes,” I tell her, and proceed to swipe her dark eyelashes with a coat of Blackest Black mascara. Her eye twitches, and I barely avoid making a fatal slip that would leave her with a garish line of ebony down her freshly made up cheek.
“Hold still!” I scold her, and she apologizes, laughing. I swear, sometimes she is just like a little kid. But that’s what I love about her.
As I put the finishing touches on my masterpiece, my mind starts to wander and goes immediately back to a moment in my life that I will never forget.
I had come home from school in fourth grade an absolute wreck because a boy at my after school latch key program named John had called me fat. Looking back, I know that it was a typical, fourth grade boy taunt but at that time, such words were catastrophic to my nine-year-old ego. The instant I got home, I stood in front of the vanity mirror in my room, absolutely disgusted at the reflection staring back at me. Baby fat clung to my face, making my cheeks look like those of a chipmunk who was storing nuts away for the winter. In between childhood and puberty, my body was awkward and shapeless, nothing like the other girls in my class who still retained boyish, stick thin figures of childhood. Having recently lost the last of my baby teeth, irregular gaps in my mouth added to my displeasing appearance. John was right…and not only was I fat, I was the ugliest creature I had ever seen.
I remember sobbing in my mother’s arms, crying so hard that my words were coming out in staggered gasps and I had trouble breathing. She whispered words of comfort and reassurance but those did little to soothe my crushed pride. What she did next, however, was a miracle.
Without a word, she produced from the bathroom closet a set of unopened electric curlers I had received from my grandfather the previous Christmas, but due to my hair illiteracy, had never bothered to attempt. She set about rolling strands of my long hair around the warm coils, all the while attempting to convince me that John was nothing but a rotten little boy. Who knew, she offered, maybe his insult was really to cover up that he liked me. Boys would do that, she said, if they had a crush on you. But still, I would have none of it. If John said I was fat, then I was fat.
After a good half an hour her work was done. As I turned to the mirror, what I saw before me was nothing like the ugly duckling reflection I had seen shortly before. In place of it was a beautiful girl with gorgeous cascading curls flowing over her shoulders. Her cheeks were prettily flushed (although from forty-five minutes of crying, nevertheless, she thought it was pretty), and she smiled radiantly. The chipmunk cheeks were still there, as well as the gaps, but this time somehow, they weren’t ugly…they were cute. I looked like a beauty queen.
Now, I sit here and the roles are reversed. It’s been a month since my mom’s initial diagnosis, and only a week since she underwent a double mastectomy that ultimately saved her life. Never one to sit out for long, she has her very first visitor coming today and has asked me to help her get ready. She is unable to lift her arms up past her waist, and I find comfort in helping her. The last week has been rough for her and she has spent the majority of the time sleeping and trying to get well. Since her surgery, she has not had the energy or the drive to get ready. She is strong though, and wishes to appear that way.
As I spray her hair with a final coat of hair spray, she complains that I use too much, but I don’t mind. She looks in the mirror after I am done, and in her face, I see myself nine years ago on that miraculous day that she made me feel beautiful.
I wrote this story as a junior in high school. 2 short years later, my mom and best friend was re-diagnosed with the disease that doctors said had less than a 1% chance of returning. I am SO proud and happy to say that my mom is still here with us today. She helped me plan my wedding 2 years ago and is beyond excited to welcome my first baby and her first grandchild at the end of this month. I wish every girl could say the same, but unfortunately, the reality of the disease is real and not everybody is as lucky as my mom. I am happy and honored to support this cause and hopefully have a hand in keeping our mamas around for a long while!
To donate to my personal fundraising efforts this month, click here. Thank you!