“You’re a beautiful girl, but you make yourself up badly,” my cousin tells me in the moonlight hanging above Strasbourg. It couldn’t have been a more brutal time to tell me, considering that the best lighting is moonlighting, so she must have really thought I looked like shit to tell me such a thing. That she prefaced it with: “Can I tell you something without you getting offended, like your sister would?” only further painted me into a corner, for she knew I hated to be compared to my sister in any way. So naturally I said, “Of course you can, what is it?”
It was then that she laid into me with the critiques, starting with that comment about my ill-drawn makeup. And here I thought I had somewhat improved since the high school days of Wet ‘n Wild. But no, she condemned my eyeshadow blending, told me my foundation was the wrong color and then proceeded to suggest that I might be better off not bothering with makeup at all if it was so difficult to handle. I nodded in silence while also doing my best to exude an affable expression so as to assure her that she hadn’t, as she thought she would, offend me. Not that she seemed to really care based on the severity of her harsh delivery. I, fortunately and unfortunately, was accustomed to her rapier-like verbiage, in that I had witnessed it wielded against others plenty in my time. I was a fool to think that I would somehow manage to avoid it in my lifespan, she being so thirst-ridden for the joys of judgment.
Like all who relished denunciation, however, she was incapable of handling any censure herself. And though I knew just how to go for her jugular in my response to her “helpful” comments about my apparently cartoonish and clownish appearance, I bit my tongue. She would never recover if I offered such “criticism” as her marriage was a sham, and the man in question was only using her as a means to get free childcare for his preadolescent sons, who she had taken on as her own in her delusions of being in love. The truth was, of course, she was over forty and he was available–that’s all there was to it. But no, I said none of this aloud as I continued to nod in acquiescence to her little reprobation. I still had another week left of staying at her house, so rocking the boat would’ve made things extremely awkward. Instead, I summoned the serveur to give me another glass of Bordeaux as I was getting quite fucking bored-o with the conversation. Essentially a one-sided slander of my aesthetic. Even when I tried to veer the topic somewhere more general–like the conspiracy at play within the entire beauty industry to make you feel not only like shit but as though no amount of product could ever really make you attractive, yet you still had to pay to play on the gamble that something might actually work to mitigate the visual assault of your fucked up face–she couldn’t be distracted from the problems with my specific visage. Which she kept insisting could be remedied if I either 1) stopped wearing makeup altogether (fuck no) or 2) let her help me choose the correct palettes out (also fuck no). It was one of the more intense hot potatoes I had had to deal with over the course of my journey through France, suddenly wishing that I wasn’t so broke and didn’t need to rely on vague relatives for lodging assistance. For everything “free” always has to have a goddamn emotional payment.
I sipped my wine pointedly and decided that I would placate her by announcing I would stop wearing makeup (of course, I would only do that–torturously–for the next few days of my stay in Strasbourg to make her believe I was actually doing it for the long-term). The next morning, against all of my better instincts, I emerged from my wing of the apartment fully dressed and with a “fresh” face. Only to Clotilde it didn’t look fresh so much as riddled with acne. All at once, the ill-applied makeup was seeming much more preferable in terms of being seen with me in public.
“Oh, my… I had no idea you…”
“What? Had a pock-marked face? Yeah, there’s a reason I never let anyone see me without makeup. But, you insisted, so.”
“No, no, no. We cannot have this. Let me take you to the Sephora on the Rue de Grandes Arcades. It’s silly you still haven’t seen the cathédrale anyway, and it’s right near there.”
I could sense there was going to be no way out of this, that I was going to need to let myself get further demeaned for the sake of politesse that comes with someone having control over where you sleep and what you eat. So I shrugged. “Sure.”
The road toward the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg (which, shh, don’t tell anyone, I think is prettier than the Notre Dame de Paris) was already teeming with tourists despite the fact that it was still late March. Mainly Asian ones overflowing from every orifice and corridor of the small German-inspired town. They didn’t need to wear makeup. The cunts.
I tried to take as much as time as possible “soaking in” the cathédrale and its ornate architecture. The French are nothing if not ornate. That’s why they have a right to be so damned snooty. Clotilde, on the other hand, was champing at the bit to begin my makeover, asking such questions as, “Don’t you want to get to the store? Aren’t you uncomfortable being seen in public?”
As we exited the hallowed religious ground and took a less crowded throughway to get to the shop, we were both stopped cold in our tracks by the sight of her husband kissing a much younger (and thinner) blonde woman in the plain light of day. He didn’t seem to have the slightest worry about getting caught, for he was so assured in Clotilde’s habit of never leaving the two-avenue radius of their neighborhood, trusting that she would only fulfill her “rightful” duties of grocery shopping and going to the pharmacy. Everything else she needed, she ordered online. No, he hadn’t the vaguest notion that she could stretch her leash this far, and all because of my hideousness. I was the Beauty Beast, unlocking the door to a gateway of a new kind of hell for her, in which she would have to pretend to know nothing of what she had seen. Not that she wasn’t already, for some part of her had to have known that Emmanuel was unhappy. That he was seeking his fulfillment elsewhere since he clearly hadn’t gotten it from her in some time. I had to wonder how much she must have masturbated when I wasn’t there as a houseguest to prevent it. Her “sons,” of course, tried to remain as scarce as possible. They were teenagers, after all. And not of the variety that could just stay in their room and play video games. No, they were usually by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art skateboarding. It was only a matter of time before they started graffiti’ing precious buildings, I reckoned. They were both predictably and vexingly mute as most boys of that age are, and generally speaking.
They picked a helluva terrible day to actually show up to the house earlier than usual. After seeing Emmanuel, Clotilde went into a largely catatonic state, in between rotely picking out items at Sephora that I assumed were for me, but later learned she had grander designs for. So I stood with her in the line for the register with pizza face and dull eyes unilluminated by undereye highlighter or accentuated by liner. She was a fucking asshole for making me appear publicly this way, and I had no sympathy for her. Not until several hours later.
I had retired to my room to feign taking a nap when, in fact, I decided to watch Mermaids for the umpteenth time on my laptop. It was as the credits rolled to the tune of Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy” (incidentally cautioning that “if you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife”) that I heard the two upright monkeys walk in. At first, their languid orangutan gait was business as usual until they got to the living room. It was at that moment I could hear what was jarring them.
“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands,” Clotilde sang in a warbling and ominous a capella, slowly clapping her hands after she said it. The boys looked as troubled as I was upon entering this scene. She turned to us and grinned, her lipstick smeared all over her face. “Don’t I look pretty today? Don’t you think my husband will love me?” She sneered at our overtly troubled reaction, using the back of her hand to further wipe the bright pink hue across her face.
In the end, I think she got what she wanted out of me. Because I could never quite bring myself to put on makeup after that trip unless it was for very special occasions. Like funerals. As for her and Emmanuel, last I heard he had her locked in some psych ward where she could put on makeup all day without judgment. If I ever make it back to Strasbourg, I’ll have to visit her there. Maybe even bring her some of the latest wares from Sephora.