If there was a fire in a hotel, and an alarm was urgently going off, I would take my time about getting ready. I know that, in my bid to prepare for the outside world, I would end up going so slowly that I would end up getting burned. Trapped amid the flames. That’s how severe my vanity is. And I have no idea why. I know no one is looking at me, ever. That no one cares. That something about me inherently cloaks me in invisibility. There are some people in this life who are simply designed to “stand out,” “be noticed.” It isn’t merely a result of their attractiveness either. For it’s not like I’m some Quasimodo type. I’m actually quite “hot,” by conventional standards of beauty. Minus the part where I don’t have blonde hair. But that one small missing piece of the “gentile expectation” society still peddles shouldn’t be enough to detract from my ability to be seen. I know that it has to be more than that.
Anyway, I’m at a hotel now, and I keep thinking about the fire alarm going off. About what it would mean for me if the vexing, ear drum-piercing bell started to ring incessantly at a time when I had taken my makeup off and was already in my pajamas. As I currently am. There’s absolutely no way I would “just go out” of the room, even in such a state of emergency. I would need to prepare. To make sure I had gathered all of my most treasured possessions (that is to say, all of them) and, before that, reapply the maquillage and select a suitable outfit to stand around in outside of the hotel. All that said, it would take probably, at the bare minimum, ten minutes for me to get myself and my things together in order to feel “secure” about leaving the premises. Even if such “security” would be utterly negated by, say, getting burned alive. No matter, I would at least “look good.”
Staring out onto the non-vista of my hotel window, I tried to think back to when it all began. This unavoidable need of mine to constantly be “on.” To never have a single hair out of place or, most ghastly of all, any sign of clumpy mascara. Back when I was still a boy, Mama would often sit in front of her vanity mirror and spend hours “putting on her face,” as she called it. She said she wanted to look her best for Papa when he finally got home. Only problem was, when he finally did decide to show up well after working hours, he was piss drunk. Too pie-eyed to notice much of anything beyond general shapes. Maybe that’s where I first truly encountered what it was like to be invisible. And it wasn’t from my own perspective even, but that of watching my mother try to get him to notice and appreciate her, only to be met with the back of his hand as a means to silence and stifle her.
Well, one day it seemed she could be stifled no more, and decided to slip right out of this realm, taking one too many sleeping pills and chasing them with some lovely red wine as she took a bubble bath. She was class till the end. I just wish I hadn’t been the person to find her, to see her that way. I wanted Papa to… not just so he could understand that he was the responsible party for her death, but so he could also, at long last, fully take in the sight of her. How beautiful she was. He owed her that nominal courtesy of admiration in death, since he couldn’t give it to her in life.
I suppose you might say I decided to take up the mantle for Mama in some way after she expired so exquisitely. That she could orchestrate a death that was almost as visually striking as she was left me in awe. The tableau, the mise-en-scène—everything about her bathtub adieu stood out in my memory as a thing of greatness. A thing to be marveled at, imitated. So yeah, I guess you could say that’s where I got my “predilection” for vanity. For putting my appearance above all else—even my own life.
Which is probably why I shouldn’t have been smoking as I sat against the window ledge. Because I know smoking fucks up your skin a lot quicker than not. The furthest thought from my mind was that the smoke detector in my room would be sensitive enough to pick up the unmistakable odor. Thus, the very scenario I had been afraid of transpired, with the sole benefit being that, since I was in control of it, I knew that there was no actual fire. That this was only a “drill” and I could take my time about going outside. Because if I chose to stay inside and just “let it pass,” it would detract from my ability to pretend I had nothing to do with any of it—that I was not, in fact, the direct cause.
Approximately twenty-four minutes later, I had put on my best wig (a pink bob in the spirit of Natalie Portman’s when she’s doing her stripper scene in Closer), my most salacious dress (a tight white bodycon with various cutouts around the chest) and my highest strappy blue heels. Needless to say, my arrival caused quite a stir among the crowd that, for once, couldn’t pretend I was invisible. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to realize they weren’t staring at me because they were enamored of my beauty, but because of how sluggish I had been to emerge from the hotel since the instant the alarm had gone off. As though to inform me with their judgmental looks of how positively galling I was. Well, what did they expect? That I should look as hideous and in disarray as they presently did? And all because they didn’t take just a little bit of time to better prepare for their potential demise? Absolutely not. I could never. Mama taught me better than that with her own death.