I look in the hand-held mirror and am dismayed to observe that one brow is now permanently raised, like a female version of Star Trek’s Spock. OK, maybe not quite that pronounced, but definitely higher. Noticeably higher. A line of tiny stitches sits just above the eyebrow and my eyelid is drawn up too, like a roman shade. I look half wide-eyed, my face more asymmetrical than it already was.
It was my misfortune to get a crop of basel cells on the eyebrow that was already “the high one.” The Mohs surgery to remove it required two tries to get clean margins, and there is now a decent sized chunk of skin out of my forehead. But no one has perfectly even features, I remind myself. No one has two exact halves of one whole, in the same way that identical twins have different fingerprints.
“So, will I go through life looking perpetually skeptical?” I ask the dermatologist and he smiles, lowering the mirror.
It’s an honest question. Who wants to continually look like they don’t believe people; like even the most minor comments deserve scrutiny? We’re a society of skeptics today, anyway. I don’t need to wear it like a tattoo or a permanent facial expression.
“You can get the other eyebrow lifted if this one doesn’t settle back down,” he says. I try to imagine going to my friend, that’s a plastic surgeon in Chicago for mono-brow surgery. At that point, I might as well lift my whole face up from the hairline, the way I pull an ankle full of saggy tights higher on the leg.
When I get home that night, my girls recoil at the sight of the bandage and the blackening eye. I look like a victim of spousal abuse or someone who was in a car accident. They peer in for a better look, horrified and fascinated.
“You know your one eyebrow is higher up now?” says one.
“Like a Picasso painting,” says the more artistic one. Ouch.
“Well, that’s a good reason to wear sunscreen,” I say frostily. “Let this be a lesson.” I’m not one to let an educational opportunity sail by without comment.
Like many of us who grew up tanning in carefree baby oil and iodine summers, it was a part-time job working to turn my Scotts Irish skin into a caramel Kardashian hue. My friends and I used record albums covered in foil and even reflective blankets that helpfully beamed cancer-causing rays around the body the way X-rays attack ovaries. I was a human sausage on a George Forman grill.
We’ve all educated ourselves about sun damage since my hot pink bikini days. I remember blisters and peeling skin, burns so painful that I lay with cold washcloths. I squeezed slimy, sperm-like substance out of live aloe vera plants. None of it worked. Hat? Sunglasses? UV clothing? Those things were for weaklings and sissies.
My girls roll their eyes at these stories. Three words into my lecture and I’ve already lost their attention. I’m like that Afflack duck in those ads, an annoying, quacking voice, harping on the same subject that ends with “for your own good.”
Years ago, when face creams with sun protection first came out, I tried to get on the band wagon. I really did. But I couldn’t get past the smell. My nose crinkled. My sensitive eyes watered. I’d been born with my mother’s acute olfactory sense. Try as they might overpower it in the lab, I could always detect the medicinal ingredients the way bomb-sniffing dogs pick up trace elements.
Enter a new generation of lotions and potions, the bb creams and tinted moisturizers with SPF. I could finally stay protected all year long, with colors coded to my seasonal skin tones. And the Gods of beauty had finally figured it out. The protection was built in, minus the repelling odor.
My neice gave me a Bobbi Brown BB cream for Christmas last year and I was hooked. Not only did my face look smoother, those freckles turned age spots were now more photo-finish, but I was protecting my skin too. And I even liked the smell. My eyes stayed clear, my nose didn’t do a Doberman. This was something I could get my daughters behind.
Today, the maximum protection sunscreen sits right by the door, the equivalent of a baseball bat against the home intruder. No one gets out without an application of at least SPF 30. Those are the rules, anyway. I don’t know how diligent they are when I’m not there. But it’s my job to protect my girls, to make them smarter, healthier and more aware than I was.
Sure, the show and tell with my rogue eyebrow helps drive the point home. But as I observe my girls snapping selfies at the beach among a cluster of mis-matched bikinis, I check out the varying skin tones and shades of their friends. My girls are so white they are almost blue.
“Did you have on sunscreen?” I ask, expecting to get a withering, “back off Ma” look. I don’t even need to move a muscle to look skeptical. My new Spock brow handles the effect effortlessly.
“We got it, Mom,” my daughter says. The other twin triumphantly pulls out a tube from her bag as proof. My work here is done, I think, with satisfaction. Beam me up Scotty.