Now, finally, someone is speaking my language, putting these things in terms that make sense to me. “I’m thinking a nice matte finish,” Becky says. “No glitter, no blindthem-with-the-light pink. How do you feel about this?” The style is called Lip Creme, the color Soft Sell. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was plum—a subtle purplish-brown. “But it’s fourteen dollars!” I stage-whisper, just the way my mother would. “But it’s quality,” Kara replies, “so it will last. The fact is, you won’t need to use so much of it because it won’t come off on everything all the time.” “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” the woman behind the counter asks, her bracelets jangling against the glass. My friends turn to look at me in unison. Well, have you? they query with their eyes. Now, I summon all my breath. My diaphragm has never been so full. A new world is cracking open around me, elegant as a Fabergé egg. I don’t feel worthy of it, and yet, I want to embrace it all—the understatement, the subtlety, the power of poetic compression contained in this minimalist tube. “Yes,” I say. “I’d like to buy this lipstick, please.”
All this time, I have been applying to graduate schools. I have been waiting for the what-comes-next. An acceptance letter to a program is an invitation to meet my future, a glass-slippered fit after the ball. Silence means I move home with my parents post-commencement, live in their basement, never get laid again. I have a new boyfriend and a job at a shoe store. I don’t love either one, not really, not yet, maybe never, but they are good opportunities— a chance to practice being normal and self-sufficient. I ride the bus to class. I live with housemates I adore. On Thursday nights, we go dancing for a one-dollar cover at a local gay club. Soon, I begin to wear MAC lipstick with a subtle, matte-finished pride. One morning, a package lands on the stoop of the house I share with my friends. I hear the thump and watch the mail truck toddle away. It’s a padded envelope bearing my name, and though she has printed in block letters with a Sharpie, I recognize my mother’s hand. Through the bubbled lining I can feel them—the many stubby fingers of 503A, my mother’s unsolicited replenishment. At the dining table, I pour them out, the blue tubes tumbling and skittering, some landing on the floor. Still, they are indestructible. Not a single seal breaks.