It was a special occasion: the first Valentine’s Day since my second child’s birth and my husband wanted me to have a treat. “How about a spa day?” he said. “Don’t women like that sort of thing?” What the hell, I told him. I was just getting back into the swing of the most basic preening rituals like washing my hair and shaving my legs. My face in the mirror had become only hazily familiar—the older, uglier sister of a girl I once knew—and I could use a little encouragement.
And I’d never had a facial before. On the spectrum of adherence to feminine customs, I fall squarely in the middle, somewhere between the waxy mannequin with weird, puffy lips and the dreadlocked homeless woman I once saw giving herself a dirt bath in the park. I live in Berkeley, California, where most women seem reluctant to admit they even own mirrors. In Berkeley, we’re supposed to be too busy thinking big thoughts or doing great deeds to worry much about all that silly stuff, but I must admit I do suffer the occasional bout of vanity. Among my friends, I own the most high-heeled shoes. I don’t wear lipstick, but I do wear organic, cruelty-free tinted lip balm which looks almost as good. I’d rather roll in mud every day for a month than subject myself to a scalpel, but I’d like to look just like Kate Winslet while doing so, or at least a fifteen-year younger version of myself, if it could somehow happen magically and virtuously, without any blood, preferably while I wasn’t looking. I sometimes drink diet soda but I repent by eating organic and cutting my own hair.
And I’ve never had a facial. For all my dreadlocked, dirt-bathing sisters, let me explain: getting a facial is just a euphemism for having your zits zapped by an expert pimple-popper. Of course they also rub you with various nice-smelling lotions and tickle your face with their fingertips, but the grand finale is the “extraction” for which they use fancy, surgical-looking tools. By “they” I mean “she” because you probably wouldn’t let a man to pop your pimples, would you? Would you want your first gynecologist to be male or your first hetero encounter to be with a same-sex partner? Not me. My grown-up friends will say I’m just being sexist and closed-minded, but still.
So I made an appointment at a local salon. Cara met me at the front desk, led me upstairs and showed me the bed. Well, it wasn’t exactly a bed, it was really a massage table with a nice clean sheet. She was a pretty woman about my age, clad all in lint-free black, with freshly coiffed ringlets and perfect skin. Sure, I’d probably have perfect skin too, if I worked in a spa breathing aromatherapy and listening to new age relaxation music all day long. She smiled very sweetly, maybe too sweetly, and handed me a robe.
By now, you can probably sense my unease. Where else do you find naked people, strangers, no less, fraternizing with the fully dressed? In doctors’ offices or strip joints, maybe an art class with a live model, but there’s always something imbalanced about the interaction, a tipping of the power scale. I disrobed as quickly as possible, wondering just how naked I should be under that robe. I fumbled with the ties and worried that I had it on backward and by the time she returned, I was skittish and giggly, perched on the edge of the massage table with my legs and arms crossed. She told me to lie down and we made small talk: we talked about kids and books and movies, blah blah. When I’m nervous I talk too much but I told myself hey, you don’t have to impress her—it’s obvious that I’m not perfect, right? At the spa, you can complain about your kids or your job or your husband, it’s okay, because that’s where women let it all hang out. It’s a fortress of femininity, a talk-friendly zone, and what you say at the salon stays at the salon.
Meanwhile, Cara has an up-close view of every wrinkle, every pore. Have you ever looked at your face up close? I didn’t know I had a moustache until the day I stumbled upon my mother’s magnifying mirror. I was aghast: gaping craters, red spidery tributaries. My skin resembles a topographical map of an Arizona desert. After the facial, Cara led me back downstairs, just a little bit redder and blotchier than before.
At the cash register, she looked me right in the eye. “So, your last name is Fonté? Is that right?” In her mouth, my name sounded like something she’d tasted before. I wondered if there was something scripted about her words and said yes to find out. After all, she had seen the contents of my pores; I had nothing else to hide. She said she once knew a guy with that name. How nice. It turns out she knew my husband in high school. That night at home in bed, I remembered to say hello to him for her.
Having a facial could have remained one of the things I have never tried, like frog’s legs or spelunking or heroin. On the scale of adventures, a facial was a harmless experiment that would not change my life dramatically. On the other hand, if I didn’t go the salon that day, I never would have met Cara, a perfectly pleasant woman who gave a very nice facial, who also happened to be the first woman my husband ever slept with.
That’s right, you heard me. I don’t know if I should have asked her more about her life or said less about mine, but I certainly should have given her a bigger tip.
I got my zits popped for the first (and only) time by the same woman who popped my husband’s cherry (if men have cherries). (Eeeeew. I can’t believe I just used the word “cherry.”)
Really, how many people can say that? (And why, after all that rubbing and cleansing and exfoliation, did I feel so dirty?)
Did you ever meet your partner’s ex? Was is fun?
How do you celebrate V Day?