Ever since I was fourteen, going out of the house meant a required fresh application of makeup. I couldn’t imagine ever going outside and letting anyone other than my family see my bare face with the moles, the pimples, the discolorations — every flaw that as I grew up I became more cognizant, and thus, more insecure about. Of course I didn’t want to look made up everyday. I perfected a routine in which I could achieve the “natural” look. The goal wasn’t too look glamorous; it was to let along that this flawless perfection, long eye lashes, flushed cheeks were me. But of course they weren’t. I soon came to realize that makeup didn’t last forever; in fact, makeup was easily taken off, messed up. I gradually decided to simply avoid anything that could ruin that thin, but valued, facade. When I would receive a shockingly low score on a test that I had been confident about, I would blink back the tears. After all, eye makeup is a nightmare to remove and reapply. For me, crying is a hugely unflattering event and something I usually try to avoid. 2010, however, has somewhat turned into the year of crying for me. Instead of washing makeup from my face at night, my frequent tears would do the job for me. So as the end of the year neared, how funny it was that when my sister told me that we would be visiting my grandmother at the hospital and that I would have to get ready in five minutes, I decided not to apply makeup. It was ironic that on one of the few days out of the year that I didn’t apply my regular coat of security that hides the person that I really am, my grandmother died.
It was nine thirty in the morning and I was enjoying sleeping in on a Monday. I had gotten through the first semester of my senior year and was now enjoying the much-needed relaxation time of Winter Break. At nine thirty in the morning, my phone rang and woke me up. It was my mother, and she told me that my grandmother had had a small stroke and was at the hospital. Honestly, I don’t remember what I was thinking. In retrospect, I would have jumped out of bed and ran from my house to the emergency room on Geary if I knew what was going to happen. But it’s funny how it never happens like that. Instead, I put my phone down and fell asleep.
I was awoken by another phone call: my sister, driving up from Santa Cruz, picking me up so we could go visit my grandmother in the hospital. I agreed, slipped on jeans and a t-shirt, and went out to wait for her. As my father met us outside and took us to her room, I didn’t know what to expect. Or, should I say, I didn’t know what I expected to see. But as we opened the doors, I saw my grandmother. She was on the hospital bed with a breathing mask strapped to her face and several tubes taped here and there. As the doctor started to talk to us about what was happening, I looked over at my grandmother’s frail body, nurses attending to her, I felt water starting to come to my eyes. But I blinked them away. So far, it was okay.
When the doctors left the room, my sister, dad, and aunts and uncles surrounded the bedside. My sister held her hand as we all told her that we were here. She would nod; her speaking was unintelligible as a result of the stroke. We would ask her to open her eyes. Her eyebrows would rise, her lids stretched, but she couldn’t do it. Things looked better though. A nurse came in and discussed my grandma’s current living arrangements and what would be necessary when she was discharged. It turned out that she already had many things that the nurse recommended — the hospital bed, the wheelchair, the walker, the caretakers — because my grandmother has advanced Parkinson’s Disease.
I don’t want to say that for as long as I can remember, my grandmother had suffered from Parkinson’s. I will say that the images of her shaking uncontrollably and hunched over has dominated my memories. I can’t remember the slightly plump grandmother that I see in old pictures, holding me as a toddler in her arms. I remember the grandmother who asks who’s at the dinner table because she can’t hold her head up, the grandmother who struggles to walk fifteen feet to the bathroom, the grandmother who drinks from kids’ “sippy cups” because she would otherwise spill.
After the doctors shooed us away so they could take my grandmother to get an MRI, my dad took my sister and I to lunch nearby. He went back to the room as my sister and I sat in the waiting room with my cousin, watching the daytime drama All My Children. My mind started to stray. I thought about Christmas, buying a gift for a Secret Santa that evening, my boyfriend coming back from college, my dad came out and led us to a room. My whole family was there. I noticed that my dad’s eyes were slightly red but didn’t say anything. Two doctors came in. They said some stuff. I really don’t know. The only thing I remember is the doctor slipping in those words: “She passed away”. Faster than before, my eyes welled up with tears and I didn’t try to hold it back. Almost instantly I felt tears stream down my face. My nose sniffled, muting for just a moment the doctors assuring us that they did all they could to save her. They told us that they would send my grandmother’s body into the small room that we were in. It seemed like an eternity.
As they unzipped the body bag and uncovered my grandmother’s body, I cried. And I continued to cry. For as long as I could remember, I had always seen my grandmother shaking. Yet here she laid, completely still.
Tears streamed down my eyes, and I rubbed them away with my fingers. I wiped my running nose with the back of my hand. As I did so, I realized that I wasn’t wearing makeup. There was no need for wiping away the mascara that runs down your face with every tear, for evening out streaky foundation displaced by a moist face. In a year in which I’ve cried over being stressed out, being nervous about colleges, being sad about my boyfriend being away, this was the first time that I cried without any makeup on and that I’ve freely wiped the tears from my face.
Why did I choose to not wear makeup today? I don’t want to think that it was because I was expecting to cry this much; I certainly wasn’t expecting it at all. Perhaps I knew what was awaiting at the hospital. I would see my aunts, uncles, cousins, who had watched my grow from a baby through puberty. I wouldn’t see people I know who would wonder why I looked the way I did. And I’m glad as hell that I didn’t. For as much as I admire the nurses, doctors, and even the hardworking EMTs, I realized today that I hated that hospital. I hated being in that stuffy room and feeling suffocated by the overwhelming sadness, wanting to go into the halls and scream. I hate thinking about this upcoming Christmas and how my mom won’t be telling me to help get my grandmother a piece of pie and I hate thinking about where my grandfather will go now that his lifelong partner is gone. I hate thinking about how many more times I will cry because of what’s happened — my grandmother’s memorial, family events, even watching a sad movie. Most of all, when I’m wearing makeup, I’m scared that when the tears come I’ll be more preoccupied with carefully blotting my makeup than remembering the brilliant, caring woman whom I’m crying for. Those tears will wash away the face that I try to put on. But for now, that’s the one thing I’m okay with.