I offered to do some volunteer work with a friend of mine the other day when our conversation took a hard turn. (On a side note, next time I’ll do the driving because riding with her took ten years off my life and not in a good way.)
“Do I look alright to you?” I asked.
“What do you mean? Like if I was a lesbian?” she asked beginning to check me out.
“No. I mean, do I look weird?”
“You look like you always do.” She shrugged.
“You mean I’ve always looked hideous?”
While she slammed on the gas to merge into traffic I flipped down the visor to look in the mirror.
“Have I always had that vein in my temple? And that scar on my lip? What are these lines around my eyes? I think I have a skin condition.” I said in rapid succession.
“Those are smile lines.” She said, trying to sound positive.
“Oh my God, do I smile that much? That’s it, I have to stop watching comedies. Wait a minute, smile lines? That’s code for crows feet, isn’t it?” I said accusingly. “What’s next? Double chins?”
I flipped the visor back up, stretched my neck and began slapping my chin.
“What are you doing?” she asked swerving back into her lane.
“It’s supposed to keep the double chins away. I think.” I said, starting to flinch at the pain.
“You’re just making your neck red.”
Flipping down the visor mirror again, I confirmed she was right and I looked more hideous than ever.
“I guess I’m going to have to convert.” I said sadly. Flipping the visor up again.
“Convert? Girl, what are you talking about?”
“I’m going to become a Muslim so I can wear a burqa.” I explained.
“First of all, you are the most devout Christian I know. Granted, that’s not saying much since most of my friends are Jews or Atheists, but I don’t see you giving up your faith.”
“You’re right. I love Jesus. Do you think He would mind if I had plastic surgery?” I asked seriously.
She stared at me for a very long time, which was terrifying because she was doing 70 mph on the interstate.
“What?” I asked when she continued taking our lives in her blind hands.
“Girl.” She said, which really meant “You are too stupid for more words.”
We exited the freeway and I breathed a sigh of relief, beginning to believe we would actually get to our destination without an accident.
“I wish I was black.” I said wistfully.
She gave me that look, which said “girrrr-l” but with a question mark on it, which means “what they hell are you talking about?”
“Black people don’t age. Look at Will Smith. He looks the same now as when he was the Fresh Prince. And Samuel L. Jackson. And Denzel Washington.” I continued.
“Those are all black men.” She pointed out.
“Well… Beyonce’ then. She looks like she’s only about thirty-five.”
“She’s thirty-six.” She advised.
“Oh, I said.
“Beyonce’ at eighty would be an improvement for you though.” She said only half joking.
“That’s what I’m saying.” I agreed.
“You know what your problem is?” she said, parking the car. It was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t try to guess at which problem she was referring to. “You don’t know what you got, ‘til it’s gone.”
“That’s not-“ I began to argue, because if there’s one thing I am good at, it’s appreciating the who’s and what’s in my life.
“Let me finish.” She said holding up the quiet finger. “Have you ever looked back at photos and thought “Hey, I didn’t look half bad then.” but at the time you thought you looked terrible?”
A light switch flipped in my brain and I understood what she was saying. “You think you look bad now, just wait a few years.”
With those words of wisdom, I slipped my big sunglasses on, tossed my hair over my shoulder and buttoned my vest snug across my chest. Then, stepping from the car, I strutted across the street like John Travolta taking the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.
To the kids at the elementary school, I may have looked like an old lady with big glasses who was hearing voices, but to me, I was a volunteer crossing guard with a few good years still ahead of her.
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