I'm contemplating going under the knife. More than contemplating, actually: the surgery is scheduled and my parents have plane tickets to fly out here. My mom will stay to take care of the kids and my dad and I will fly out to Orlando, where his friend and colleague will perform the surgery, pulling some years out of my face and slowing down the aging process for years to come.
The idea of surgery has been circulating in my mind for years, possibly for my whole life. In the home in which I grew up, it wasn't acceptable to age. When someone started showing signs of aging, my father whipped out his scalpel and fixed it. I was accustomed to patients lurching woozily through our house, heads encased in bandages like stark white football helmets, only a little square of facial flesh showing, bruised purple, red, and yellow.
Image by jwebb.
Usually the patient staying with us would be a relative: my stone-deaf Great-Aunt Grace, my Tante Erica, and, on three occasions, my mother. My father was generous when it came to offering his services for little or no cost to family members.
My mother showed up at my high school Awards Ceremony a week after her second face lift, her incisions covered by a scarf topped with a wide-brimmed hat. Her face was a swollen yellow moon. You wouldn't neccesarily know to look at her that she'd just had surgery; you might merely think that she looked very, very strange. Which was why I made a point of introducing her like this: "This is my mother, Lynda. She doesn't normally look like this; she just had a face lift."
My seventeen-year-old self was humiliated by her timing, but I suppose I saw it as inevitable that everyone who could afford to do so would willingly give themselves up to the scalpel at some point. After all, my father's office exhibited an ever-growing display of autographed photos of his famous patients -- the Has-Been Gallery I called it, for who else would need plastic surgery?
I think back on those photos and it pierces me with sadness to think of how many of them became my father's friends and how many of them are now dead and gone: Frank Sinatra, Michael Landon, Buddy Hacket, Robert Goulet, Eddie Fisher, Harry Gaurdino, Willie Shumaker. We hung out backstage with them before Vegas shows or sat by their pools at their homes in Beverly Hills. I watched "Star Wars" on video in Michael Landon's bedroom with his daughter while our parents went out to dinner and helped drag Eddie Fisher to bed when he passed out at our dinner table with a mouthful of rice.
They all let my father cut them and I never questioned the decision to be cut instead of aging as nature intended. Aging was something to fight. One surrendered to the knife, not to gravity. Surgeons traded work with each other; I saw my father come home bandaged and stitched or his head dotted with hair plugs. Age was an enemy to be fought and combatted.
I had my first Botox injections at 36 -- free of course, courtesy of my father's office. Unfortunately, I did not marry a man who could afford Botox. Shortly after, I found out that I was pregnant with Babygirl; pregnancy and nursing would rule out Botox for some time to come. At 37, my father brought up the idea of surgery.
"What are you, coming up on 38?" he asked. "Hmmmm. You have some jowling and some loose neck. That divorce really aged you."
(My father never could get over the perfidy of my first husband, who abandoned me and my newborn for one of his former law school classmates. It really stuck in my father's craw that the woman I was left for was a former patient; my father had transformed her from an "A" cup to a "C" over Spring Break of their final year in law school. At cost!)
Wow, though. I thought I could use some Botox, but jowling? Loose neck?! I'd never been so depressed in my life. I've looked in the mirror since, pulling my flesh upwards to see how I'd look with a face lift. The skin smooths out; the lines disappear.
Yes, I've always thought of cosmetic surgery as normal, but it is different now that it is imminent and that it is me we're talking about, not Melissa Gilbert's mother.
My feelings are mixed. On one hand, if I am going to do this, it needs to be done sooner rather than later, before all of my father's collegues are retired or dead. When that happens, who will give me a free face lift? I will unlikely be able to afford to pay for it myself; the opportunity will have passed.
On the other hand, the idea of someone messing around with my face is very, very scary. I remember peeking in while my father performed a face lift, his body braced against the effort of jerking and pulling the patient's bloody flap of skin. Her whole face lifted and moved, as though she was wearing a mask.
I know someone who knows someone who knew someone who died during a tummy tuck. What if I slip over the thin thread of life that holds the patient during anaesthsia, leaving my three girls to be raised by The Husband?
Indeed, what kind of example am I setting for them by undergoing elective surgery to serve my own vanity? Teenager points out that very thing.
"What kind of an example are you setting?" she asks. "What's wrong with just aging? Why does everyone want to look like they're in their 20s? This is a stupid idea. You can't get a face lift."
But the date is set, my parents are coming. The ball is rolling, thundering, crashing down the hill and I feel powerless to stop it. I flinch, awaiting the knife.