Ruby Lips and Rouge


At writing group last night, we wrote about a photo of a beautiful woman who was turning 100.  Ruby lips, and rouge.

I remember several of my patients, even at their sickest, who needed to “put on their faces” before the doctor made rounds in the morning.  We knew exactly which ones needed that, and I know I tried to get into those rooms as early as I could to help them get ready for the day.  One woman in room 482 bed 2 was like this.  Her cancer had reached her liver, so those bright spots of red rouge and lipstick were an odd contrast to the bilirubin yellow skin, but she insisted that her face be put on.

One morning, several patients had more critical needs than “putting on a face” and kept me from getting to her in my usual fashion.  When I got into the room, I did everything I could not to laugh.  Her rouge was caked on her sunken cheeks and lipstick bled into the deep lines around her mouth.  I could not suppress my laugh, as I went about softening her makeup job, making sure to pluck a few chin whiskers along the way.

I will never forget gently wiping the lipstick from the deep crevices around her mouth.  She was a happy woman, though, rather grumpy at the moment, knowing her doctor would be coming soon, and she would not be ready for his 2 minute visit.  The lines on her face showed the life she’d lived.  I could see that she smiled a lot, and asked her to do that as I scrubbed the lipstick off her top teeth.

Her skin was like wiping makeup off of folds of satin, moving and stretching with my efforts, and so soft.  The rouge was not the blush of my generation, it was a cake that she’d dug into with dampened fingers, so it was chunky on her silken skin.  When I was finished with her makeup, I freshened her up, combed her fine hair, and added a pretty pink bed jacket.  She was a yellow lady with red cheeks and lips, silver hair, and a pink jacket, and every bit of her beauty remained, and had nothing to do with the paint on her face.

I was never one for makeup, I don’t have the canvas for makeup, I don’t think.  My skin is sensitive, my cheeks are flushed, and I’ve never used foundation. I was just a natural girl, and still am.  But, I loved those women who needed to have their faces on before the doctor came, or their husbands, or friends or family.  There is something endearing about putting on your best face for the day, even when you are dying.

Beauty, they say, fades with age.  I don’t now who “they” are, but they didn’t live my life, seeing the beauty inside and out of the women I have known.  As my own face softens, and the lines show my smile after my smile is gone, I hope that my beauty will be as ever before, maybe even more.