Wearing me out
My 35th birthday.
The day was almost done. I was washing my face at the end of several hours of teaching. In the mirror, I saw how tired I looked.
The crow's feet at the corners of my eyes were more visible than usual. My skin was dry. My eyelashes – oh God! –seemed fewer than I remembered. I shouldn't go out without mascara.
My eyes looked tired. Did I not sleep properly last night? I didn’t remember, but in any case, I couldn’t really do without a concealer anymore.
The lines that form a triangle starting under my nose and ending at the base of my chin seemed more prominent than they normally were. My lips were thinner than I knew them to be.
When I was younger, I used to wear any new outfit as soon as I got it, even if I was just going to the supermarket. “You're going to ruin your new clothes!” my mother would say. But my excitement about the new outfit overcame my fear of ruining it.
Ever since I was a child, everyone I knew complained that I did not take proper care of my new things. I use things right away and don’t return them to their boxes.
They get dirty and battered; they age quickly.
And when it’s time to discard them, they would be shabby, showing clear signs of wear and tear.
I wear my things out.
Mama would console me, “Well, as long as you wear them out in good health!”
My car too is worn out, covered in dents and scratches. My husband and my friends recognise it by the permanent scuff on the right rear door. I refuse to get it fixed because I know that all it would take for it to return would be one attempt to park into a narrow space.
I don't understand people who don’t eat in their cars. How could you resist eating a hot shawarma sandwich as soon as you buy it?
Nor do I understand how anyone could leave the plastic covers on the seats of a new car. I don’t want anything to get between me and my car, or between my car and the busy city streets.
I resent the use of protective covers on the living room sofas. I will not let fear stop my husband and me from laying out a tray of labneh, tomatoes, olives, and bread when we sit down to watch the evening news. Or from falling asleep under the red blanket when a movie we watch turns out to be boring.
Isn't the living room meant to be lived in?
What's the point in preserving things to keep them “like new”? Things are either new or used. And if I use something, I want to be able to use it up.
My things and I get battered together.
I leave notes in my books, underline words that move me, and use coloured pencils to express different emotions. When I take a book to the beach, its corners get bent with the humidity. By the time I'm done with it, there would be no denying the life it has had.
When I lived with my grandmother Aida in Beirut, she used to complain about the traces I left everywhere I went in her flat. A notebook here, a pair of tweezers there, a pen in the kitchen –my things always appeared in unexpected places.
“You're just like the Murabitoun,” Teta said, laughing as she compared me to the Independent Nasserists’ militia during the Lebanese war.
She explained how the residents of Beirut, whenever they witnessed a scene of chaos or destruction, would say, “Al-Murabitoun were here!”
My relationship to my skin has always been different. I take good care of it. I do what I can to protect it from dryness, wrinkles, lines, redness, yellow patches, paleness, sagging –an unending list of possible ailments.
I make masks of honey, yoghurt, cucumbers, tomatoes; basing my recipes on whatever I found in women magazines and in the fridge in our home. I have a daily routine of cleansing, peeling, moisturising, protection.
It's as if this skin belongs to someone other than the woman who never takes care of her things.
I placed my products in my handbag before my flight from Istanbul to the little Turkish town, Rayhaniya. But the officer at the security check stopped me and asked me to discard all liquids and creams.
We did not speak each other's languages. But I pleaded with her all the same.
I tried to tell her that I was going to be away for three weeks and that my skin would fall apart without these things.
When she seemed not to follow, I pointed at my face, frowned and pointed at the lines between my eyebrows, then raised my eyebrows in an expression of fake surprise and pointed at the horizontal lines on my forehead.
She got me then, and smiled, but did not budge.
She shook her head and pointed to the waste bin.
I spent my first week in Rayhaniya without cleansers or moisturisers, using only the hard water from the mains.
My work in the small town began at 8:30 am and finished at 8 pm. I taught for three hours, edited for three hours, then taught a second batch of students for three hours, and finally spent a further three hours slot editing, before joining friends for dinner.
When I returned to my room in the small hotel, I answered some emails and complained about the noise from the room above mine. Once the nightly battle I had with its resident was dealt with by the hotel staff and he was persuaded to turned down the volume on his TV, I finally went to sleep.
On my 35th birthday, I had just finished my second slot of teaching and was washing my face in the centre's bathroom with its unflattering white light. I looked in the mirror and thought my face looked decidedly closer to middle age.
I don’t usually buy the clichés about making peace with the signs of age, loving your lines and all that. But –without changing my conviction that a little make-up had become a daily necessity, I found myself appreciating the tiredness that was visible on my face that day.
I could relate to myself in the same way that I relate to my things: To love something means to use it. The lines and wrinkles were a sign of love. I felt content.
This doesn't by any means imply that I will stop using moisturisers and exfoliators. Just that I am happy with what the products will fail to conceal – satisfied with the traces that show that, as Teta put it, the Murabitoun were here; except on my face, those are not traces of destruction, but of life.
My life was here.
On my 35th birthday, I found myself echoing what Mama told me when she saw my battered belongings: “As long as I wear me out in good health!”