girl red hair
Being Blank
by Leslie Sittner

I was born bald. Mother’s joy was chipped. My blue-green eyes and cherubic face would have to do. I was adored anyway. When carroty downy fuzz began to cover my head, then proper baby hair in waves made shampooing and styling necessary, Mother’s joy mended; her plate was full.

Father and Grandmother owned red hair; dark, thick, with frizzy curls. Plus dark red eyebrows. I wore the more common redhead characteristics of pale skin, freckles, white-haired eyebrows and eyelashes. Mother worried throughout my childhood when this didn’t change; my face was blank. Puberty tested Mother’s patience; eyebrows and eyelashes had to match the hair, define my face. She instructed me to mascara the brows with the tiny Maybelline brush; never use an eyebrow pencil on the skin―it looks fake. Spit in the mascara cake, scrub the brush into the pasty color, apply gently, accurately, to the hair only. The eyelashes were easier. My face no longer blank; I did look defined, complete, almost pretty.

Over time the daily process became easier with mascara wands, more natural color choices, waterproof for water wear. I’ve done this for 65 years. It’s second nature. It’s automatic. I never leave home blank-faced. Recently, while wearing the required protective COVID mask in public, it occurred to me that I’ve been wearing a vanity mask since I was 10 years old. Revelation! At first I continued to color the brows and lashes, because after all, that’s what you see above the mask. Yesterday, sweaty, grungy, and tired from gardening in the afternoon sun, I said “what the heck” and walked the dog in public with the mask over my blank face. Neighbors knew me. No one made a “what the?” face or snarky comment.

I may finally be free of one of my masks.

PAINTING: “Young Girl Reading”  by Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As I’ve aged, I’ve managed to fracture all the rules I said I’d never break when I retired. Never wear sweat pants in public. Never grocery shop during lunch hour because seniors prefer that time and take forever, preventing getting back to work on time. Always wear earrings and eye make-up, etc., etc. Sadly, sweatpants (or worse), midday shopping, and, now, blankface are normal. Earrings are annoying to wear with a face mask…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leslie Sittner’s print works are available in The Apple Tree by Third Age Press (2016 -17-18-19-21), Adirondack Life Magazine, BraVa anthology, and read on NPR. Online poems and prose reside at unearthed, Silver Birch Press, 101Words, 50 Word Challenge, 50 Word Stories, Epic Protest Poems, and Adirondack Center for Writing. A collection of essays about European travels with her ex-husband in the late 1960s awaits publishing. Leslie is currently editing the memoir written by her ancient dog and compiling her own book of haiku with photographs.