A few months after Camila died, after the visitors had thinned out and the text messages and phone calls had let up, on one of those quiet numb days, I remember getting out of bed and confronting myself in the mirror.
The house was quiet. I knew we were out of milk and, if I wanted to go to the store, I had to determine how far I had to change out of my pajamas. Pull on jeans and cover the rest with a coat?
It was while I was ruminating on this question that I glanced up and saw myself in the mirror.
It was the first time I had looked in the mirror in a while. Imagine covering your head with the blankets and staying in bed for a month. That’s what it felt like, and that’s pretty much what I looked like. My face was pale, my hair was a mess. My eyes were red rimmed, and the irises looked dull, flat. My mouth was a thin closed line.
I tried to smile and nothing much moved.
Standing there, I let myself see just how far I had slipped into the cocoon of my grief.
Then I remembered other days in front of the mirror: watching Camila getting ready to go out. She would apply eye shadow and eyeliner, use metallics and glitter. Sometimes for special events she would apply fake lashes that feathered from black into blue and green or neon pink along the outside edge. A performer from a young age, Camila knew makeup, knew how to apply it for the street, the stage, or – my favorite – for a party. To her, it was an art form, inventive, sometimes edgy, always playful. I, on the other hand, hadn’t even worn makeup until I was in my late 40s and rarely went beyond natural looking eye shadow and a bit of blush.
Camila tried to teach me how to use eyeliner. We went from the pencil to the liquid and the gel, laughing through my failures until we finally decided to give up. I’ll try it again later, I told her.
Looking at myself in the mirror, even I could tell I could use a bit of powder and blush. But did I want to? And would I ever again get out the mascara?
It was at this point that my interior monologue left the pajama question for the larger question: From this point, was I going to bother with all of that again – or should I just put my natural face forward, forfeit the hot curlers, the hair spray, the effort?
Though it was a forgettable day, I realized that this was not a casual question. Once again, I had to choose. Would I at least appear to have survived my daughter’s death or would I wear my disarray like a badge of honor, loyal to my grief and wallowing in it for all to see? Shall I cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of grief?
Glancing again at the mirror, I looked into my eyes.
The truth was that I was not lost. I was aware of my disarray, I noticed it, I felt it. I knew I didn’t feel like myself, and I imagined that I had something to do with that.
It was a decisive moment. I stripped off my pajamas and got into the shower.
While I was getting ready, I rummaged around the back of my drawer and found the eyeliner. It took about 30 minutes to get it right that first time, but by the time I left the house for the grocery store, I had made a key decision: I was going to honor Camila’s craft by learning to use eyeliner – and I was going to get up and get dressed and get out of the house.