You know how it is for parents of a toddler; it’s easy for two to get lost in the tumult of three. So Jesse and I try to go out at least once a month, just me and him. Sometimes we do the whole dinner thing but often enough it’s cocktails and appetizers at the bar. A new venue in an up and coming neighborhood, something that lets us feel like we’re still part of the energy of the City. Tonight it’s Mecano. Fallow field cuisine. Hunters Point.
Jesse reaches across the table and pushes a strand of hair out of my face. His fingers linger on my cheek and I look up at him coyly from underneath my bangs. I’m the redhead tonight and the redhead is flirty. I lean forward and find his knee under the table. He blushes; that’s how it goes with the redhead.
It started with the paparazzi. That’s not true, it started with my eyebrows. The grief counsellor said that anxiety can manifest itself in strange ways, especially with people who are protective of their loved ones. Everyone said how well I was handling the chaos the followed when the Golden Gate Bridge came down. But inside my head swirled the things I should, could, must have done.
My brows are strong: dark, arched, they help define my face. Normally I tweezed them once a week or so, as regular maintenance between visits to the salon. But one day it went further than that. The series of tiny stabs, delicate, poignant, pricking me ever so slightly in a place I rarely felt pain. It focused me. I entered some kind of trance and when I snapped out it, my left brow was just a scarecrow, the right one patchy and weird.
I tried to repair the damage but I didn’t have much time - I was already late to pick up my daughter from Betsy’s place. I jammed a baseball cap on my head and got in the car. But when Betsy saw my clumsy attempt to pencil my brows back in, she ushered me into her bedroom. “I have backup,” she said, pointing to her shaved head, then she opened her closet door. A row of empty faces looked back at me. She grabbed one of their wigs and held it up next to my face.
Dark chocolate brown, like my hair, but with bangs that would obscure the tragedy that was my brow-line. We spent some time restyling it with my waves. As I prepared to leave Betsy plucked a blonde wig off its pedestal. “Take this one too. Sometimes you need to look like someone else.”
Back then I did. After the bridge came down I’d been relentlessly hassled, and not just by the paparazzi. I’d arrive somewhere and the barrage would begin: selfie fans jostling to get next to me, people grilling me about my family. Referring to my daughter as though they knew her: “Is Taima walking yet?” Harmless enough, but I needed it to stop.
Luckily my features are not that distinctive. Even Jesse did a double-take when the blonde-with-a-bob sidled into the living room that night. It gave me a rush. Jesse too because, even with the tweezers at bay, we’ve amassed quite a harem. Our evenings out often feature another girl.
It occurs to me tonight that I’ve been one-upped by my stepsister, her whole face permanently restyled. But the redhead pushes that thought away. She can do that, she’s not one to dwell or ponder. And when she enters a room, she doesn’t search the space for intruding eyes. She just strides in and lets them look.
Not that the redhead is the center of attention here. The crowd at Mecano is brovva young and styled up. A minx-y girl with long black hair squeezes by our table; her eye makeup is startling, orange and red stripes. She checks Jesse out, I swear, then she joins a group of guys playing ShotClock at the bar. Is one of them wearing a Tom Ford cape? It’s weird when your social life gets dialed down by work and kid. Suddenly you’re blindsided by what’s not even new.
Jesse and I embark on one of our favorite debates, chef’s selection versus a la carte. We’re perusing the menu slate, our heads close, when a headline runs across the top: “Bridge Still Up In The Air As Bomber Trial Looms”. The redhead flicks it away. No more discussion, she wants the chef’s selection. She leans her chin on her hand, aims a languid smile at Jesse…
“Is everything OK at work?” he asks. Bam! The redhead struts away and slams the door behind her. How does she move so fast in those heels?
And so I begin: My job is to produce a design for the new bridge; the trial is just bringing attention to the fact that we still don’t have one. My team is not making things easier. I have three designers who report to me: the first one wants my job, the second one argues with the first one, and the third one wants my attention all the time. It’s like having extra children.
Jesse is a good listener; he’s been trained. He makes the appropriate noises, he stays focused on my litany, even when the waiter muscles in with our silverbeet flatbread. Jesse pushes the plate towards me, “I thought you had a new design pretty much wrapped up.”
“Not an approved design. But we do have a solid proposal,” I explain. Do we? I break off a piece of flatbread. It’s good, really good, and I discover once again that no amount of anxiety will diminish my appetite. Food is more than comfort to me and Jesse. It’s practically our religion.