I reconnected with an old friend while in New York City last week. We met at a Starbucks (not that Starbucks, as it turns out; the other one, just half a block down and across the street), and she didn’t know me for a moment, in part because someone else had approached her a moment before thinking that she was someone else, and in part because I have a healthy crop of whiskers and shaggier hair than in our college days.
She had just finished a videotaped interview or some such thing in which a makeup artist had prepared her for her “close-up” – and she mentioned how strange the whole thing seemed: she’s not one to wear a lot of makeup, much less have someone apply it for her, and she’s yet to fully realize or release her inner diva. It reminded me of the story I promised to tell a several days ago, about the last time I flew into New York. This is how I remember it now.
I watched as the plane passed over the city and couldn’t fathom the enormity of it. Dad once summarized his dread of New York City as the feeling that, if something went wrong, there was no way he could walk out before sundown. I could see his point firsthand – the skies were clear, and the only open space I saw for miles was the Atlantic. All else was rooftops.
For a moment the plane dipped its port wing earthward, and I saw Yankee Stadium, lit for a home stand, the interlocked NY gleaming white from the green grass. Then we tipped starboard, and I turned to look out the windows across the aisle.
Across the plane sat a young woman I’d seen in the airport: shoulder-length blond hair in a loose ponytail, a few loose strands tucked behind her ears, deep blue eyes and freckles, a simple white t-shirt and jeans. She was beautiful, sure, but seemed even more so in that comfortable-in-her-own-skin way. She laughed easily on her cell phone; she slipped off shoes and tucked her feet beneath her on the seat while she read.
She wasn’t reading when I turned to look out her window, however. She was gazing into a tiny mirror, dusting her cheeks and nose. I watched the cityscape pass outside the window, then glanced back at her. Eye shadow now. The freckles were gone.
I tried hard not to stare, but the process was fascinating and her concentration was absolute. Her lashes black with mascara, she went to work on her lips – gleaming pink edged with just the right shade of lip-liner; her ready smile replaced by a mouth poised to pucker or pursed for profanity – one couldn’t be quite sure.
She shook out her ponytail and arranged her hair just so around her new face, which had taken on a cool and porcelain perfection. She was still beautiful somewhere, I was sure. I shuddered – strangely, our corner of the plane seemed to be getting colder as we descended. She must’ve thought so, too – she covered her t-shirt in a short, stylish black jacket, and slipped into her heels.
I wondered at her transformation – wondered if she did this for herself or someone else, someone who might meet her at the airport and whisk her off to dinner. I wondered what fool would prefer this flawless, frozen mask to freckles and teeth and bare feet.
Moments later, we touched down. She was home.