I’ll always remember the first time I looked in the mirror and saw a wrinkle. There were two on the corners of each eye. At first I thought I was seeing things. I had only just turned 31 weeks prior. There was no way my skin could be creasing already, I told myself. I heaved my face towards the mirror, inspecting it obsessively. No matter what angle I looked at the crow’s feet, no matter what light I put on it, they were there to stay.
From then on, those four seemingly innocuous lines were all I could see in any reflective surface. I would go to great lengths to avoid looking at myself. The daunting truth was one that burned like bile in the pit of my stomach. I was getting older. There was nothing I could do to look young. I knew it would only get worse from here.
I immediately began spending my free time studying the skin and its aging process. There had to be something I could do to stop this from getting worse. At first, it was only for a couple hours after work. My husband would often tease me about how obsessive I was being. He didn’t understand. How could he? Even being ten and a half years older, he still looked like a young Clark Gable. For men, spots of age were seen more as survival and wisdom marks. For women, they’re grotesque deformities that remind everyone who looks at you that you’re withering away into nothing.
Looking back, I suppose a large portion of my compulsory behavior stemmed from the fact that I had also found out two years prior that I was infertile. This is when Johnathan and I began to seriously try and get pregnant. In my early twenties, having a sporadic and light cycle was a god send. I wouldn’t have to deal with bleeding and I was too focused on my neuroscience career to even begin to think about children. Now, every month I didn’t bleed was like my body tormenting me. “Could I actually be pregnant this time?” The answer was always stark and concise. No.
Johnathan would approach me with different solutions, but why couldn’t he see it was useless? I was barren. I was a disgrace of a woman. I’d never be able to give him the family that he wanted.
My newly found outward features seemed to be reflecting how my body was on the inside. Useless and dying. Skin research began replacing my work research on my desk at home and, eventually, at work. There had to be some study somewhere that had a surefire way to stop the skin’s physiological aging process.
I began reading articles that put the margins of damage due to natural aging in the 10-15th percentile, while the rest of damage that caused the appearance of aged skin was natural sun exposure. I spent hundreds on protective products. I even looked into the science itself of the rays of the sun that were harmful. I would constantly be putting on moisturizers that improved the metabolic rate of the skin’s epidermal layer, as well as products that promoted cell water retention.
Reading these articles made me start to avoid all of the sun exposure I possibly could. I even elected to do my professional research at home, though not that much of it was getting done at this point. My obsession with having a youthful complexion plagued every single thought. I could tell it was taking a toll on my marriage with Johnathan. He was concerned for me. He began to emotionally distance himself from me. I can’t say that I blamed him, but I knew he would understood would find it worth while when he had a young looking wife once again.
I had been going to spas for expensive advanced facials and strong chemical peels. I tried resurfacing the dead skin with microdermabrasion, literally getting it scraped off of me. Nothing worked. I went to dermatologist after dermatologist just to be told that my expectations were too high and I had the most healthy looking skin they’d seen. They all relayed that if I continued to experiment with radical treatments that I would just damage it, furthering my problem. They were all short sighted fools. None of those male doctors understood what it was like to be an aging woman.
Seeking help outside of the medically affiliated community wasn’t usually in the realm of possibility for me as a scientist, but it was precisely because of my background that I knew how much the field was held back by legalities. It took years for ground breaking research that would revolutionize the world to even get to human trials, let alone actually be accepted by practices. Everyone was out to save their asses and because of this powerful treatments were put on the back burner.
That’s why, sitting in the waiting room of a medical trial for another anti aging facial peel, a black haired woman with the complexion of a doll but the husky voice of an old Russian woman was able to talk me into something off the books.
She claimed she knew of a way to completely extract all age causing antigens not only from the cells themselves, but within the cells they would inevitably break off and become. She claimed to have a chemical that also created a chain of unbreakable polypeptides that would keep the skin as firm and elastic as a child’s.
My ears perked up and my mind raced. The countless hours of research I had done had yielded no science anywhere near this. I asked her about her trial and where to sign up.
“It’s not.. medical trial, per se,” she explained.
Here came the catch and the let down that I knew would come. My heart started to sink back into its moat of depression.
“It’s not exactly legal, but if you want skin to look like this,” she ushered to her face, “at 60, you’ll have no troubles.”
I gasped audibly. That woman was SIXTY?? She barely looked 20. I didn’t believe it. She must have seen my look of doubt because she chuckled in a broken smoker’s voice.
“If only it work for lungs. But yes, 60.”
She took off her leather black gloves that she was wearing one by one as a demonstration.
“See this hand? Serum only once every other day.” The hand she presented looked smooth and spotless, exactly like her face.
“Now this hand, it age normal. No product.”
When she pulled off the other glove, my mouth fell open. The hand was cracked and wrinkled. The skin on it looked like crepe and hideous blue veins bulged through it, looking as if they were a mere tissue layer from being completely exposed to the surface.
In that moment, there was no force on earth that could have stopped me. We talked fees and details from there. It would be 3,000 dollars and I would have to sign a waiver about the exposure to chemicals. I mean, I had already funneled tens of thousands and exposed myself, so what would the difference be? I couldn’t sign fast enough. A smile crept over her impossibly soft and supple lips, revealing crooked, yellow teeth. The contrasting sight of it was almost enough to make me shiver.
That night I took home a small green bottle with hand written instructions. I was positively giddy. I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually felt a streak of hope. My mind was racing so fast. I trudged into the house and straight to the bathroom, ignoring my husband’s protests to slow down.
I was only supposed to use it every other day, but the more it stung my face the more I could feel it working. In my mind, every cell was being completely purged of toxins. By the third day I was using it twice a day. I could see my face getting red, but I was assured by the woman that this was normal.
On the fourth day, I found that the plague of wrinkles was manifesting itself on the bridge of my nose and the corners of my mouth, highlighted in red. I became so enraged I put my hand through the mirror. Sharp pieces of glass embedded themselves in my hand. I let out a wailing screech not from external pain, but sheer tormented aggravation.
Johnathan rushed to the bathroom in response and panicked as soon as he saw the blood dripping into pools around my feet. They stained the once new bright white tile with their dark truth. I explained it was an accident. He nodded and took me to the hospital saying he believed me with his words, though his tone told an entirely different story. Was I getting too ugly to be worth even the truth?
When we returned from the hospital I went straight to the bathroom. I needed to see how hideous this woman had made me. I stormed up to the mirror and flicked on the light switch just to the right of it. I gasped.
The red lines were gone. My face looked a little tender still and hurt a little, but by god it was actually working! I giggled in excitement and proceeded to stare at my new, smooth beautiful looking skin without blinking. I feared that if I shut my eyes, even for an instant, I would see that old hag reflection that once belonged to me once again.
A large sigh from behind me let me know that Johnathan had something on his mind. At this moment, I didn’t care. All I cared about what this wonderful elixir of youth and all the possibilities that came along with it.
“H-honey.. we need to talk.”
I let out a grunt in rebuttal.
“I really think.. I think you need to talk to someone. I’m starting to get concerned for you. You know… I just… I don’t really think this is healthy. You have others to think of than yourself you know…”
I spun around and looked my husband dead in the eye. I swallowed all of my anger in one big gulp that almost made me choke. How could he not see that this was all for him? All so that I wouldn’t just be another one of his student ex wives. How could HE be calling me selfish?
Couldn’t he see how wonderful I was now? How could he not appreciate how much I’d been trying for him, how many hours I’d spent torturing myself? I decided at that moment that I would be sleeping on the couch until he learned to appreciate me.
Coating my face twice a day hurt, but in a pleasurable way. I could feel it working. I looked forward to lathering my skin with this liquid magic. I would even start to count down to it. One evening, when I was admiring my youthful, albeit red, skin just before my nightly facial regimen, I began to get dizzy and saw purple dots everywhere as the room began to spin. I eventually passed out. I don’t remember the hospital. I just remember waking up on my couch to my husband’s face that was slicked with tears. He must have noticed how beautiful I was becoming.
Apparently the doctor had told Johnathan not to let me use whatever was in that bottle, so he had hidden it from me. As soon as he left for work, I frantically tore apart everything looking for it, to no avail. I was becoming desperate and anxious. The next day, we both sat at the table with breakfast before us. I had purposefully not been reciprocating Johnathan’s eye contact. How could he take away the one thing that was making me happy? I felt foggy and confused with rage. Nothing made sense and my head felt all jumbled.
Suddenly, the door bell rang and Johnathan shot up from his seat, a little too eager to answer whoever was at the door. I heard a brief pleasant exchange before he walked in with a girl in her early twenties beaming at me sickeningly. Johnathan said the blonde bimbo that stood before me was there, “check up on me while he was gone.” Yeah right. I knew it was just another one of his little college pets looking for the worst kind of extra credit. This wasn’t even a well thought up excuse.
She flashed her naturally illuminated 20 year old smile at me and spoke to me in a soft soothing tone introducing herself as Jessica. They were mocking me. After Johnathan left for work, she stayed for awhile and said she’d be popping in intermittently throughout the day and to let her know if I needed anything. Why were they treating me like I was a feeble old woman in a retirement home? The anger raged in me and felt like a constant burning pit in my lower stomach and pelvis.
The next day was the day I found the papers carelessly strewn about the dining room table. It was the day I snapped. Pregnancy. An official doctor’s test that was positive. All I could see was red. All I could feel was a hot rage steeping out of me. He got this little whore pregnant. Jessica had no idea what was coming.
My husband came home and must have seen the look on my newly beautiful face and seen the hatred in my eyes. I held up the piece of paper and screamed louder than I ever thought was possible. He just stood there looking scared and defeated. It only made me want to yell louder and hurt him deeper. He sank to his knees and began to tremble.
His excuses made my body fill with the feeling betrayal. He tried to tell me that I had been pregnant since the time I went to get stitches in my hand. He looked me in the eye and lied, saying that the chemicals killed the baby. According to him, the labs had tested the serum and retested the pregnancy when I passed out. He tried to say that the labs had come up positive for various toxic heavy metals. He tried to tell me that the chemicals were possibly causing my mental symptoms as well.
Did he mean the mental symptoms he caused in the first place? How pathetic did he think I was? My baby? It was impossible! It was preposterous!
I stood there, incredulously as he sobbed on the floor. I think he could still tell I wasn’t buying it, even with Jessica’s satin smooth face stapled on top of mine.