About an hour into the surgery, Dr. B emerged from the side room where people had gathered to watch Dr. Richmond attempt to save my life.
Dr. B came over to me and picked up my hand. “You are doing great,” he said.
“I am?” I asked.
“Yes. The surgery is going very well so far.”
“So far. Am I going to die?”
Dr. Richmond looked up. He wasn’t one to make promises he knew he might not be able to keep.
“Are you sure? I really need to know.”
“Timoria. You are not going to die.”
I accepted his answer. I didn’t want him to change his mind.
Dr. B caressed my forehead gently with his hand. He stared intensely into my eyes. He could see through me. I was no longer just another patient and he was no longer just my doctor. Those lines had been crossed hours ago. Dr. B was now my surrogate dad, husband, best friend and protector.
The room was freezing cold and my naked body was covered in goose bumps. The vernix on my arm and hand had dried into a crusty white paste.
I wondered what was worse? Having something take you away from this world in an instant, or having all this time to think?
Many people have asked me what was I thinking about during the surgery. The bulk of my thoughts were about Miss J and Bobby. I focused most of my energy on keeping my eyes open and trying to remain alert.
My mind flooded with a lifetime of memories.
Did I pray?
You bet your ass I prayed! I prayed and I pleaded and I promised.
I prayed like anyone in my position would. I promised to be a better person. I promised to go to church more often. I promised to be an amazing mom. I promised to do more volunteer work. I promised to exercise more and curse less.
I looked up at the monitor. I couldn’t help it. There was not much else to look at. Dr. Richmond was still cutting and sewing. God had blessed him with the gift to repair organs and restore bodies back to working condition.
God had blessed me with the gift to repair faces.
I thought about what inspired me to become a make-up artist. When I look back on my life, it should have always been the obvious career choice for me. I had subscriptions to Elle and Vogue in middle school.Hundreds of magazine clippings of faces adorned the walls of my teenage bedroom. Models, actors, young, old, perfect, imperfect, natural, avant-garde. I have always loved faces. I was inspired by them all.
The summer between eight and ninth grade, a family friend suggested I think about modeling. I enrolled in my local John Casablancas Modeling school. I was fourteen years old and stood five feet nine. I weighed one hundred and ten pounds. I was the perfect combination of awkward, unusual looking and long limbs. “You are perfect,” one of the modeling agents said at the time. “But, you have a difficult nose. You might want to consider getting a nose job one day if you really want to work in this business.”
A difficult nose? What the hell is that? I wondered. I guess that was a polite way of telling me I was a pretty girl with a nose too big to make it in the modeling world.
Every week, I took modeling and acting classes. I learned how to walk and how to how to dress. I learned how to conduct myself during an interview. I learned how to apply make-up and style my hair. I loved every minute of it and my confidence grew. While working on building my portfolio, I met a make-up artist named *Tracy. Tracy was very well-connected and had been working in the fashion industry as a make-up artist forever. She had helped launch the careers of some very successful local models and she thought I had great potential. When I told her that one of the agents said I had a difficult nose she said, “You have a unique nose. If everyone in the world looked the same, that would be very boring, wouldn’t it? What I see in front of me is a very beautiful young woman who is capable of becoming whoever and whatever she wants to be. Never forget that, ok?”
“Ok,” I replied. “Its unique and too big.” We both laughed.
Tracy did my make-up for most of my photo shoots. One day she told me she would have to miss an upcoming shoot because of her volunteer job. She was a volunteer at a local hospital. Once a month she taught a make-up class for women who had suffered traumatic accidents. Tracy taught the women how to conceal their bruises and correct their skin color. Many of the women in her class were cancer patients, who had lost not only the hair on their heads, but also their eyebrows and eyelashes due to the side effects of chemotherapy. Tracy taught them how to fill in their eyebrows and apply false eyelashes.
I began to think of make-up in a different way. The beauty business was suddenly not as superficial as it always appeared to be. Make-up can heal, soothe and change a life. Tracy was blessed with a special gift. How rewarding it must have been for her to go to a hospital and help women who were trying to cope with life altering circumstances. She had the ability to help them feel better about themselves. What a contrast to working with a bunch of snotty, hormone raging wanna be teenage models!
The loud and fast beeping of one of the machines in the operating room startled me from my thoughts. A nurse rushed to my side. The IV was nearly empty.
Whew! It was just the IV. I was still okay. I was still alive.
I thought about how my grandmother must have felt while she was dying. During my senior year of high school, she was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors didn’t know where it started, but when they found it, a tumor the size of a grapefruit was growing adjacent to her liver. I became suspicious the previous Fall. She was too tired to make Thanksgiving dinner. She asked me to cook almost everything. I was happy to do it, but I was sad too. I could sense that our time together was running out. I remember mixing all of the ingredients for each dish downstairs in the kitchen and then bringing them one by one upstairs to her bedroom so that she could inspect each one before it was cooked. She dipped her pudgy, long index finger into each dish and then took a lick. She told me what each dish needed, if anything, and I made the necessary adjustments. It was our secret. No one knew when Thanksgiving dinner was served, I was the chef de cuisine. I spent years by Granny’s side watching and helping her cook. By seventeen years old, I had mastered the art of cooking an entire holiday meal from appetizers to desserts.
By Christmas time, she had grown very weak and once again I cooked most of the meal. I can still hear her voice. I never measure anything, I just do it by sight. Child please, we didn’t have all these fancy measuring cups on the farm.
Spring time came and I was getting excited for graduation. Like most of my peers, I was in senior slump mode. I just wanted to slack off and have fun. I was a member of the chorus and the band for many years. There were two final concerts to perform. Granny attended all of my concerts and recitals. By the time my final spring concert approached she had grown very weak. I was afraid that she would not be able to attend. I remember putting on my white blouse and black skirt and then going into her room to ask her opinion on my outfit.
“You look beautiful,” she said.
“Thanks Granny,” I replied.
“I want to go to your concert but I am not feeling good.”
“Granny, you have to go!” I pleaded. “Please Granny, this is my last band concert.”
She knew that she was dying, but I was still in the dark. She was afraid to tell me the truth. She knew it would destroy me and she made everyone in my family promise to keep her secret.
“You just need to put on some make-up. You will feel better. I will do it for you. Ok? Go in the bathroom and sit on the toilet. I will go get my make-up kit.”
I went into my room and retrieved my black and hot pink Caboodle. Every cool girl in the nineties carried their make-up in one of these!
I washed Granny’s face and neck. I exfoliated, toned and moisturized her skin. As I applied her make-up I thought pictures I had seen of her in her youth. My favorite image of her was a picture taken in the late sixty’s. She was wearing a fabulous long black wig a la Cher, a mini dress with the hem just above her knees and a pair of shiny black go-go boots. At five foot ten, her legs went on for days. She was fabulous.
By the time she had become my Granny, the years had taken their toll on her body. She was overweight, had high blood pressure and arthritis. She often complained about her swollen legs and feet.
When I was finished applying her make-up, she stood up and looked in the mirror. A few tears rolled from her eyes.
“What’s wrong Granny? Is it too much?” I asked.
“No, its perfect. I feel beautiful. I feel really beautiful. I haven’t looked this good in years,” she replied.
For a brief moment she was wearing the mini dress, the go-go boots and the wig again.
I sometimes still feel guilty for begging her to go to my concert. She only had a few more months to live. I didn’t know. In that moment I was acting like a typical selfish teenager. I wanted her to go to my concert because I needed her for everything. She rarely said no to any of my requests.
She summoned the remaining strength left inside of her and went to my concert. There are no limits to a mother’s love. Her organs were dying and her body was weak but she fought as hard as she could to see me play that damn clarinet one last time.
And then there I was, laying in a freezing cold operating room. My body was weak and bleeding. I was struggling to keep my eyes open and trying to suppress the urge to vomit.
I had my Granny for eighteen years. I had eighteen years of memories, life lessons and funny stories. I kept thinking that if I died Miss J would never know me. She would never know my heart and the depth of my love for her. She would not have any memories or funny stories to tell her children and grandchildren. Everything she would learn about me would be second-hand information. I pictured her watching the video of our wedding and missing her mom. I imagined her asking questions about me. Was my mommy funny? Was she nice? What was her favorite color? What was her favorite food?
There was too much time to think.
I thought about seeing my Granny again. I thought moving from Baltimore to New York at twenty-four years old to pursue my dream. I thought about all the amazing people I met along this journey and all the places I traveled to. I thought about how one of my favorite clients and I would have a glass of wine together in her hotel room after her TV appearances were finished for the day, when the lines between celebrity and commoner faded. I wondered if any of my clients would care if I died. A few might be sad for a brief moment, but then they would just ask Sally, my agent, for another reccomendation. This made me chuckle to myself. I thought about the first time I met Bobby. I thought about the first vacation we took together. It was in August of 2007. Bobby has a good friend from college who grew up in Hawaii and was getting married there. Bobby was in the wedding. I remembered going to Banana Republic to help him pick out the perfect khaki pants. The trip was amazing, it is still my favorite vacation. We swam in lagoons. We hiked to the top of a mountain. We ate at roadside shrimp shacks .We went skinny dipping in the ocean in the moonlight. The water was so warm, like bath water. Pure bliss. I thought about my mother. We had come a long way.
At some point, everyday, I think of that moment when I put make-up on my grandmother in the bathroom. For me, it was the defining moment of when I understood the power of transformation. Some of the most special moments I have had as a make-up artist have come from working with everyday women. Brides,soccer moms, teachers, lawyers. At least once or twice a year I work with a client who has a terminal disease or has been in an accident. After a few hours with me, they learned how to correct their skin, fill in eyebrows and apply false eyelashes. All of my clients expressed their deepest gratitude to me for my time, passion and dedication to teaching them a few of these skills. But what they never knew, was that I always felt like I should be thanking them. I was thankful that they trusted me not only during the fun times,like their weddings, but also during some of their weakest and darkest moments. It was a privilege and an honor to spend time with them. I was thankful to them for sharing intimate details of their personal lives with me and letting me into their world. The money was good, but the joy in their faces was payment enough. Whether a bride to be or a widower about to re-enter the dating world, every makeover I had ever done transported me back to that bathroom with my grandmother.
I always wanted to find a way to use my talent as a make-up artist to help other women.
A couple of months after our wedding I was featured on a popular bridal show. A producer for a major cable network contacted me a year later and asked if I was interested in being cast as a featured make-up artist on a new show she was developing. I told her that I was very pregnant and could not handle shooting a television show at that moment. She told me that she was willing to wait until after I had the baby to film some light footage of me and produce a pilot to present to a few network executives. We discussed the details of the show. I told her that I wanted to do more than just typical makeovers on women with bad hair color and outdated clothing. I wanted to help women who were coping with life altering circumstances. The producer liked my idea but said she just couldn’t see how it could sell in today’s drama obsessed reality television world. She asked me if I would consider being a part of a bridal makeover show. I told her that I would only participate if I was going to be acting as the bride’s “best friend”. I wanted to do more than teach a woman how to look pretty on her wedding day. I wanted to uplift women who didn’t have the storybook wedding experience. I wanted to tell their stories. For every happy bride that showed up at a bridal salon with their huge entourage in tow, how many other brides were out there who were missing moms, aunts and friends to share in their special day? Didn’t they deserve special treatment? We went back and forth for several minutes. She thought my idea was great, but was convinced that the show would not sell. I was so pissed off.
I remember saying to her, “So, you can agree that my idea is great, but you aren’t willing to film a pilot because you think it won’t sell? Why wouldn’t a show about helping women sell? Every bridal show is the same. Woman gets engaged. Woman goes to bridal salon with entourage. Entourage and bride have fun picking out gown and accessories. Bride finally finds “the one” and everyone cries. Bride pays thousands of dollars for dream gown. Bride has dream wedding. And how about a show for women in general? What about women who have been in accidents, overcome illnesses or have a special needs child? Don’t they deserve to be celebrated for overcoming their hardships and treated to a day of pampering? They certainly deserve it! They deserve to have their stories told.”
“I see what you are getting at Timoria,” she replied. “And like I said, you have an awesome idea. It’s just not what we are looking for right now. Your idea is too nice for today’s audience. People want to see more conflict and drama. We want to make you part of an ensemble cast and feature you as the make-up artist, along with a hair stylist and a fashion consultant. We love you and you are great on camera. Lets talk again in a couple of months after you have the baby.”
“Wait, just a second,” I pleaded. “ Just give me a few more minutes. I want to tell you about my wedding planner.”
I never give up easily.