Husband: You know the best part of living up here? You don’t run into people you know at the store.
Me: You know the worst part? You never run into people you know at the store.
For nearly forty years, we lived in a relatively small town. We both had careers, but I also volunteered with the Girl Scouts, PTA and Food for Thought. I taught school. I attended classes at the community center and the community college, went to Weight Watchers, and wrote for the local newspaper. People know me. A trip to the farmer’s market or the doctor would frequently mean I’d run into someone I know. For better or worse. I’m a social person (ask anyone), but for twenty years I avoided one supermarket because it was in the same neighborhood as the school at which I taught. A quick stop turned into a parent conference or a reunion as I tried to discreetly choose a hemorrhoid remedy. Or something for feminine itch. Or a bottle of gin.
I rarely went farther than my mailbox without my hair done and make-up on. The law of perversity prevailed: The worse I looked, the more likely it was that I would run into someone important. So I always dressed with at least a thought about who I’d run into. My boss? The PTA president ? A school board member?
Now that we live forty miles away in a large city, I have yet to run into an acquaintance at the market. Not one. The people here—except for my family–have no idea who I am. I find it freeing in a way. I can reinvent myself because no one has any expectations. I used to think I did my make-up for me, because I hated seeing that pale, tired-looking face in the mirror. Now, I’m not so sure.
Perhaps it is also the law of diminishing returns. The effort of putting on make-up—and then taking it off—every day doesn’t give me the pay-off I hope to see. Is just being clean and dressed enough now?
In fact, today maybe I’ll just wear a hat, sunglasses and a smile and call it good. Maybe. I’ll see what the old lady in the mirror says.