I point to the rectangular space in the make-up palette that holds a furtive purple.
“That one,” I say.
Sara dabs a brush into the rectangle, swirls it gently. Fine powder coats the tip of the bristles. Hundreds of tightly-packed fibers hold what looks like a single flower petal that would disappear if I tilted my head downward and blew.
“Boy, close your eyes,” Sara says, and I do.
I’ve felt the tickle of makeup on my eyelids before but never like this. I’ve never let myself want it, until now.
In my first year of middle school, I let a girl I liked do my makeup on the front steps of her house after school. I felt nervous when she asked, but she insisted, and I quietly became curious about how I’d look. Before I answered, she rummaged through her bag and assured me how fun it would be, how good I would look.
We took a picture together when she finished. She puckered her lips for the photo and leaned toward my forehead as if to kiss me. My eyes looked directly at the camera, surrounded by blue lids and black lashes. My lips wore a pink lipstick and curved upward only slightly. I couldn’t let out a smile. Not in makeup.
I kept the events of the afternoon secret from my mother when I got home that day, but my friend posted the photo online and my mother eventually saw my made-up face.
“You don’t make a very pretty girl,” she said to me. I laughed and agreed. I didn’t tell her that on my friend’s steps that day I hadn’t wanted to look like a girl.
I asked my friend Sara earlier that Friday to do my make-up for an 80s-themed night that we both planned to attend at our favorite bar in our Appalachian college town. She obliged and now sat cross-legged in front of me, with make-up items I can almost name at the ready.
Sara drags the brush along the outer arc of my eye-lid. Then, she feathers the brush downward. I try to imagine if I’ll look good in this shade of purple. When I open my eyes, I hope to walk to a mirror and see something like Bowie or Robert Smith, maybe even Boy George looking back at me. I want to believe I look manly and completely not, both at once. More than anything, I hope I look pretty.
Sara tells me I can open my eyes. She licks her finger and then rubs it along the perimeter of my eyelid. To clean up the edges, she says.
She reaches for an all-black tube, unscrews it at its center, and pulls out a another brush made of small barbs that look thick and wet, like a comb covered in tar. She tells me to hold still and to look up, like I’m thinking hard.
My phone buzzes as soon as I feel the brush tug on my bottom eyelash. I can’t look at the message, but I know who it’s from.
“I’m wearing makeup tonight,” I had texted my date, a woman who I did not know very well, but who I liked and wanted to impress. “I’m heterosexual, though,” I had quickly added.
I felt wrong for explaining myself to her, and yet I hated how impossible it seemed for me to meet up with the woman without having mentioned the makeup. I feared she would see my made-up face and find me lesser than the man who had asked her out previously. Beyond Halloween costumes that required eyeliner or a girlfriend who begged their boyfriend to let them see how he would look in lipstick, straight men had never worn makeup in my world.
Sara steadies the brush over my eyeball, then begins to drag it through my top eyelash. I feel the mascara more than the eyeshadow. It coats my eyelash, makes it heavy. When I blink the top and bottom eyelashes stick together, and Sara has to run the brush through again. A single black lash avoids the brush and remains. I see a black score in my periphery.
“How hard is all this to take off?” I ask Sara.
She caps the mascara, and begins to stipple glitter on the lay of my cheek bone. She tells me it’s no struggle. And that’s just it. Makeup gives me entry into worlds with struggles I’m privileged to not shoulder. Never before have I needed to worry if my makeup covered my zits or made my eyes more noticeable, my lips plump. Never have I been asked if I was tired or sick because I didn’t bother to wear makeup that day. Never have I needed that pop of color around my eyes, those arbitrary feminine red lips, to pass in the eyes of others for what I knew myself to be. I can scrub my eyes with a towel at the end of the night and escape back to my place as a man with little more than rubbed-red cheeks and eyelids. At worst, I might miss some glitter on my face or neck, and someone might slap my shoulder and wink the next morning, asking, “So you were with a girl last night, huh?”
Perhaps the issue is whether I’d own that glitter. If I would be bold enough to say it was mine. I wore it. That glitter fell from the face of a man.
Sara tells me I’m done. The look is complete. I think to check my phone, but I stop, leave it. I stand up and walk toward the mirror, instead. I pause before stepping in front of the mirror. I look down at my legs, where my stomach protrudes slightly beneath my shirt, further up toward where the right side of my rib cage sticks out farther than the left. I look at the wisps of blonde hairs that wrap around my forearms. I ball my hands into fists, squeeze, let go.
“What do you think?” Sara asks.
Wearing makeup is easy for me and yet it is hard. But I know that’s not what she means. I step in front of the mirror, and I look.
Dashes of purple cup my eyes, above and below. My eyelashes follow a strong and elegant arc. My cheek bones shimmer, as I move my head from left to right. They shift when I begin to smile, like they were made of gold sand that has no place to fall but into the coarse hairs I let grow on my lip, cheeks, and jaw.
Jordan Floyd is a second year Master’s student at Ohio University where he studied nonfiction. His work has appeared in Mud Season Review.