On the day of the 30th high school reunion of the Walden School (a progressive private school on the Upper West Side that no longer exists), Smartmom spent many hours beautifying at the Frajean Salon on Seventh Avenue.
But even Stephen and the staff at the full-service hair salon/spa could not make her look like herself at 17, a hippie wannabe who longed to sing like Joni Mitchell.
The first order of business was highlights. Looking like Hellraiser with tin foil sticking out of her head, Smartmom laughed. In high school, she was the brown-haired girl with big brown eyes that all the boys wanted to be friends with, while Smartmom’s best friend was the blonde beauty whom all the boys wanted to sleep with.
But for the reunion, Smartmom would have blonde highlights! She knew that would throw her old high school friends for a loop. Maybe no one would recognize her.
After the highlights, Smartmom went downstairs for a waxing in a room with bright examination lights and “soothing” New Age music. Hot Wax Lady used boiling wax to shape Smartmom’s eyebrows (no Frida Kahlo unibrow like in high school) and rip off (ouch) the old-lady hairs that grow from her chin and make her feel like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
Then it was time for her toes and feet, which had to look beautiful because she was wearing gold metallic sandals that made her look six feet tall. She may have been short in high school, but 30 years later, she’d be an Amazon.
The haircut and styling came next. After the cut, Smartmom watched nervously as Stephen got out his hair curler from the bottom shelf.
“Please, I don’t want Farrah Fawcett hair,” Smartmom warned.
“But the 1970s are very big right now,” Stephen said.
“Yeah, but Walden wasn’t that kind of ’70s,” Smartmom said. “We were very natural back then. We didn’t use make-up, or even shave our legs.”
This piqued the attention of Stephen’s 20-ish assistant.
“You didn’t wear make-up?” she said, shocked.
Clearly, she was too young to know of a time when women burned their bras and rebelled against the feminine mystique.
Finally, Stephen applied the make-up. It made Smartmom so nervous that she thought she’d throw up — but as he applied a smooth layer of foundation, he slowly erased 30 years of stress from her skin.
Gone were the lines from 30 years of laughing and crying; the dark rings under her eyes from a cumulative loss of sleep from all-nighters at college, 3 am breast-feedings and overheated arguments with Hepcat about money; the crows-feet next to her eyes that made her think of her mother; the scowly lines next to her mouth from feeling so much disapproval and pain; her sallow complexion from spending too many hours staring at her computer.
When Stephen was done, Smartmom looked great. But later when she and Hepcat took the F-train to the reunion, she realized that she had spent more than $300 for an impossible goal: she could never look like she did 30 years ago because she wasn’t the same person as she was 30 years ago.
The reunion passed by in a blur of open-hearted, Cabernet-fueled conversation. Most of her former classmates — financial wizards, psychotherapists, writers, lawyers, environmentalists, an op-ed editor of a national newspaper, an opera singer and a dress designer — seemed to be doing what they wanted to do. Everyone looked great (even if the men had lost most of their hair) and were as idealistic as ever — products of a school that taught them to question authority and make a difference in the world.
Smartmom was moved to tears (and skunk eyes from smudged eyeliner) when Opera Singer (the aforementioned blond best friend) sang “Our Love is Here to Say,” and got flirtatious with some of the boys she had liked back then.
Later, in the cab back to Brooklyn, Smartmom thought about how much had gone on since graduation: there was college, a career, Smartmom and Hepcat’s trip cross-country in a 1963 Ford Galaxy; their wedding on a rainy day in July; the birth of Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One in a Manhattan hospital.
Back in 1976, you could get a brownstone on Garfield Place for less than $20,000. It was before the AIDS crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Bush 1, Bush 2, cellphones, compact discs, Jimmy Carter, the Intifada (1 and 2), the iPod, the L.A. riots, SUVs and Tiananmen Square.
Obviously, Smartmom knew she could never return to her 17–year-old self in the same way that the world can never go back to the way it used to be.
And then she understood: a high-school reunion is supposed to be a time to honor who you were then and respect who you are now.
And if Smartmom looked 30 years older that was OK. Everyone else did, too.
©2006 Community News Group
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