“Well, there’s just this extra skin … ” I continued.
“ … that’s sort of hanging … ”
“Yes, drooping … ”
“Not exactly drooping, more like slipping … ”
“No, that’s a droop … ”
“Fine. Anyway, I think I need one of those blafo-somethings.”
“Yeah, one of those.”
Last summer I found myself in renowned Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Herbert Shleegalbottom’s (a pseudonym) office awaiting my consultation.
I nervously glanced at the other women in the waiting room. They were all in varying stages of horrific: there were sutures in eyelids, swollen Frankensteinian brows, and bruises blacker than the madness awaiting Colonel Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness. A woman with bolts in her head, which appeared to be the only things holding up her face, conveyed to me with a look that ogling plastic surgery patients in a waiting room is like one man staring at another man’s penis at the urinals. Look away, bitch!
Here’s what I didn’t like about my 45-year old body: my muffin top. My turkey neck. My drooping eyelids. My thin lips. And my hair in tropical locales.
I’d like to be the kind of woman who snow-shoes through frozen tundra to ice-fish, rappels off stalactites to get home in time to behead, skin, gut and cook the fish to feed her Inuit family, never once thinking about how she looks. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those women.
I am the kind of woman who will wear a hideous bumblebee AYSO uniform to referee my two daughters’, Bridget and Clare, girls-under-ten soccer games. And Henry, my husband, will take me however he can get me. But I want to die old : with a good-looking corpse.
In the examination room, Dr. Shleegalbottom (simply Dr. Bottom to friends) and I sat on stools opposite each other.
“What would you like to do?” he asked, forehead frozen into a prism of line-free beauty.
“You know exactly what I need done,” I challenged, Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral.
He stared at me, unwilling to draw first. The townsfolk closed their blinds and hid.
“Fine,” I said, “My neck’s starting to pucker.”
“No, I wouldn’t touch that. That’s all sun damage.”
Damn you, Mother! (It’s always the mother.) Why did you spray me with that damn cooking oil in 1976 and let me fry like a chicken-apple sausage on Sunday morning??
“Huh,” I grunted, “Well, my eyelids bother me.”
“Okay,” Dr. Bottom nodded. What did he mean, Okay?
“I wouldn’t do just that,” said Dr. Bottom.
Dr. Bottom said if he only took flesh off of my eyelids, my eyebrows (which were apparently already perched precipitously low on my brow bone) would be yanked down lower and I’d end up looking like a basset hound.
“What you need,” he said, “is the blephorectomy and a brow lift.”
Dr. Bottom launched into the gory details of the surgery. I went into selective hearing mode. This is what I heard: “Mwa mwa mwa five incisions, mwa mwa mwa shaving muscle, mwa mwa mwa staples:”
I got just enough of the details to realize this was serious stuff, but not so much I’d get scared and want to hang on to my extra eyelid flesh in case I needed it to grow a human ear on a mouse for one of my daughters one day.
Now. How to sneak a substantial amount of money and getting my face jacked up past my husband? At home I decided to just give it to him straight.
“I saw a guy. I want a brow lift. This could be my 45th birthday gift.” (The old birthday gambit!)
Henry hit me below the belt right away. “What kind of message is this going to send to our daughters?”
I was ready for him. “It says that when they’re 45 they can do whatever they want to their faces. We’ll probably be dead by then anyway.” Then I added, “I don’t want to change what I look like, I want to preserve what I already have.”
Henry rolled his eyes. To him I was nothing more than a guy in Cabo San Lucas who tries to sell you a time-share while you eat the free breakfast and if you don’t buy it he kidnaps you and makes you live in a box with no latrine until your family shells out your assets.
I half-listened as Henry listed all the things that could go wrong. Then I just looked at him with my droopy eyelids. I could wait this bastard out. He sighed. He fidgeted. He flung himself backwards and hid his head under two pillows. I began to knit mercilessly. My needles clicking. Click. Click. Click :
My surgery was scheduled during school drop-off, so it was decided my mother would take me. Here’s a snapshot of our conversation in the car:
“I can’t believe a daughter of mine is having plastic surgery.”
“I’m your only daughter. Actually, your only child!”
“Because what if it goes all wrong and you end up sneezing through your clitoris? I mean, I would love to have a neck lift, but it’s too late for me now : ”
“It’s not too late, Mom.”
“Why can’t you just accept me the way I am? You think I’m hideous!”
“Mom, you passed the place! Turn around. Make a u-turn!”
Five minutes (and no death toll) later, mom and I were ushered into the OR prep room. She informed the nurses that she didn’t understand why her beautiful daughter was having this procedure, after which the nurses all felt obligated to tell me how beautiful I already was.
This continued until Dr. Bottom arrived and snapped a Polaroid of my eyes. My mother watched the close-up develop then gasped, “Maybe you do need this surgery.”
I turned to one of the nurses and cried, “Give me the anesthesia, now!” The last thing I remember before they put me under was my mother wailing, “Her eyes were her one beauty!”
“Shannon. Open your eyes. Open your eyes, Shannon.”
I opened my eyes and saw Dr. Bottom and the anesthesiologist peering down at me. Neither of them could frown thanks to the Botox. They’d awoken me mid-surgery to make sure my eyes were even so I didn’t end up looking like Marty Feldman.
The second time I awoke I was bandaged and in the recovery station – then somehow ended up in my mom’s Volvo wearing Betty Ford celebrity rehab sunglasses as she drove us home in the wrong direction.
After touring the entire L.A. basin and adjacent territories we finally arrived home and I took to my bed.
It was two months before I could go outside without the villagers throwing a burlap sack over my head, locking me in a cage and poking me with sticks as I screamed, “I am not an animal!” During that time I did worry about how my surgery would affect my girls. Especially Bridget, who’d caught me on the toilet without my dark glasses.
As I lay in bed with a bag of frozen peas on my head and a bottle of Vicodin in my clutches I overheard a conversation in the hallway that reassured me.
Bridget: (scandalized whisper) “I saw Mommy’s eyes.”
Clare: “Were they scary?”
Bridget: “Yeah, they were : but she’s still the same funny Mommy!”
A year later I’m very happy with the results of my plastic surgery, but even happier to know the most important people don’t love me for my looks. Scary eyes or not.