I want to pluck my eyebrows badly right now and I can’t. It’s too dark anyway, and I don’t have tweezers, but even though I can’t see all those stray hairs clearly, I know they are there. I spotted them on the last hopeful but unproductive bathroom visit before the long drive to LAX, and I wanted to get my tweezers out of my luggage and pluck them then and there but there wasn’t time. I thought about the stray hairs on the drive to the airport and now I am on the plane and I am still thinking about them.
These are the times I know I am OCD but there’s nothing I can do but acknowledge this frailty and just suffer. Could I go into the tiny airplane toilet now and try to pull the offending hairs out by the root with my bare hands? Probably not. I don’t even have fingernails, cut to the quick earlier this week in anticipation of holiday jam sessions, loosely planned easy days where my guitarist friends come over and marvel at my tremendous collection of 6 and 12 strings.
I don’t think I can grab at the hairs with my fingers, especially with the newly re-formed calluses from all the feverish playing between Christmas and New Years. My hands are not tight enough and the hairs are too fine, after being plucked diligently for more than two decades. My shiny Asian hair is slippery and defies the grip of even the most needlenosed of my Shu Uemuras.
The girl who showed me how to pluck my eyebrows was the girlfriend of a guy I know well. They had a tumultuous relationship that tortured him and cost him many friends who hated watching him wither under her gaze. It is strange and something that afflicts the young more than the old, groups of friends that shatter under the weight of a new relationship, opinions about him or her becoming the concern of the whole rather than the individual. There is the splitting and the taking of sides and possibly attempts to reconcile, which never quite works, the initial break too traumatic to recover from, the cracks irreparable underneath the facades of certain kinds of friendships. When we age this happens less, friends being harder to come by. The machinations of life kicking us all into higher gears, it is a pleasure to downshift with those you know you love and can go slow with.
Fashions have changed and browstyles have come and gone but I still use her technique, plucking all the hairs in the direction of their growth. Her initial pattern remains the one I adhere to. I haven’t plucked them more or less from the shape she first created, in the exact image of hers, looking each like adam’s rib, delineating the space between my eyes and my forehead. It’s like she did it yesterday, or actually the day before yesterday because now they are growing in and driving me crazy.
She was slightly older than me and I remember she held herself in a great importance, which was one of the reasons why my friend loved her so, and also why she infuriated his friends. She was always frustrated and sighing over some insult. Every day brought forth a new calamity. She made an art of her dissatisfaction because she wholeheartedly believed she deserved better, whatever better meant. She sighed at my eyebrows and she sighed as she plucked them. She didn’t ask permission to do so but I didn’t need her to. I desperately wanted her attention because it seemed incredibly valuable and much more than I could afford. She worked on my brows and her steady exhale into my face made me shake visibly but of course I hid this as best I could.
When she was done I was shocked at how different I looked and also how glamorous and pampered I felt. She made a gift of her $20 tweezers and my heart leapt out of my chest. She gave me a tight smile that showed both her indifference and her kindness. “They look good. Pluck them every day.” and I did. And I have.
It took many years for my friend to finally break up with her but she and I never hung out again. He brought her up in conversation recently and I could feel the love he still felt for her freeze the air around us for a moment until it was warmed over by a joyous interruption from his young son.
I tried to keep my eyebrows the same way, and probably will until they turn grey and are framed by wrinkles. All these years have not changed them. They are a symbol of my youth but also my coming of age. They remind me of the moment I knew that I was queer and loved women as easily as I loved men if not more.