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Maintaining a Social Distance—from My Mirror

By Merrill Hansen

“You know what maintenance is, I’m sure. Maintenance is what they mean when they say, “After a certain point, it’s just patch patch patch.” Maintenance is what you have to do just so you can walk out the door knowing that if you go to the market and bump into a guy who once rejected you, you won’t have to hide behind a stack of canned food.”

--Nora Ephron, “On Maintenance”

It took a few weeks before Michigan’s March 23rd shelter-in-place order really entered my consciousness. I had bigger fish to fry: five days later, I came down with coronavirus, and was too fatigued to be bored, or even think about what life used to be like in the outside. I did miss my children, who live out of state, and I worried that they could have been exposed to someone who had the virus, before they started working from home. I worried about them going into stores to buy groceries. I wondered how long it would be before we could spend time together.

But as the weeks passed, while I still missed my children, I thought more and more about Inna, the woman who has given me manicures and pedicures for twenty years. I couldn’t think of Inna, without thinking of Lena, who for twenty years has colored my hair the natural color it was until I was in my thirties, and Irena, who has waxed my eyebrows and given me facials for twenty years. They have helped me prepare for trips, weddings, bar mitzvahs, holiday dinners, dates, concerts, and every other special event, aside from making me look presentable for everyday life. I have seen them almost every three weeks during those twenty years. But it was just my luck: days before my next scheduled appointments, it was ordered that hair and nail salons be temporarily closed

I soon not only missed my guardian angels, I began to worry about them. I wanted to make sure they were safe when they left home, and were practicing social distancing. One night, as I looked at my hair, my fingernails, my toenails, and my eyebrows. I almost had a panic attack. I thought, "Oh g-d, what if something happens to them? What if they decide they're not going to go back to work? What will happen to me?" These three women had not only become my friends, they had seen me without make-up; they'd seen me on days, when I looked in the mirror and thought I'd found Jimmy Hoffa. I looked forward to seeing them.

As I thought of Inna, I recalled the many times when friends, clients, and even strangers, standing next to me in the grocery store or in an elevator, would compliment me on the color of my nail polish. I thought about how I used to suffer from PTSD when I tried to polish my nails, because it brought back painful memories of being the only child in kindergarten who couldn't color inside the lines. When I tried to remove the smudges of polish around the nails, I would accidentally remove the fresh polish I'd put on my nails.

Thinking about Lena also brought back vivid memories: I thought of the magic potion she mixed to color my now-white hair, and make it look dark and shiny. I recalled the one time I tried to color my hair myself, when I was in my twenties, and bought a hair painting product to put highlights in my hair. I painted my hair according to the directions, and waited for the beautiful auburn highlights that were supposed to magically appear when I went out into the sun. Instead, about a week later, while on a camping trip out west, my hair turned orange in the hot sun.

Thoughts of Irena’s wizardry also came back to me, I thought about how friends would tell me they liked how she arched my eyebrows because it made my eyes look bigger, and I had "pretty eyes.” I recalled that when I tried to pluck and wax my eyebrows myself, I wound up with one arch higher than the other, and a huge painful red mark from pulling off the hot the wax I'd applied between my eyes.

So whenever one of the threesome sent me text messages during my days barricaded at home, I was relieved, because that meant they hadn't forgotten me. If one called, while I was on the phone with my kids, I would tell my kids that I had to take an important call and would get back to them. I knew there was going to be fierce competition from other clients who would also want to schedule appointments for manicures, pedicures and to have their hair colored, and eyebrows waxed on the first day that salons were allowed to reopen, and I needed to ensure that Inna, Lena and Irena looked forward to seeing me as much as I looked forward to seeing them.

By the beginning of May, the situation started to get dire. My nails were getting so long, they reminded me of a story I’d once read in the National Enquirer about Howard Hughes having 3-inch long nails when he died. When I looked at my eyebrows, I thought of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. When I looked at my hair, I knew that on the first humid day, I would look like I had a frizzy skunk on my head.

Well, mirable dictu, it has finally happened. Michigan’s governor just announced that beauty salons can reopen on June 15th. Within several heartbeats, I contacted all three and scheduled my appointments for opening day. This was major. I was finally going to have the relaxing, carefree day of luxury that I had been looking forward to for weeks: a day without any worries. That is, until I started talking with my friends, who all said the same things: "Are you sure you want to be the first one to go to the salons?" "Even if everyone wears a mask, do you think it will be safe?" " Don't you think you should wait a couple of weeks to see if anyone gets sick, or if the virus spikes again? " And most ominously, "I would be worried if I were you."

Damn them. Now I am worried. But, the Jack Nicholson eyebrows, the Howard Hughes fingernails, and the frizzy skunk hair have got to go! But, then again... hmmm.

Merrill Hansen is a legal assistant, living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She describes herself as a frustrated writer, who wishes she could be Nora Ephron (when she was alive), if only for a day. She is a news-, political- and FB-junkie, a combination that requires a constant reminder that she needs to take deep cleansing breaths when responding to people who don't agree with her.



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