I’ve always said I’d never combat aging with cosmetic surgery. “Growing old gracefully” is the phrase my friends and I traded back and forth. We might try to preserve our youthful looks through exercise, diet and — in several of cases, including mine — not having kids, but we agreed that paying doctors to carve up our faces and smooth out our wrinkles was out of the question. My friend Chris was particularly adamant, saying that we should be proud to wear our life experience on our faces, and I agreed. I pictured my face softening with wrinkles and laugh lines, and the picture didn’t frighten me. Once, after my friend Rosemarie was killed in a horrible car accident and I was wondering around Fort Collins, the Colorado town where I lived at the time, like a zombie, so immersed was I in shock and grief, I met an older man outside Kinko’s. I had just come from getting the oil in my car changed at one of those speedy oil change places, and I’d been so out of it that I’d driven my car onto the grate over the pit in the ground where the people work and half-toppled my car into said pit. This man must have seen the pain in my face, because he stopped and struck up a conversation with me. We talked for nearly an hour, me and this stranger. I don’t remember everything he said, but at the end of our conversation, as he was walking away from me, he said, “You’ll age well.” It was such a strange thing to say, half compliment and half prophecy. I felt guilty to hear him say it, as one of my best friends from childhood had just died at twenty-six, right after finishing medical school at Johns Hopkins. And here was this man telling me not just that I would grow old, but that I’d grow old well?
So recently I have been noticing this thing about my face. My right eyelid does not look the same as my left eyelid. It droops. It’s weirdly puffy, as if it’s retaining water. Have some errant tears gotten caught up there? I perform the facial gymnastics, trying to get the lid to conform. I massage it with two fingers. I put a silk eye pillow filled with lavender in the microwave and then lie on my bed with the pillow over my eyes. Nothing seems to make the lid behave. It’s not like this droopy eyelid makes me look OLD, I say to myself. I just look wrong: asymmetrical, misshapen. No one ever said that part of the deal of getting old would mean that you’d look asymmetrical and misshapen. There must be something wrong with my eye that has nothing to do with age. I must have an allergy. I blame my thyroid, my hormones, my expired mascara. Certainly just a little minor surgery would be justified, I tell myself. Just to fix this one tiny . . . and then I promise, I say to myself. After that, I’ll grow old gracefully . . .