My Mom had pale blue-grey eyes, an almost non-colour you had to get up really close to decipher, that she passed on to my brother but not to me.
When I was a teen and Mom was the age I am now–a calculation I can do in my head but that doesn’t quite compute–I would do her makeup for special occasions, “Because you always do it so much better than I can.”
She would take care of her base (an intriguing combination of green cover-up to camouflage the tiny red veins around her nose followed by thick liquid foundation) and her lips (always lined, always matte).
But I would get to do her eyes.
It was the 80s and more was more. Three shades of eyeshadow (usually in some combination of blue, pink or purple), the palest swept across her lids and brow, then a deeper shade across the lids only. The darkest colour in the crease, perfectly blended. Mascara on the top lashes only (“They all clump together if you do the bottoms too!”). And eyeliner all around.
The eyeliner was the trickiest part. On my own young, smooth lids I could slide the sharpened black kohl pencil across from inner corner to outer in one swift movement and achieve a perfect line. But Mom’s 40-odd-year-old eyelids had a softness to them, a slight loosening of the skin, that required a gentle pulling, a miniscule back-and-forth movement, a series of connected dabs as opposed to a sweep.
I noticed it then as simply one of the many elements that made up the face I so adored. The small beauty spot above her eyebrow. The slight hook to the bridge of her nose from a lifetime of wearing glasses. The sculpted cheekbones I envied. These fragile eyes. And I filed it away as just one of the many details that sets your mom apart as being perpetually older than you believe you will ever be.
No one who knew my Mom would think her fragile.
Stubborn, yes. Opinionated, definitely. Strong-willed, determined, competitive, outspoken, always right, never without a quick or funny comeback.
But there was a vulnerability to her that, much as she strove to suppress it, escaped from time to time.
The tears in her eyes that she steadfastly blinked away when she explained to me the mechanics of her mastectomy beforehand and showed me the scars afterwards.
The conscious setting of her shoulders when she delivered the news that the cancer had spread yet again.
The quiet admission, just days before she died, that she regretted leaving this earth as “nothing but another smalltown nobody.”
I was putting on my makeup this morning, this Mother’s Day, and noticed (not for the first time, but perhaps more significantly given the date) the soft crepiness of the skin along my lashline that now requires the same tender treatment I once gave my Mom.
And this tiny ritual in front of the bathroom mirror reminded me, crushingly, of all that we had and all that we didn’t: I’m a grown woman she never knew; a mother she didn’t live to see me become. The fragility of the moment called achingly for despair.
But I am, if nothing else, my mother’s daughter.
So I blinked back the tears, set my shoulders and faced our day.
It seems I got my mother’s eyes after all.