Dispatches | December 16, 2003

I want Botox. The deep grooves that run like EKG flat lines across my forehead are one reason, but the fact that my face has always given me away is a more important one.

While I’ve been socialized enough to know the ‘proper’ things to say in sticky situations, my face involuntarily broadcasts my real emotions. Upon meeting the severely coiffed wife of one of my husband’s childhood friends, she promptly stared out over her coffee cup and asked me, “Is English your first language? You say things so differently.”

I explained that I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and then moved to Southern Missouri as a teen; perhaps that accounted for my bastardized accent. “No,” she said, “I don’t think that’s it.” I tried to sound polite and less ‘foreign’ for the rest of the visit, but I’m sure my facial expression—the slight snarl to my lips and the raised eyebrows—told the real story.

Oh how I long for the impenetrable mask of Botox. Check out the advertisements; “Botox is a poison that can heal.” For five hundred dollars an injection, the bacterial toxins will paralyze my facial muscles and control involuntary contractions. It’s a fair price to pay for a few peaceful months of emotional concealment.

I can already see it making me a better teacher in the classroom. My freshmen women like to come to class dressed in sweatpants with the elastic waist rolled down to their pelvic bone a la Britney Spears and shrunken tank tops that cover but don’t conceal their nipples. Some have flat tummies; most don’t. When they lean across their desks or bend to slide into their chairs, I’m sure I grimace at the sight of exposed flesh, and various cracks, and crevices.

And then there’s the writing that we discuss in class: jeans that drool over tennis shoes, flicking eyes, rivers that flow like chocolate pudding, and a penis compared to the head of a reluctant turtle. While I know that these details are coming from the right metaphoric place and I try to encourage edits, I am sure that my perplexity is written across my face. Really, who am I to disapprove of their preferences? So their favorite car is a Hummer, their favorite dog a rottweiler, their favorite book Harry Potter, and their favorite singer Justin Timberlake. I am not the ambassador of good taste. I once wore purple socks in honor of Donnie Osmond. (Though I think I was smart enough to keep my crush hidden; I listened to “Puppy Love” in the confines of my bedroom.)

I don’t mean to judge their personal lives either. I should know better. At their age, I had my own problems—a depressive, cigar smoking roommate who wore white pancake makeup in summer, a Ford Maverick I’d driven into the lake, and a Christian boyfriend who hovered and tried to convert my party-hardy friends—all the usual college girl stuff. Where was Botox to help me keep a smile fixed on my face when one of my students announced after we discussed an essay about the differences between having a baby in the U.S. and France that she was six weeks pregnant.

“I’ve always wanted to be a young mother,” she said, popping a Saltine into her mouth.

The poison would’ve kept my eyebrows from floating up in a look of surprise when another revealed that she paid off $25,000 in credit card debt by stripping. She got so used the $800 nightly payoff that she kept twirling around the pole to techno music once the debt had long disappeared. She swept her black Cleopatra hair from her shoulders and said, “I spent hundreds like twenties.”

I am sure if Botox had been available when I was a kid, my mother would’ve saved her Avon money and taken me to a plastic surgeon for the full treatment, or even whipped up a wicked batch of the poison in her kitchen at home. Every kid has that phase when they’re embarrassed by their parents, but how many parents admit to being horrified by their own kids.

Once I was asked to read a few Bible verses in front of the church congregation. After I finished and was feeling proud of my performance, I slid into the pew next to my mother. She leaned in and whispered, “You make the most godawful faces.” I told her that I was trying to be expressive; she said that I looked as if I were going to puke.

Christmas is a time when I really struggle. But who couldn’t use a little Botox to help them gracefully accept those off-the-mark gifts? One year when I was ten maybe eleven, my step grandmother Victoria, who had survived the Depression, carefully watched me as I unwrapped her gift. I knew to be afraid: she had given my older brother an Afro pick and my younger sister a loofah sponge.

“Thank you, Grandma. Chewable Malox,” I said, trying to calm myself. She looked at me as if I were an idiot. “Open the box,” she said. I lifted the lid. Boing. A super ugly face. Thirty swab-on perfume samples of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew—and it was the last gift she ever gave me.

Some people feel that you should be open, transparent. I have found the opposite to be true. When my husband says about dinner, “Chicken again?” my words are calming, accommodating, but I know I look as if I could ring his neck. Nothing good comes of telegraphing such feelings. It is better to let the world guess what troubled waters lie beneath a placid surface. No one wants to see your soul, let alone the flicker of every mood and emotion. With this blessed poison, a wrinkle-free forehead is a bonus.

The bonanza is a Botox poker face.