September 2005 ~ It is the night before the first day of school. I toss and turn and can’t sleep. I’m nervous as hell. What the hell am I doing anyway? What am I out of my mind? I have never put anything on my face except Ivory Soap and Nivea. Beauty School? Yeeesh.
Around 3:00 in the morning I realize I forgot to make my lunch. I get up, take one of Tom’s insulated beer coolers with a contractor’s logo on it and make a snack. I pack leftover salmon and rice and tomatoes from the garden. Little School Girl.
When I finally do fall asleep, I have an anxiety dream that I have overslept and have missed the first day of school. I realize it has been approximately forty years since I last had that dream.
When I am getting dressed for school, Tom sings “Beauty School Drop-Out” to me at the top of his lungs. I have to wear a “uniform” of black shoes, black pants and a white top. I have been instructed to wear “subtle” make-up. Jesus.
I walk in the front door of the clinic side of the school. There are two other women nervously waiting. They are both wearing the requisite black and white student outfit. One woman is of indeterminate age; the other is around my age. Definitely around my age, if not older. She is non-descript and pudgy. They seem friendly. I relax a little bit.
It is 8:30 AM. More women start pouring in. They are pretty silent. Some are whispering. We are herded up to the “Trainee” classroom in the back where we will be sequestered for the next eight weeks. My class is huge—two times the normal size. There are twelve of us. I am in the middle row with the Woman of Indeterminate Age and the Pudgy One sitting to my left. The seats are filling up. At the last minute a buxom brunette with spiky hair and purple eye shadow rushes in and sits to my right. She’s around my age too.
The women in the row in front of us are all in their early twenties and are all drop-dead gorgeous. I mean seriously gorgeous in a healthy, glowing, long blond hair, classic Christie Brinkley kind of way. I turn around. The women in the row in back of us are also all in their early twenties with the same stunningly attractive, classy “Town & Country” kind of blond, blinding white teeth, All-American natural beauty.
All except for the young dark haired woman at the end of the row with the eyebrows shaved off. Her hair is short and teased and her eyebrows are penciled in high and arched. She reminds me of Divine in “Pink Flamingo.” She has a black tattoo on her neck. She shoots me a dark look like, “What the hell are you looking at?” I whip back around in my seat. She scares the shit out of me.
I begin to get incredibly hot. I ask the women in my row if it’s really hot in here or is it just me? The Woman of Indeterminate Age says, “No, you’re having a hot flash.” She laughs and says, “Me too.”
The instructor comes in. It is the same zaftig woman I met before. I am happy to see her. Her name is Sophie and we are going to be stuck with her for the first eight weeks of our curriculum. We go around the room doing introductions. Most of the women are in the “food service industry,” are waitresses and want to get out of “dead end jobs.”
The Pudgy woman next to me is a Zen Buddhist and the Brunette is a Nail Tech. The Dark Haired One in the back row is a bartender and says her goal is to make tons of money doing make-up for the strippers before they do their routines in the Combat Zone in Boston. I turn around and grin at her. This girl has balls. Her name is Vivienne.
Our Instructor, Sophie, is telling us the rules. We must be here and signed in promptly at 8:30 AM or the door will be closed and we will be locked out until lunchtime. We will be signed out at 4:30 PM. No chewing gum, hair will be pulled back neatly away from our faces, no dangling jewelry, subtle makeup must be worn at all times. Plain black, soft-soled shoes only, no heels. Lab coats must be pressed, no wrinkles allowed—ever. She asks that we not change our seats so she can remember our names. Some of the young women are taking notes.
In the middle of all this I get poked in the side. It’s the buxom brunette with the purple eye shadow.
She says, “You have my pen.”
I look down. Damn, I do. I hand it to her, “Sorry.”
She rolls her eyes and does a big dramatic sigh. She levels me with a bold, confrontational stare. I can hear her thinking, “Shit. This is gonna be a looong six months.”
At the last minute before the door slams shut, a very young, very tiny, dark haired kid sneaks in the back and quietly slides in to the last empty seat. I grin to myself. We’re all here. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I am in the Hot Flash Row.
~from The Beauty Girls by Carol Leonard ~ 2010