The Lift by Kimi Farley

The Lift by Kimi Farley

My mother’s face is beautiful. Her deep dimples punctuate more than just her
smiles. Her pale green eyes that she counts on every St. Patrick’s Day to avoid
having to think too deeply about her wardrobe requirements are deep and
thoughtful. Her wrinkled and tan face tells at a glance that she enjoys the sun,
the outdoors, sports, and a fuss-free beauty routine. When I think of happy smile
lines, her face is the first to come to mind. The crevices splay out from her eyes
in a reflection of her love of happy things, of humor, of positive thinking. Her
short, grey-specked hair has the perfect amount of wave so that she’s ready to
go as soon as she’s combed through it once, perhaps twice on special
occasions. The scars, each with their own story add beauty and depth and life to
this face I’ve known from birth. There’s the one between her eyebrows from the
time she totaled the MG as a newlywed and broke the steering wheel with her
forehead, the one from the motorcycle accident as a teenager, and the one from
chicken pox that she used as an object lesson when I was stricken myself on
why you mustn’t pick at your pox.

“I’ve decided to get an eyelift,” she said over the phone. “Will you come with me
to the consultation?”

My mother and I are close and we get along well. We haven’t always, but that
mostly comes down to my inability to see her as an actual person and not just my
own personal mother. When she went through a very difficult mid-life period, all I
saw was that she wasn’t doing her job as my mother. She is being extremely
selfish and immature, I thought to my judgy self during those few years.
Naturally, I took every opportunity to lecture her on all the selfish and immature
things she was doing. At some point she started avoiding me out of self-defense
and our relationship became strained. It took a stranger to finally straighten me
out. “You don’t know the first thing about your mother,” a random lady in a CPR
class said to me one day, in response to my venting about how I was practically
orphaned because my mother was so selfish and immature. I was intensely annoyed by that woman (the audacity!). But she made me think hard about
things. Not too long after that I was able to grow up and stop being so selfish and
immature. She, being the mother that she is, easily forgave me and we were able
to heal. But that was a long time ago, and now she was asking me to accompany
her to the plastic surgeon’s office.

She wanted to get an eyelift. My mother, who had only worn makeup on a
handful of occasions, each time under duress and caving to outside persuasion.
My mom, who often played on two softball teams at a time throughout my
childhood. Who, at 63, finally traded in her street bike for a beefy scooter. She
was getting an eyelift and I was going with her to talk to the doctor.

It is amazing sometimes, the distance from one side of a door to the other. We
changed worlds when we crossed the threshold of the Gateway Aesthetic
Institute and Laser Center and were greeted by taut, shiny, slightly unnaturally
arranged faces. I think they were smiling, though it seemed likely to be their only
possible expression, so it was hard to tell. There must be a really good employee
discount at the Institute. As the nurse showed us into an examination room, I felt
I should say something. “I’m sorry about your accident,” I wanted to tell her. But
she didn’t give the impression that anything was amiss. Still, her swollen lips
made me worry about her spousal situation at home. Maybe she wasn’t ready to
talk about it.

“The doctor will be right in,” she managed to say without moving a facial muscle.
As the door closed, my mother and I looked at each other for a moment, taking in
the experience, before we both broke down in hushed laughter. We knew we
were thinking the same thing, so a shake of the head was sufficient
communication before we heard a light knock at the door.

We smelled him before we saw him. Now, a doctor smelling of antiseptic isn’t
necessarily out of the ordinary, but this man embodied antiseptic.
He was antiseptic. He obviously had a hygiene problem. The problem of too
much hygiene.

There is silence on the phone for a moment. “An eyelift? What are you talking
about, Mom? Why on Earth would you want an eyelift?”

She explained that her hooded lids were putting pressure on her eyes,
exhausting them by mid-day and messing with her vision. A simple surgery would
remove excess skin and relieve her symptoms. While I understood her reasons,
even agreed with them, I struggled to reconcile my love of her face exactly as it
was with the clear benefits of this surgical procedure. My own aversion to body
altering of any kind didn’t help. I have always been vocal and adamant about
keeping things the way they are. Something about the dishonesty and cheating
of body altering. Of losing the love of what we have and what we came with, the
parts that change over time and the parts that don’t. All of it is beautiful, and interfering with it doesn’t seem truthful to me.

After the usual formalities, the doctor began pinching, pulling, and otherwise
manipulating the skin under my mother’s eyebrows. As he did so he explained
the procedure, subsequently pointing out other options available during surgery.
“A brow lift could be nice here.”

I thought of her eyebrows, always so expressive. She can’t get through a
sentence without multiple eyebrow movements. I do the same thing—got it from
her, I’m sure of it, though I never could bug my eyes out as far as she could. I
always thought she could bug her eyes out more prominently than anyone. And I
most certainly considered it a useful skill, especially when you count all the times
she made me laugh by doing it. Some of her expressions were deadly serious
and successfully terrifying. That look I’d get when I had done something
unacceptable in public and would be hearing about it when we got home. Or the
one she used as she rattled the drawer that held the wooden spoons. She never
once had to take a spoon out of that drawer, her face being plenty convincing.

“And a little Botox here could smooth some of these forehead wrinkles.”

I remember my paternal grandmother warning me once that all of that raising and
furrowing of my brow line was going to put wrinkles on my forehead. I must have
been a young teenager, and even then, though I’m sure she meant it as a
discouragement, it did not sound like a bad thing to me. My mother’s forehead
wrinkles are a testament to her prolific and varied expressions. What’s so wrong
with that?

“Perhaps a chemical peel to reverse some of the leathering and aging of the

What a terrible waste that would be. Years of living, laughing, crying, expressing,
all peeled away in a moment. As I stared down at the face in whose gaze I feel
most loved and tried to imagine the changes this truly plastic surgeon was
proposing one by one, my worries compounded. If she agreed to any of these
changes I may never see this face again. Not as it is now. Not as it should be.

My mother noticed me stiffening with each mention of additional “improvements.”
As she looked up, giving me the okay to speak, I said as politely as I could
manage, and with a desperate hope that she would agree, “I think my mother is
beautiful the way she is.”