I’m wearing L’oreal’s “Bitten Berry” today.
I’ve had an obsession with lipstick since the moment I became aware that I was female and aware that women wore lipstick. I’ve loved deep reds, 1940’s glam reds, campy 50s diner-waitress reds as long as I can remember.
L’oreal has a very specific scent. No other lipstick smells like it. There’s a note of industrial production, a waxy chemical smell. Then there’s a hit of vintage femininity, a thick, flowery, musky smell. It’s that last note that, when coupled with a snowy morning like today’s, spurs memories so strong they play like a flickery movie in the back of my head even while I’m going through the motions here at work.
I was a swimmer in high school, and the girl’s swim team was active in the winter time. It was three years of chlorine-tinted, frozen hair, keeping damp skin from freezing to the cold, metal window frames of the school bus, reading AP English texts between races, at pools that dotted the Colorado map from Sterling to Estes Park to Boulder to Aurora. And there was lipstick.
I wore bright reds because there was a pretty big bell curve of similarity in body shape and size on our team and when we all donned our stars n stripes swimsuits, goggles and caps, we all looked a bit like a race of pale, bug-eyed, cloned aliens. And then there was me, with my bright red lips. So my parents could see me. I wore Revlon’s cherries in the snow and L’oreal’s True Red. I just wanted to stand out, in a small way, even when we all looked the same.
Swimming was a good sport for me: a team effort, but not in the way, say, soccer or softball would have been. When you’re in your relay, or your race, in your lane, you are completely alone. And for me, a kid who had struggled her whole life to obtain focus despite an unmedicated, persistent and pernicious case of ADHD, the moments spent with the sole task of breathing, moving forward, and going as fast as possible, were precious. Moments of utter clarity devoted to tasks that required my absolute and dedicated attention.
This morning, as I navigated icy sidewalks to the bus stop, I breathed the cold air tinged with L’oreal’s Bitten Berry, and remembered the white noise of the pool. The crunch of frozen locks of hair. The scent of chlorine. And my brain tuned to the only points that mattered. Momentum. Breath. Survival.