They stare at me.
Men are always staring into my face, staring into my mouth blaring red like it always does, and I want to stop and ask them, “What are you going to find there?”
I watch their gaze travel from my ankles to my eyebrows and then back again, sweeping over the whole scope of me, and I want to ask them what they think they’re gonna find. They’re drawn to me because of this siren mouth and it holds their attention in hallways and aisles and at stoplights.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been painting my mouth in some shade of red since I was 14, because when you’re 14 you think womanhood is just around the corner and you’re gonna wake up one morning a fully-formed woman, when in fact this takes a whole lot longer than a good night’s sleep. Wearing red lipstick as a teenager is just like being a kid playing in your mom’s makeup, even if you think you’re grown. You’re just fumbling about, a facade of femininity. You’re not a little girl anymore, but you might as well be.
I’ve read that men like a shiny red lip because it reminds them of sex, that the reason centerfolds and porn stars pose with their lips slightly parted is because it looks sorta vaginal, but who knows. Or maybe it’s because men are animals, science says, and they just can’t help themselves from staring at a bright color. I always made a point to throw my lipsticky Kleenexes in my ex-boyfriends’ garbage cans like triumphant little flags to mark my territory.
I bought my first red lipstick from the Clinique counter in my hometown mall at 14 because of a lifelong obsession with Marilyn Monroe, whose quivering red lips screamed both sex and glamour. It was called Deep Lacquer and I still have it in a box somewhere, worn down by years of wear before I moved on to other colors. I’ll never get rid of it. I wore it for every special occasion of my young life: my first date with my sweet first boyfriend, junior prom, senior prom, graduation, the first tornado days of college.
There are lipsticks populating my life like cockroaches. They spill out of drawers and take over my purse. They’re jumbled in jewelry boxes and dishes and in the cup holders of my car, part of the feminine chaos of my life. They fit right in. I need them. I need all 80 tubes, desperately so. They’re part of my face. It looks funny without the red blot of color on my mouth.
Some people meticulously line their lips before they apply their red, coloring perfectly in the lines. I don’t do this. I put lipstick on in the dark, in a moving car, walking down the street. I don’t like it to be perfect. I wear blue-reds, orange-reds, true reds, never pinks. Red is my shield.
It renders me untouchable; no man in a bar sends a drink to the girl with the red lips but rather to the one in a sparkly lip gloss. Lip gloss is accessible. Lipstick isn’t.
You leave your little kisses around the rim of your coffee cups and champagne glasses and they never really wash off, you know.
I never really know if the men I’m with notice that the color is fading, pressing off, in that spot where the glass hits my lips, but I know they’re watching. You leave cigarette butts in the street with a telltale red slash. You leave little smudges on the lapels of suits and shirt collars when you’re drunk and dancing close and you never pay for the dry cleaning. You talk to a man in a bar and you think, How funny, you’ve had your tongue down my throat before, you’ve wiped my lipstick stains off your face.