Jazmine Sullivan's song Mascara is a way of life for some women. She says, "I never leave the house without makeup on; I keep mascara in my pocket if I'm running to the market, 'Cause you never know who's watching you." Foundation, that beautiful creamy liquid creating a silky cloak that nestles skin. I have an appreciation for a good foundation more than ever, makeup in general. A bad one will show all that you attempted so diligently to hide. A great foundation will tuck all your dirty little secrets away from the world. What's under yours? We met when I was a teenager. The instant attraction and somewhat cosmic connection has - to this day - not been replicated. He was tall, his skin a sun-kissed caramel, sable-hued eyes, lips that felt like God made them just for me. Our relationship was complicated due to him being five years my senior. The unspoken understanding between us was a classic mesmerizing teenage rebellion story. He was everything my mother would hate; therefore, I loved the thrill of it. “Secret Lovers” was our theme song for quite some time. I always felt safe with and around him. I knew he would always ensure my safety regardless of all. Even when I was the worst of girlfriend's which prompted heartbreaking conversations, I knew he would only touch me in loving ways. We held onto our young love for over twenty years. Life paths separating us to walk our designed journey while longing for each other even while with others. Reuniting with him after 15 years felt like a dream come true for us. We could resume our relationship and bask in each other's love. However the sweetness of our love turned bitter. He was lost in the pain of the past, disappointed in my adventures that he missed out on, and taking it out on me verbally. I believed in my core that we could overcome this through communication and building new memories together. Never in my wildest dream would I imagine that my introduction to a good foundation would come after a cacophony of my own screams filling my sanctuary and a barrage of blows from my lover's fists to my face. However, that was after I was catapulted a full eight feet away from my front door to my sunroom. To this day, I still can't recall how I traveled that distance. My neck and back still tango with pain from landing on the floor. Sponges, brushes, and fingers offer different levels of blending your foundation. I loved this man for the majority of my life. I envisioned growing old with him, having his big-headed babies, and all that sappy stuff that Disney puts into our heads as children. Left hook, right hook, I still couldn't believe this was happening to me. Note to self, when covering bruises, use a very thick concealer, then foundation, then a little more concealer followed by banana powder. Yes, it’s cakey but necessary. The times we laughed and enjoyed each other flashed before my consciousness. The times I spent with my daughter teaching her about life. Is she about to lose her mother? When is this going to stop? If I die right now what are people going to say? Who’s going to pick her up from cheer practice? Right hook, left hook, left-right rapidly descending on my face. He was working me like a punching bag, but I felt nothing. I saw the heartbreak we shared from the loss of our child when I was 16, the sadness and guilt we both will carry until our last breath. I reached up to try to ward off the continuous blows from the hands that knew every inch of me. The hands I loved touching me were at that moment moving their way to my neck. A small voice whispered in my ear, "you're going to die." As the world became quieter and quieter, I felt myself slip into an abyss of darkness. I felt like a boa constrictor was wrapping its body around my neck, suppressing any scream that dared to escape. Just as I said to myself "I don't want to leave this world like this," I was resurrected by a left and right hook. Did this really happen? At some point, he rose and stomped on my glass living room table. Shockwaves of the sound of breaking glass traversed along my apartment building's hallway. He ran. I was left alone, wailing for help, frantically knocking on doors begging someone to let me into safety. After I reached the last door in my apartment hallway, I was finally rescued. Adrenaline had settled, and feelings of the present resumed. My face was on fire. All I could do was scream and yell, "My face is burning!" What had just happened? My friendly neighbors turned earth angels brought me a cool rag. I accepted it but begged for a mirror while one of them called the police. I saw my face and was in instant horror. Who was this person in the mirror? I wanted to find my car keys so I could find him and run him over. He can't successfully do rabbit punches at a fast-moving Jeep. But God, is all I can say. The police caught him faster than Joe Clark could say expeditiously and I was caught in the conundrum of sending a Black man to jail even though it was deserved. A cop shows me a photo from his phone, “Ma’am, we understand this is a difficult situation. Is this him?” There he was shirtless and hemmed up. “Yes officer, that’s him.” After reluctantly going to the hospital, spending several hours taking photos and having a full checkup, I was finally home. All I wanted was to be alone, which is impossible when you have people who love you and are rightfully worried about you. My mother, watching me, realized that she had almost lost me. My daughter was angry with him and me. I just wanted to pretend this was a nightmare. At some point, I expected to wake up from this dream knowing none of this had happened. I woke up the following day, went to the restroom, and looked in the mirror. At that moment, there was no denying this event occurred. “All the makeup I had under my counter will finally come to good use,” I thought. Okay, so do we go with Maybelline or Mary Kay? Maybelline 330 was my foundation of choice. It resulted in the perfect cover-up. Their concealer, coupled with some el-cheapo concealer, gifted during the precious Christmas, hid the blues under my eyes. Unfortunately, it didn’t cover the blues of my spirit. It was a means to an end… or beginning, depending on how you view it. I had to wait at least a week before I could even experiment fully due to the swelling. I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted life to go back to normal, but I couldn't even sit up or bend to pick up something from the floor without excruciating pain. I was on an unplanned sabbatical from my life which included neglecting church choirs and community service groups. I figured I would use this time to research how to use all this damn makeup I previously didn't have to use. Thank you, YouTube creators! I learned concealer techniques to hide my raccoon eyes just in time for me to go back to work two weeks later. The bruises around my eyes and throat lasted for months Staying out of sight when I could while attempting to reclaim my normalcy. Don't forget to apply blush and bronzer to make the look appear natural. Wear glasses to help hide some of the puffiness. I was going to work, singing in church, and going to my monthly community volunteer meetings. The foundation was able to hide the bruises but not the still bloodied left eye. No one breathed a question except for a few co-workers. Ms. Edna asked, “What happened to your eye?” I crafted a pitiful yet true response, “I woke up like this.” No one outside of work uttered a word of concern or asked a question. No one from church, no one within my community service group. In the three months it took for my face and eye to heal, I purchased three bottles of foundation and two tubes of concealer. Black people go to therapy. Yes, they do! I took my bruised high yellow sunglasses-wearing ass to therapy a month after the event. Ashamed, still sore, reliving the day repeatedly, feeling the blows, anxious mind, clenching my jaw randomly, and jumping at every subtle noise was my new normal. The nine months of therapy helped propel me to a version of myself I only imagined I could become. I came out on the other side of it baptized in mental wellness, armored with the self-respect to choose better and with a new skill of beating my face. The small voice was right, I guess. I did die to some degree. This entire experience gave me a greater appreciation for makeup in general, especially considering it was previously an accessory for me instead of an everyday necessity. Even now, I think of the women who wear it daily curiously pondering the secrets they could be hiding. I think about the other domestic violence survivors who are alone, the casualties, and the ones who hide in plain sight with no one asking them if they're alright or if they need help. I think about the women who survive these kinds of attacks who return to their person because they believe their lover will change or because they're too afraid to leave. What about those people regularly being assaulted, drowning in the pandemic-induced isolation with no one willing to check on them for fear of contracting the virus? What about those people who only needed someone to notice their bruises to guide them to safety?
This picture is my favorite picture of myself. Yes, it's twisted, but it doesn't change the fact that it is my favorite. I look at that version of myself who was hiding under her own skin, secretly suicidal, drowning herself in work as well as alcohol, and had to allow herself to recover then emerge into an upgraded version of herself. She was lonely in most spaces and felt alone all the time. She used her intelligence to move up in the world but couldn't understand her worth. To this day I look at this photo and all I want to do is hold her. She shouldn't have gone through another traumatic experience. I love her resilience. I love who she became after this moment. I thank the Lord she wasn’t the 48th victim on the NC intimate partner homicide list in 2019. She does, however, fall within the 25% of women in this country who survived severe physical violence. I sometimes still feel the hauntings of his fists on my face; aching permeates through my neck and back during the winter. The mark just above my left eyebrow and the marks on my neck; serve as my daily reminders. I survived my Disney fairytale's transmutation into Grimm's Fairy Tale. That is one of the greatest gifts given.
Every time I pull open my makeup kits to accentuate my beauty, I remember why I had to learn this skill. The ritual of doing my makeup every day for months forced me to honestly look at myself instead of looking past myself. It gave me confidence when I needed to hide one of my deepest secrets in plain sight. Now it's my war paint for when I need to channel my inner Oliva Pope.
Makeup also serves as a reminder we all are hiding something and need a bit of kindness along with healing.
If you are experiencing domestic/intimate partner/relationship violence, please consider utilizing the following resources for assistance:
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
Helping Survivors: https://helpingsurvivors.org/domestic-violence-and-sexual-abuse/
For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).