You were in line at the register in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. The clerk said something funny and you laughed out loud. He looked up at your face and, for a couple of seconds, was taken aback, before he smiled quietly. You hurriedly picked up your bags and went to the car. You took out the magnifying mirror from your purse and peered at your lips. Indeed, they were laden with creases. ‘Maybe that’s why he was awkwardly silent,’ you thought. ‘I shouldn’t have laughed so loudly. That just magnified all my wrinkles a thousand times in front of the whole store’.
And you reminded yourself that you had been considering a dermal filler or a Botox injection since the past few months; you just hadn’t gotten around to it. You picked up your phone and made an appointment with the dermatologist for the next week.
And just like that, in one swift slash, all those creases and valleys were flattened and emptied. I was gone from your face. All that remained was a hollow echo of our memories. It didn’t stop at that: over the course of next several days, you continued using topical creams full of chemicals, underwent laser resurfacing procedures and started antioxidants.
Do you remember me anymore? I was part of the family of wrinkles that used to live on your face. That was my home. I thought you and I were one being, one team. I thought my presence would rejuvenate you, make you feel nostalgic about your life, make you revere its preciousness and its impermanence.
While I was still alive, I sometimes thought of myself as a piece of art being written in the journal of our life. It’s full of poems, drawings, photographs and songs written as sheet music. It started slowly, with maybe just a word or two in a poem, or a couple of notes of music, but it built up over time. We may not have noticed it, but every moment, a new entry got made, letter by letter, photo by photo, day after day, year after year. Every time you laughed, cried or smiled, your facial muscle’s movements wrote another entry in that journal. Every time you shook hands with someone, another line got written.
It didn’t show up right away, though. It took years to mature and bloom upon your face, your wrists, hands, legs, thighs, arms, feet. Over years and decades, we had entire poems, symphonies and collages of photographs scribbled all over our body.
While we were younger, that journal was hidden in a pocket in your pants. It seldom got opened and I was fine with that; as long as the art kept being made, I was ok with living in the cave of the earlier years of our life. But later, as we started to age, as the journal started to slip out of your pocket occasionally, I wanted to be seen, heard, read. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted you to realize that this was your life; each crease on your face was a line drawn in the sand on the beach of our life. The valleys between those creases were thriving with memories and experiences, hidden underneath the surface. I wanted you to look at them and reflect upon your life.
After all, it started as a journal, but as we aged, it became more of a mirror, an opportunity for you to ponder upon your life. I wanted you look at the wrinkles on your palms and think of times when your palms were smooth and flat, without any creases or hills and valleys, and think of what transpired between then – you had just started your first job as a barista, doling out espressos and cappuccinos over the counter, making five dollars an hour; you met your future husband in the café, where you served him a latte and he complimented you on your curly hair; your two-year-old daughter putting her little feet in her mouth as she clapped her hands; you feeling nervous as you started teaching your first class at the local high school – and now, forty-four years later: your husband died of cancer four years ago as you held his hand while he took his last breath, the same hand that had picked up the cup of latte you made decades ago; it’s been over a year since you talked to your estranged daughter; you retired as a high school teacher and now volunteer at the local foster home, putting handwritten notes like ‘You Matter’ in little boxes that are given to young adults.
All of these events involved a physical expression on your skin, whether that was you laughing out loud at your two-year-old daughter, or your hand holding on tightly to your husband’s as you watched him leave the earth, or your face crunching in agony thinking about how your relationship with your daughter changed. And each of those expressions moved muscles under your skin and drew a small wrinkle.
I wish you’d look at those wrinkles and think about how time and your life walked alongside each other, like a family walking on the beach, holding hands. Maybe you’d reflect upon how life evolves and things change. You’re no longer the person you were a breath ago. And I think that paying attention to your wrinkles – whether that involves looking at them, or caressing them with your fingers or kissing them with your wrinkled lips – gives you an easy-to-reach and always-available connection to the passage of time and the constant reminder that nothing is permanent and that everything changes, including your skin, your personality, your relationships, your life.
There’s no ‘good skin’ or ‘wrinkled skin’ – it’s just the footprints of time imprinted on your body. The older you get, the more visible that artwork becomes.
You were walking in a park a few weeks ago. It was early November and there was a light drizzle. You saw pink rose bushes in someone’s front yard. You took a photo with your phone and then touched one of the roses. It was pink, but there were yellow scars over its petals, scars that weren’t there in the summer. You put your nose to it, but couldn’t really smell its fragrance. The edges of the petals were pale white and crispy to touch and were starting to fold inwards, as if heralding the end of a phase of their life.
You wondered how much the flower had changed since it peeked out of its bud in spring, of all that it bore witness to and where it was now, in the cold, wet November rain. Even though it was withering and not the same vibrant flower it was a few months ago, it still was a rose, just in a different phase of its life.
Watching your wrinkles develop over time is like paying attention to the leaves on the maple tree as they start to grow in early April, soaking in the heat of the August sun, swaying in the gusty October winds and composting in the wet soil of January. You realize that everything goes through phases, changes form, lives its life, and eventually, comes back to the earth that birthed it.
Would you cut the leaves of the maple tree in your front yard in spring, just so you don’t have to look at them changing colors from green in summer, to yellow in autumn? I didn’t think so. Why then would you erase me from your body? Does my presence embarrass you? Do the yellow and red colors of the leaves in autumn embarrass the tree?
You google ‘wrinkles’ and the first search result that comes up is ‘How to treat wrinkles?’ I like to think that the word ‘treat’ is a noun, but most people think of it as a verb. I wish that when you look at me, when you touch me, you’d think of me as sacred, but instead, you look at me and feel scared. Just a couple of letters moved around, but it makes a profound difference.
I’m gone now, but I know you can do it. I know that you can learn to love and marvel at the beauty – at our collective beauty – of my fellow wrinkles that are adorning the rest of your body; that instead of injecting them with chemicals, you can proudly put them up on the billboard of your life; that you can hold your wrists up to your lips and whisper ‘thank you’ to the creases for faithfully recording every minute of your life; that when you run your fingers over the wrinkles on your arms, the deeper and silkier they feel, the wetter your eyes get.
I think that perhaps societal expectations got the better of you and you ended up sacrificing your artwork to instead conform with what you think other people want you to be. But I’ve known you our entire life. I know that you are capable of accepting yourself as you are – beautiful wrinkles welcomed – and that you can change for the better. I know that you can look inside yourself and realize that the only person you need to appease and conform to, is your own life, your own body, your own wrinkles.
Kunal Mehra is a multimedia artist who likes photography, filmmaking, writing and hiking. He grew up in India and has been living in Portland, OR, since 2002. His writing has been published by the Press Pause Press, Active Muse and Fleas on the Dog magazine, amongst others.