I stood before the bathroom mirror. It was 6:30 a.m. I’d only gotten four hours of bad sleep. I had Preparation H on my face. I know it is meant for the butt. Its journey to my face was circuitous, so get comfortable and pay attention.
I have bags under my eyes. My rational side realizes they’re a result of too little sleep, too much anxiety, heredity, and aging. The available solutions aren’t all available to me. I am afraid of surgical procedures, and believe mine would be the one to go wrong. I would need to drop out of life — or drop a lot of people from my life — to get more sleep and eliminate stress. It’s a tempting option, but unrealistic. Heredity I can’t change, and aging I can’t stop. It’s taunting me like a relentless competitor during a 5k, letting me gain a few steps, then clipping my heels and snickering as I trip.
My irrational side was fully awake that early morning. I faced another isolated day of insurmountable graduate course work, ego-squelching unemployment, and pre-holiday family dramas. The swollen eyes I saw in the bathroom mirror were the insult-to-injury that made me inconsolable: My life was shit, and I was ugly. Crying just made me feel, and look, worse.
I needed an immediate solution, and remembered reading that models use Preparation H to minimize under-eye swelling. It didn’t matter that I would only be seen that day by the dogs I walk. I would eliminate those bags, unsightly reminders of the baggage of my life. Rays of miraculous promise beamed from the cabinet that held the Preparation H. The smell had not been an issue in the past because when used as directed, anorectal ointment is nowhere near the face. The thin layer under my eyes that morning smelled vaguely of anchovies, likely because shark liver oil is an active ingredient.
I watched in the mirror. Nothing. It was irrational to expect the transformation to occur instantly before my puffy eyes. I decided to go about my morning business. I reviewed the front-page headlines and drank my morning green tea. I graded undergraduate papers. I began revisions on a short story. I almost forgot about the Preparation H on my face, but for that odor.
I allowed myself a look in the bathroom mirror around midday, before leaving to walk my canine clients. My eyes were puffy and shiny. They looked like sweaty gnocchi. I thought more time would do the trick, and put on sunglasses for the walk. I entered Daisy and Duke’s home, and knelt to give the scratch-behind-the-ears greeting they expect. They didn’t lick my face as usual; instead, their noses hovered and sniffed at my shades.
“I know, kids,” I said, “I smell different, but it’s still me.”
Duke stepped back as if offended. Daisy got closer, took a deep whiff, then sneezed moistly right in my face. As I wiped my sunglasses, I felt pretty irritated — not at the dogs, but myself. The under-eye bags hadn’t changed, but I had: I smelled like fish and felt like an ass.