Guest Post by Gail Doktor
One of my dear friends took me out for a day of pampering just a few weeks after my youngest daughter died. At the time, I was still shell-shocked and trying to cope with loss.
The biggest decision of my day was what color to paint my toes. Should I choose something feminine and pink? Bold and crimson? Dangerous and midnight dark?
I eventually chose five pigments – red, orange, green, blue, purple – to create a rainbow palette.
Decision-making done, we settled into overstuffed chairs and put our feet into tubs of hot soothing water. We sat side by side with books and magazines. Sipped steamy beverages. Staff members attempted to start conversations as they worked.
I just couldn’t talk. I didn’t have the energy or tolerance for chit-chat. But I couldn’t relax. After a few minutes of clenching my teeth while the manicurist used cuticle tools on my toes, I put down my novel.
I peeked at my surroundings, seeking distraction. Looked down at the manicurist digging out gunk from beneath my toenails. Glanced left at my girlfriend reading her magazine.
Peeked sideways at the salon’s other pedicure client. She had sunk comfortably into an upholstered wingback chair to my right. Chatted with the woman doing her nails.
She’d selected a bottle of lady-like pearlescent pink polish. It seemed to fit her. She was tidy and trim, the glint of silver and precious stones a subtle wink on fingers, wrists and ears. I guessed her age to be a few decades beyond mine.
After scanning the room, I tried to get through the toe-cleaning by closing my eyes and eavesdropping. I learned that the client on my right lived a few towns away, but liked this salon and came regularly. She and the staff members were on a first-name basis. They talked about pets, kids and vacations.
We were very different.
She was a regular at the salon. Keeping her usual appointment on a weekday afternoon. I was there for the first time.
She sat in that wingback chair like it was her second home. I tried not to leap out of my seat in discomfort.
She gossiped easily. I stayed silent.
As she spoke, it seemed her life was breezy and blessed. I was recovering from years of living in oncology, transplant and intensive care hospital units with my daughter.
As I listened to her chat with the staff, I presumed that she was spoiled. Maybe shallow. She couldn’t possibly understand why I was there. That I’d never had my nails done before, or that I did so then, to escape. That I was living through hell.
My irritation increased. How could any of them talk about their normal lives when I was full of turmoil and sorrow and anger? Couldn’t everyone SENSE waves of grief and loss radiating from my overstuffed chair?
The pedicurist dried my feet. On her worktable sat the spectrum of bright colors I had chosen.
Yes, I wanted a rainbow on my feet. My girlfriend knew the reason. The colors were selected in celebration of my youngest child: her bright spirit, her flare for fashion and her favorite song “What a Wonderful World.”
I opened my eyes as the staffer uncapped the first bottle and dipped the brush into the sunrise-colored polish.
The woman on my right stopped talking and watched with interest as we applied the first of five pigments to my toes. She couldn’t help herself…she had to comment. “You’re using a lot of colors.”
I inhaled before replying. Every time I talked about my child’s death, it was an act of will. “It’s in memory of my daughter. She died recently. Leukemia.”
“Ah.” The woman lifted her eyes to meet mine. Tucked a strand of pale hair behind her ear.
I thought that would be the end of the conversation. Death is often of a conversation-killer.
Instead her eyes held mine, and she continued. “I started coming here a few years ago. Just to treat myself.”
I nodded back politely. Tried to smile. Inside, I ranted at her.
So what? Do you think I care? You and me? We have nothing in common.
Until she said, “My older daughter and my husband were diagnosed at the same time. They were both treated. My daughter survived. She’s back in school now, but I had to take time off and go take care of her for a while. My husband didn’t make it. That was three years ago.”
She looked down at her toes. Wiggled them in the water. Added softly, “I like coming here.”
I swallowed every assumption I’d made about the pampered matron.
We sat side by side in the salon. Didn’t make eye contact again. Not strangers anymore, but intimately connected by a shared experience.
I appreciated – suddenly – that the color of our toes was our warrior’s paint. And the late afternoon moments in the nail salon were a private opportunity, removed from the usual demands of life, to acknowledge sorrow.
I was humbled by what I learned…what I remembered…that afternoon. We may have more in common with strangers than we’d ever guess. If we’ll just listen.
(Image: google images)