SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

Bobbi Brown #10: Plum Rose

This week Ella discovers that coping means strength, bravery and looking after yourself

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By Ella Risbridger on

My grandmother came down from the country yesterday, and she brought with her plums and beans and my grandfather’s tomatoes, which won first prize at the village show. She bought me a cup of hot chocolate and a little round cake, and gave me a hug, and said to me “What do you need?”

When I was 18, and living away from home for the first time, working in Paris by myself, she gave me a lipstick. My grandmother is not a lipstick sort of woman: my grandmother likes walking and digging and mountains. My grandmother wears enormous silver earrings and has a pixie cut, and I don’t think I have ever seen her wear lipstick. Nonetheless, the Christmas I was 18, my grandmother gave me Plum Rose, by Bobbi Brown.

I didn’t know I needed it, but I needed it: I wore it on the train back to my new life in Paris, to my new grown-up job, where I was competent and smart and brave, and I felt good. I felt safe, and every so often I would look at myself in the TGV window and think: that girl is smart and competent and brave, and that girl is safe.

My grandmother has always been able to give me what I needed, and so when she asked me, “What do you need?” I told her: I need help. I really, really need help.

I have not been wearing lipstick, because I wasn’t coping, because I wasn’t wearing lipstick.

I need help, and I hate asking for it: I feel guilty for not being able to do everything myself, and it has been a hard week, a long, slow, difficult week, where doctors have made strange decisions and nurses have tweaked drug regimes and ward orderlies have imposed new, strict visiting hours, and I have been very sad. And I have not been coping. I don’t like to say this loud, but it’s true: this week I have not been coping with The Cancer Thing.

I have broken my Rule #1, and cried on the ward. I have broken my Rule #2, and had whole days where I didn’t eat breakfast. I have had a weeping jag so utterly all-consuming that I wept through an entire roll of kitchen towel. I have not been coping, and it’s been raining, raining since the last time I filed this column, and I have not been wearing lipstick. I have not been wearing lipstick, because I wasn’t coping, because I wasn’t wearing lipstick.

‘Whatever you need,” said my grandmother, “we are here to give it to you. We are here to help. We want to help.” And I looked at my grandmother, and I saw that it was true, and I felt, suddenly, very safe.



‘I know,” I said, “Thank you.” And meant it, both parts. And I looked at the sky, and it was bright, cloudless, high blue all the way to the edges, and I dug in my bag for a lipstick, and by some strange coincidence the only one in my bag was Bobbi Brown Plum Rose, a duplicate of the one she gave me half a decade ago. Plum Rose starts off a plum, and ends up a rose, and both are beautiful.

“You gave me this,” I told my grandmother, and my grandmother looked shocked.

“Did I? That seems unlike me.”

“It was,” I said, “But I love it.’

“Good,” said my grandmother.

I applied a coat of Plum Rose, looking at my reflection in the back of a spoon. Spoon me pursed her lips, and spoon me looked better. Spoon me looked more like me than I had all week.

“It suits you!” said my grandmother, and I agreed: lipstick suits me. Lipstick suits me, and I had forgotten this week how much it mattered.  I had forgotten, really, about looking after myself: in my endless panic about drugs and IVs and injections, about new doctors and new regimes and new plans, I had forgotten that I was also a person worth looking after, worth noticing. That’s the thing about lipstick: you cannot help but notice yourself. You cannot help but notice that you exist, too. You cannot, while you’re applying lipstick, fade into the background.

I had not asked anyone for any help, true. But I had lost something important, for a little while, and without that important something I had not been coping.

I had forgotten, really, about looking after myself: in my endless panic about drugs and IVs and injections, about new doctors and new regimes and new plans, I had forgotten that I was also a person worth looking after


"Just ask us,” my grandmother said. “Just ask us, whenever you need us. Everyone wants to help.” And I knew that she was right. I blotted my lipstick (smooth, precise) on the back of the spoon, and stood up, and hugged her.

“Thank you for the chocolate,” I said. “I will. I really really will.”

I walked back to the hospital, smart, confident, brave, back to the new doctors and the new regimes and the new plans and the harvest, eating a garden plum, and leaving Plum Rose lipstick prints on the skin.

(And then I texted a friend to ask if she would come over and help me clean, and she agreed, and she was pleased – pleased! – to be asked, because, like most things, asking for help is never so hard once you’ve done it, and like most things, is easier when you’re wearing a really, really good lipstick.)

 

@missellabell

Tagged in:
Sometimes Its the Little Things
Lipstick
LIFE HONESTLY
Cancer

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