The first thing I ever bought with my own earned money was a bright yellow raincoat- un imperméable. I was living in Paris at the time, and it rained all spring, and into summer, and I hid under my bright imperméable, and felt impermeable: I felt invincible. I wear this coat still, and in it I feel most myself.
My friend Fiona (who knows about sadness and love and being brave) texts me this week from Paris: she says there is nothing sadder than someone being sad in a yellow raincoat, because it’s like they tried to hide from the storm, and the storm found them anyway.
Walking along the canal, just as the rain comes in, heavy, and the wind drives it through the imperméable, I think of this, and I think, perhaps, of the only thing you can do, then, when the storm finds you: you can push back the hood of the raincoat and breathe it all in. I push back the hood of the raincoat, and breathe in the storm, and find in it the good smell of old leaves, the scent of smoke, and the rain filtering down into the dark earth, where things are growing, waiting, putting down roots and waiting for spring to come again.
I walk home, soaking wet, and it’s unexpectedly glorious. Everyone else with their umbrellas, and coats buttoned up to their chins, trying their best to fight it off and pretend it isn’t happening, and there I am, dripping, wet through, grinning and grinning like an idiot, and there in the heart of the storm, caught entirely in it, I feel utterly invincible.
There are good things – beautiful things – in every storm, and every day has something in it worth rejoicing about: when we were small we used to play a game with our mother called the Three Good Thing Game, which has suddenly become fashionable, so you probably know it. It goes like this: there is no day where you can’t find three good things worth celebrating. Three good things at least, and here are mine:
YA novels, musicals about the Founding Fathers, red chillies and yellow zest and fat garlic and white wine all simmering together over a low flame. Linguine. A scalding hot bath. Clean sheets. Impromptu expeditions. Trains. The Tall Man’s sister, turning the last corner of her marathon to see him there. Her face. His face, always. The sound of the rain. Yellow raincoats. Puddles. Friends. And a lipstick, of course: always lipstick.
A copper-coloured case, solid in the hand and catching the light here and there along the ridges and the engraved initials on the top. The click it makes when you push it open, small movements of the thumb and first two fingers, almost mechanical. The soft, almost imperceptible cocoa-butter scent. The deep, safe, matte pink, somewhere between copper itself, and coral.
A lipstick that changes with the light: in some (these selfies) it’s the pale pink of an early rose. In others, the almost-red heart of a just-ripe fig. In others still it’s like nothing at all: my own mouth, only better, smoother, more defined, covering up the splits and cracks of early autumn weather-change, and so light to wear I forget I’m wearing it at all.
Which is, sometimes, the point of make-up: I want it to make me me, but better. Like my yellow raincoat, I want the things I wear to make me feel more like myself, when “myself” seems a little lost.
I want a lipstick that smoothes out my rough edges, which this lipstick does, quite literally: something in the formula fixes the worst of the cracks in my lips, and when I take my make-up off in the evening I am pleased and surprised that my mouth is better already.
The packaging tells me it’s papaya, which I can believe: when the Tall Man first had chemo, we were sent by an Australian friend a murky-smelling red tube labelled Lucas’ Papaw Ointment, and I recommend it to any of you with sore or cracked skin. In short, I am thoroughly convinced of the miracle properties of the papaya/papaw, and unsurprised that it is the papaya/papaw that makes this lipstick fix my mouth.
I don’t want lipstick to always make me somebody else: sometimes I just want a lipstick that fixes me, just enough. A lipstick to remind me who I am. Sometimes I just want a lipstick that reminds me that I’m somebody worth being, that my own face is a face worth having, that my life is a life worth living. It’s strange: a few times a week, we’ll get a tweet that reads something like “I was about to be miserable about [everyday thing], and then I thought about how lucky I was compared to Ella and John.”
We are always a little thrown by these tweets. Sitting together in our warm flat, surrounded by books and friends and good food, looking out at the rain: even with the cancer (even in the storm), it’s hard to feel too unlucky. We found each other. We have each other. We are safe, and warm, and autumn is here, and there’s nowhere else, and nobody else, I’d rather be.