SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

L'Oreal Color Riche Gold Obsession in Pure Gold

"I go to my meeting. I even have a coffee afterwards. I buy myself a book. I wear my gold lipstick, and I feel absolutely brilliant. Only then do I let myself go back to the hospital." This week Ella Risbridger welcomes the next step on the road to normal

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By Ella Risbridger on

It's the lipstick that starts it. Our only fight in nine weeks, and it's about lipstick. Although, of course, it's not about lipstick. And it's not even really a fight. If it takes two to tango, this is a solo samba: the Tall Man barely says anything, and when he does it's largely both consoling and bemused. 

"Oh no, I don't like that," he says, casually. "No, that's horrible. Doesn't suit you at all. Do another one."

I look at the Tall Man in disbelief. He is lying in bed, propped up on a dozen pillows. It's been – to put it mildly – a hell of a week, and I've bought myself a lipstick to cheer myself up. I must have misheard him. 

"It's really horrible," he says again. 

And then I lose it. 

"What did you just say?" I say to him, dangerously quiet. I'm biting back tears already. 

"I don't like it," he says, confused. "Should I like it? It's yellow."

"NOT yellow," I manage, through gritted teeth. "It's GOLD."

"Oh," he says. He thinks for a bit. "Look, my opinion doesn't really matter. I thought you wanted me to tell you if I liked it. You always tell me to be honest about lipstick you're reviewing. That's how it normally works."

"Normal?!" I look at him in disbelief. "NONE of this is normal!" 

"This sort of is," he says, incautiously. "This is what happened when you tried that blue lipstick, too. You know I don't really like quirky lipstick."

This is the final straw. 

"IT'S NOT QUIRKY, IT'S L'OREAL!" I shout, and burst into tears. 

"Oh, darling," he says, and the tenderness in his voice is too much to bear. "Come and have a hug."

Hugs are not allowed, at least not when the patient is bed-bound and immune compromised, and I hesitate. "Come on." He reaches out his hand for me, and I take it, and allow myself to be pulled into a hug. This, too, is another first. 

"I'm so sorry," he says, stroking my hair. "I was only...you always want an honest opinion on lipsticks."

He isn't wrong. That's how this has always worked. That's how this normally goes. But it feels different today. It feels like this is the last straw. This is not normal. This is not always. 

"I'M A PERSON TOO," I shout, muffled, into his chest. "I'm a person too!" 

"I know," he says, stroking my hair. "I know you are." I can hear in his voice that he doesn't quite see the connection. 

The lipstick in question is gold; a proper, almost brassy yellow-gold that goes on gold, and stays gold. I love it. I loved it from the minute I saw it in the shop, and I loved it when I applied it, and I love it still. It's beautiful. It's the lipstick I've been dreaming of for more than a year, when I first fell in love with the idea of gold lips.

It's that rarest of creatures: a glitter lipstick that goes on when you want it to, comes off when you want it to, and is utterly, completely wearable. It's almost subtle, or as subtle as gold lips get.  It's everything I wanted. 

The fact that the Tall Man doesn't like it – and says so – feels like the end of the world. 

The lipstick in question is gold; a proper, almost brassy yellow-gold that goes on gold, and stays gold. I love it. I loved it from the minute I saw it in the shop, and I loved it when I applied it, and I love it still

"You know," he says, mildly, "I'm sorry I wasn't nice about it. I think I'll get used to it. You're allowed to like things I don't."

This feels like a very small revelation. 

"I am?" I say, and then, more firmly, "I am!" 

"You can have lipstick just because you like it!"

"I can!" 

"I should have been nicer about it, though."

"You should."

"But it doesn't matter. You like it. You do everything for me all the time." I am very aware, suddenly, of the fact that John is comforting me; that for the first time in nine weeks, he is looking after me. It makes me cry even more, but with something like relief. 

"You're always doing everything for me," he says. "You can have this for you. That's allowed!" His speech is more fluid than I have heard it in weeks; he sounds like the old John again. "It's allowed, to have things for you!" 

"Now," he says, when I've stopped crying. "You should go out and get some lunch. And something nice. A book or something. And – you should get me breakfast, so that tomorrow you can go to that meeting without worrying, and you should plug the iPad in so I can email you before it so you'll know I'm thinking of you, and then you'll be able to relax there. OK?"

"Ok," I tell him, sniffing. I have left most of the lipstick smeared in a stripe of glitter across his black t-shirt. 

"And first, you should go and put that lipstick on again."

"But you hate it," I say.

"But you love it," he says. 

And so I do. And I wear it the next morning for my meeting, too. I email the Tall Man a picture, and he emails back "It was the light in here! Too harsh! Beautiful now!".

And I agree, actually: it is beautiful. It's the perfect, platonic ideal of a gold lipstick – subtle, wearable, a brief shimmer of glitter that looks, somehow, grown-up. Someone at the meeting compliments my lipstick, and then they compliment my work, and I feel for the first time in a long time like an independent person. 

Being angry with the Tall Man, and arguing with the Tall Man, and being comforted by the Tall Man afterwards has shifted something: I don't know if you've ever tried to argue with a person with a brain injury, but it doesn't feel very good, and you can't really win. It's the arguing – and the comfort – that make me see, for perhaps the first time really, that there might be light at the end of the tunnel. 

It isn't normal yet. Of course it isn't. Nothing about this could be. He's going to be in hospital for the foreseeable future; his speech is not right yet; he's still not mobile. I leave my phone face up on the meeting table in case there's an emergency. 

But I do go to my meeting. I even have a coffee afterwards. I buy myself a book. I wear my gold lipstick, and I feel absolutely brilliant. Only then do I let myself go back to the hospital. 

And when I get there, John is standing up. Surrounded by physios. Clutching the handles of the standing machine for dear life. But he's really, truly, standing up, and I can't help but see it for what it is: the next step on the road to normal. 

 

ABOUT SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS...

I’d never been much of a make-up person before last year, but strange things happen on the cancer ward. When my partner, the Tall Man, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare, aggressive lymphoma, I found myself reaching for a battered tube of Mac Ruby Woo – part armour, part warpaint, all crimson defiance. This is a column about lipstick, and about caring, and about cancer, but most of all it’s my lifeline and it’s proof – for me, at least – that putting on a brave face is half the fight. Read my story so far here.

@missellabell

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Sometimes Its the Little Things
Lipstick
LIFE HONESTLY
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