“Cancer is back in the centre of our lives again, and I hate it. We both hate it. And so this lipstick, in its perfect black packaging and satisfyingly matte scarlet finish, is like a wave from the world outside.” This week – a bad week – Ella Risbridger finds solace in distraction.
First things first: this is an absolute dreamboat of a lipstick. This is a proper new-favourite gem of a lipstick. I know I am fickle, and have a new favourite about once a fortnight, but my God: this is it. This is true love. I dig this lipstick, is what I’m saying, and I’m not even sure if it digs me back but I don’t care. I am into it.
I know I should be writing about cancer. I should probably write that that the transplant went off without a hitch; that his sister gave more than a million more cells than we’d even dared hope; that he’s doing really well, and allowed to be cared for at home, by me, and we’re travelling into hospital every day for bloods, and that it is one of the hardest, most stressful, terrifying things I have ever done in my whole life. This has been one of the hardest weeks of my whole life. Of course, as a life-saving miracle, it’s unbelievably simple and easy, but as an alternative to, say, “writing a cookbook and eating a lot of toast” it’s a proper downer.
But I’m bored of writing about cancer, and this lipstick is thrillingly good: glossy, rich, the kind of unheavy slick of lipstick that makes you forget you’ve got any on. And a perfect colour, too. I fell in love with this lipstick on the day of John’s transplant, and acquired it the day before I filed this column: five days of longing.
Every time I had a moment to think about something that wasn’t falling blood counts (better than it sounds, actually) and the laundry mountain (worse), I thought about NARS Audrey, and whether it would be worth it, and whether I possibly dared slink out of the hospital for twenty minutes to acquire it for myself. The thing about this post-transplant seems to be that nobody knows what’s happening from one minute to the next: it’s entirely possible that I’d leave the ward and the Tall Man would be abruptly sent home, or admitted to an overnight ward, or bundled into a side room to be poked and prodded.
While he was actually having the transplant, it was a little easier to escape: two and a half hours, give or take, in one chair, and his mum was there to let me know if it all kicked off. So I dashed down from the ward to have a crying break (it’s been a very stressful week), and fell into the lipstick shop, of course.
Every time I had a moment to think about something that wasn’t falling blood counts (better than it sounds, actually) and the laundry mountain (worse), I thought about NARS Audrey, and whether it would be worth it
There’s a splendid lipstick shop at the top of One New Change, and I striped my hand broadly with possibilities. And fell in love. There were four or five I liked, but only one I adored, and it was this one. An elegant dark red in the casing – and what casing: I am a sucker for matte black and a satisfyingly firm magnetic clasp – and a pinky-scarlet on. It reminds me, strongly, of a less-messy Chanel La Fascinante – which is beautiful, and beautifully scented, but a proper pain to put on. This goes where you want it to: I love this lipstick. I really love this lipstick.
And for five days I pondered it, and longed for it, and then gave in and it arrived to my door, waking the Tall Man from a post-chemo nap, swathed in black tissue paper in one of those paper bags that are so elegant I always feel I ought to keep them. It has a magnetic clasp! That’s not a bag you throw out with the bins! The whole thing is exceptionally glamorous, and I insist the Tall Man stays awake for long enough to tell me how lovely it is. He’s unconvinced, actually (he’s always been a bit wary of exceptionally bright lipstick: I think he thinks it is going to end up somehow smudged onto his shirts), but that barely matters: in a week that’s all about him, this lipstick is just about me, and I love it, I love it, I love it.
Our whole lives at the moment are kind of predicated on how the Tall Man is: on his bloods, on his virology results, on how he feels. This is exactly as it should be: having him at home is a privilege, not a right, and it’s an absolute joy to know both that he’s well enough and that his medical team trust me enough for that to be a possibility. But it’s hard. It’s so, so hard. I worry constantly; I am always on the look out for the first signs of flush or rash or fever, just in case. When I’m not surreptitiously assessing his temperature or likely anaemia, peeping over the top of my laptop like a bad spy, I’m weeping in a heap somewhere because I’m just so bloody worried, all the time, about him. I spend most mornings by his side in the hospital, just in case this is the day they summon him back in. Cancer is back in the centre of our lives again, and I hate it. We both hate it.
And so this lipstick, in its perfect black packaging and satisfyingly matte scarlet finish, is like a wave from the world outside: a reminder that sometimes dashing out of the ward for twenty minutes is important. That taking a minute to slick on some lipstick every morning is also important. That I matter, too. All things we already knew, of course, but what else is new, nine months in? We’re old hands, the Tall Man told a nurse the other day, and she laughed, and nodded. We know all the tricks: we just need reminding sometimes.
Just as I need reminding that it’s okay to write a lipstick column that’s mostly about how brilliant a lipstick is: a column that leaves cancer a bit out in the cold.
ABOUT SOMETIMES IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS…
I’d never been much of a makeup 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.