“I walked down the freshly washed cobblestone street, anticipation and excitement keeping me company along the way. I had been eyeing this beautiful boutique ever since we moved to Paris the month prior, but hadn’t yet gotten the nerve to walk in. Based on the black and silver decorative boxes that lined the windows, I knew that the place would smell wonderful, and hat the crystal vials that occupied the mirrored shelves would be expensive.
Today was a special day. After a month of being beaten down by Paris, I finally had my first victory – a new job! And to celebrate my first big win, I was going to buy something I had been wanting for a very long time…Red Lipstick. Although it hadn’t yet happened, I was overjoyed at the prospect of telling my Mom that my first tube of Red Lipstick was purchased in this gorgeous boutique in Paris.
Years earlier when my Mom was visiting me in Seattle, I had told her that I wanted her to help me pick out some Red Lipstick.
‘Honey, Red Lipstick must be earned,’ she stated.
‘What do you mean? I have earned it!’ I replied stubbornly. ‘I just passed the bar exam!’
‘And I am proud of you for that, but Red Lipstick is an attitude.’ She said simply. ‘Red Lipstick is a confidence that can only be achieved through time. While passing the bar exam was an incredible accomplishment on your part, you just haven’t earned Red Lipstick yet. You’ll understand one day.’
When I continued to protest, she accompanied me to Nordstrom where we made our way to the numerous make-up counters on the ground floor. After trying on a variety of reds, I had to admit that perhaps she was right. I wiped off the red-blue and red-orange hues, and left the store empty-handed.
Six years, two businesses, one marriage, two children, a mortgage, a new country, and a brand-new job later, I felt like it had finally arrived: Red Lipstick Day. My Mom was going to be thrilled.
As I approached the door, butterflies took flight in my stomach. I used the exhilaration of my new job to push past intimidation and reached for the ancient handle poking out of the glass door framed in teal wood. I took a deep breath, turned the nob, pushed the door open and stepped up into the store. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The store smelled every bit as beautiful as I had imagined it would.
‘Oui. Bonjour.’ The store clerk called out to me interrupting my private reflection on this much-awaited moment. There was no ‘Comment allez-vous – How are you?’ Or even a ‘Ca va? – What’s up?’ This was Paris, after all. She didn’t care how I was.
I shook off my negative thoughts about Paris and focused on the woman. She was gorgeous – straight from the cover of a glossy magazine. Her hair was dark and cut into a bob with short bangs, and although it would have been a horrifying look on me, it looked perfect on her. She had on a black blazer and a black and white pinstriped skirt that fell just above her knees. Her red high heels had silver accents and pointy toes. Her eyebrows were groomed, her lashes long and thick, and her lips expertly painted red. I smiled at her and said in my very best French, ‘Bonjour.’
She cringed. The cat was out of the bag – I was American. ‘Je voudrais…’ and before I could even finish, she cut me off.
‘I cannot understand you. Let’s speak English, no?’ She said impatiently.
‘Uh, okay.’ I replied. ‘Umm…I would like some red lipstick, please.’
She took a moment to look me over and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I was somehow inadequate. Maybe I should have fixed my hair better – damn mom bun! Perhaps I should have also gone home before coming here and changed my shoes. At the moment I was wearing cowboy boots. Although Parisian women perused these streets in high heels, I only could make it a block before my feet were aching. So, I preferred cowboy boots for long treks. And in Paris, every day was a long trek! As she continued to size me up, I looked down at my hands. All of a sudden, the fact that my nails aren’t polished, an everyday occurrence, seemed offensive. ‘I should have at least put some makeup on,’ I thought to myself.
‘Uh…non. I think that you would be more com-for-ta-ble in this co-lour…’ She said as she grabbed a lipstick tube off the shelf. When she opened it, I see that it is pretty much the same color as my natural lips – colorless.
‘But I would really like a red-colored lipstick.’ I replied with an unsure smile.
‘Non. Girls like you do not wear red. They wear this co-lour.’
I took a moment to glance around for the video cameras and production crew. Surely I had stumbled onto a re-make of Pretty Woman because at this moment I was Julia Roberts and this woman is telling me they did not stock my size of dress because she thought I wasn’t worthy of it.
I wanted to tell her to shove that nude lipstick up her a$$, but in all fairness, I didn’t think it will fit considering a stick already occupied the hole. Besides, I am a nice girl. Nice girls don’t say things like that. I considered walking out, but something inside of me prevented me from doing so. Paris, up to this point, had been so difficult. Nearly impossible. I fought hard for my new job and earned that employment contract. Gosh Damnit, I was not leaving that shop without lipstick!
But when I tried to voice those thoughts, I was left with silence. My face flamed red – brighter than the lipstick I had longed for. I slowly made my way across the tiny space to the cash register. By the time I mounted the five flights of stairs to my Parisian apartment, I had almost talked myself into believing that I had actually preferred the nude-colored shade over red.
When my husband got home that night, I tried on my new break the bank lipstick and asked him what he thought. ‘You’re wearing lipstick?’ he replied. ‘Chapstick would probably be cheaper and look the same.’ I went into my room, shut the door and cried – not because of the lipstick, but because living in Paris is so much harder than it was in my daydreams.
Paris v. Jaci – Round 1:
Paris – 206 (because I am pretty sure it hates me), Jaci – 1 (because I got that damn job!).
Unfortunately, my hardships in Paris did not end there. Although my mind had romanticized living in the City of Love to such a degree that it was a fairy-tale come true, the reality is that it just wasn’t. Things that were so easy and natural in the United States – opening a bank account, finding childcare, renting an apartment, smiling – were nearly impossible in Paris. In fact, just a few short weeks after starting that new job, I had to quit because I couldn’t find a daycare that would take my eight-month-old daughter and three-year-old son. Over the next year, I continued my long battle and became a desperate woman, not only to be successful but to meet the basic needs of my family. As the seasons changed, I was confronted on a daily basis with something I didn’t know much about…failure.
And then my baby ended up in the hospital.
Socialized medicine is a wonderful thing when it comes to pediatric checkups and common illnesses, but when doctors and nurses lack the motivation to treat a baby, then it becomes a horrible despised thing. On one particularly rough day, my sweet little girl vomited all over herself, me, the bed and the floor. When I called for help, three nurses poked their heads into the doorway, muttered ‘Oh la la,’ and told me they would be back to clean her up after they had their lunch. Being a public hospital, it did not provide luxuries such as towels. I cried as I bathed my sick daughter in the sink, used hand soap to wash her body and scratchy brown paper towels to dry her delicate sensitive skin.
To cut an extremely long story short, after numerous arguments with the doctors and nurses, I ended up kidnapping my daughter from the hospital, kissing my husband goodbye and purchasing three one-way tickets at the airport counter to fly back to Alaska. When I arrived, nearly a year after moving to Paris, my daughter weighed significantly less than she did when we moved to France and so did I. I was down 20 pounds. My Mom cried when she saw me, not because she was so happy to see me, but because I looked wretched.
I felt even worse.
With my daughter undergoing medical treatment in Alaska, my husband decided to join us on a permanent basis. And so, we embarked on our second leap of faith in a one-year period. I tried my best to remain happy and positive as we put the bricks of our new life into place. But, very quickly, I felt desperation and anxiety closing its grip over my throat. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was back in Alaska, a place I had worked so extremely hard to escape. Hoping to find peace at work, I accepted a job alongside my husband, which quickly accelerated my downward spiral.
Things got so bad for us during this time, that I stopped answering the ‘how many glasses of wine do you consume on a weekly basis?’ question at the doctor’s office. Alaska, like Paris, was proving to be another miserable failure. And then, around Thanksgiving 2013, I received a phone call, which reminded me how precious life is.
Death came for one of my loved ones and it did so in a gruesome way. Suicide.
When I returned home from my cousin’s funeral, I vowed to take life’s reigns in my hand and change a few things. I stopped uncorking bottles of wine and started applying for new jobs. Shortly after I found one, my husband did too. With lots of prayers, we found ourselves in a new state and after years of battling to find a home, a real home, we won. My husband goes to work happy and comes home even happier. My son has learned to read. My daughter, fully recovered, wants to ski without being bribed to do so. I have found my calling.
Eventually, on a self-driven mission fueled by my desire to fulfill a promise I once made, I found myself back in that city I so desperately loved but did not love me. And in fulfilling this promise, I found myself on a familiar freshly washed cobblestone street looking at a beauty boutique with a perfect window display. Without hesitation, I walked up to that teal framed glass door, reached for the ancient handle and walked in.
When I did this, a woman looked up nonchalantly from behind her register.
‘Oui, Madame. Bonjour,’ she said. Her hair is longer now. Rather than a severe bob, it falls to her shoulders in soft waves, but she is just as sharply dressed. She doesn’t know me, but I would recognize her anywhere.
‘Bonjour. J’ai besoin de rouge a levres rouge, se il vous plaît. – Hello. I’d like some red lipstick, please.’ My French may suck, but I know she understands me, and this time, I am not leaving the store with a colorless lipstick.
Her eyes traveled the length of me and even if this wasn’t déjà vu, I can tell from the expression on her face that she is sizing me up. I see her take note of my nearly makeup-less face, my air-dried hair, those dreaded cowboy boots. And as she scrutinizes me, I scrutinize myself.
It has been several years since I was last in this flawless beauty shop. In that time period, I have battled foreign doctors who refused to treat my sick baby girl. It was an extremely long fight, but we finally found her the help that she needed to recover, and she is now thriving. In that time period, I have weathered a board room whose members could have given birth to the expression dog-eat-dog world. It was a miserable experience and I’d rather not repeat it, but I am a better leader because of it. In that time period, I have looked at a domineering teacher in the face and told her that although many people may need her input on the art of parenting, I was not one of them. My son is now flourishing in school. In that time period, I have felt the grief of a loved one lost to suicide and written my way through it. Standing up to myself and shedding the guilt that accompanies suicide is one of my greatest personal accomplishments.
In fact, in that time period, I have been kicked so fully and completely in the face, that the only way I could survive was to conquer a few things that are only possible through confronting failure. By the time I emerged from the dust, spitting out teeth and sand along the way, I knew patience, compassion, and a love so deep that I catch my breath as I write this.
So when the woman looks me back in my eyes, I return her gaze so thoroughly that I can almost see the back of her eye sockets, and then I smile. I may have learned the art of confidence and standing up for myself, but I am still a nice girl.
‘Mais bien sûr. Suivez moi. – But of course. Follow me,’ she replies and pulls out a variety of tubes for my viewing pleasure.
As she rings up my purchase and puts it into a beautiful black and silver box, I smile.
Red Lipstick Day at last.
Paris v. Jaci – Round 2:
Paris – 0, Jaci – Red Lipstick.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jaci Ohayon of Colorado. Follow her on Instagram here. and visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Jaci here:
‘If you do this, Kara, you will not be able to undo it. It will be permanent, forever.’: Woman writes letter after cousin’s suicide, ‘You must not know the impact it’s going to have on the rest of us’
‘Mommy, why did Kara kill herself? Didn’t she want to see her Mommy anymore? I don’t want you to die!’: Woman spreads loved one’s ashes in Paris, ‘The city of love, the city you will now forever be a part of’
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