My red lipsticks turn up missing. Week after week, another one just gone. Tiny canisters of paint, tubes of shiny silver, tortoise shell and gold. Inside, ever so slightly distinct shades of red. Names that promise passion, mystery, wildfire romance, forbidden fruit. Names like Jungle Red, Uncensored, Don’t Stop, Dragon Girl, Electra, At Midnight, Vendetta.
I paint my lips and embellish myself for the fun and fire of romance. “It keeps our love story crackling,” he says, never failing to wow over what he sees. It’s enough for me.
No matter the hue of red, when I look in the mirror, I see not a vixen but a glimpse of my elegant grandmother in the red she wore every day. All that shine and flash was somehow just right for her, but way too much for everyday me.
As a little girl, I watched my grandmother put on her face, as she called it, her lips the same cherry as her nails. I watched my mother get ready for work, lining her lips with a muted crimson, blotting them with a tissue, then dropping the tissue into a wastebasket full of a flutter of kisses. I watched my stepmother choose from her crayon-box of face paints, pinks and oranges to go with green and blue eyeshadows, ghastly by themselves but overall quite pretty and pleasing to my father, her man.
I learned from her that lipstick can lure.
When I was small, I borrowed my father’s Chapstick. His face brown from hours of fishing, he would reach in the pocket of his swimming trunks, snap off the top, and rub the waxy stump back and forth on his sunburned lips, never taking his eyes off the water, watching for a fish to yank his line.
In high school, I wore just a hint of mascara and blush. As a young woman, lip balm was enough. No tint at all—maybe a bit of shine. At my women’s college, we prettied up only on weekends when the boys came in. In divinity school, makeup was proof of a woman with insignificant things on her mind.
As a young woman, I thought myself pretty enough to need no adornment. At forty, I wore a translucent shade of fig to work one day, hoping a brightened mouth would veil my exhaustion. All day, people said to me, “You look so pretty! You look so rested!” A ribbon of color, my perfect disguise.
Now, years later, my lipsticks vanish. I rummage through the bathroom cabinets, dump out my purse, and sweep under the couch, trying to think where they possibly could be.
“Somebody’s taking my lipstick,” I say to him.
“Who would do something crazy like that?”
I flick away the suspicion he has a lady friend who would do something crazy like that. What better way for her to write on the bathroom wall, in words only I could see, “I was here.”
Angie Wright has always liked starting trouble—mostly good trouble, as John Lewis called it. The animating question of her life and writing has been how to stand against hate while trying not to hate the haters—no small order for a Southern pastor and activist whose family’s legacy was corrupted by racism and antisemitism.
This essay is an unpublished chapter of her manuscript, Loving My Enemies: A Memoir Of Outlandish Pursuits, which she hopes to see in bookstores in the not-too-distant future.
Angie was the editor and lead contributor to Love Has No Borders, a book about the struggle for immigrant rights in Alabama. Her essays were among the finalists for the 2020 Curt Johnson Prose Award, the 2021 Pinch Page Prize and the 2021 Invisible Lit Contest. She has published in the Santa Fe Writers’ Project Quarterly, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Wraparound South and others.