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Today's Story by Susan Barnett

I go too far sometimes.


Some people pace when they’re nervous.  Others can’t stop talking.  I, given the opportunity, tweeze.  My eyebrows, that is.  I don’t know if anyone else does it; it’s the one habit I have which makes me wonder if I’m compulsive.  I tweeze my eyebrows every morning no matter what kind of mood I’m in; but when I’m nervous I tweeze them again and again and again.

My eyebrows are black, like my hair.  My father’s side of the family is Mediterranean, so my hair, though fine, is very thick.  So are my eyebrows.  When I was a kid, I hated them.  They were too wide, too close together.  Almost a unibrow.

When I was in fifth grade, I locked myself in the bathroom and, with shaking hands, picked up my father’s double-edged Gillette steel-handled razor.  Peering carefully into the mirror I shaved the space between my eyebrows, making it a bit wider on each side.  But I was young and my hand was unsteady; my left eyebrow wasn’t the same length as my right one anymore.  I tried to fix it.  The space between my eyebrows grew wider and wider but I couldn’t line it up evenly.   My reflection grew fuzzy as my eyes filled.  It was clear that to do any more would make me look like a freak.  Maybe I already did.

My mother spotted it right away.

“What on earth did you do?”

“I tried to fix my eyebrows.”  The tears I’d been holding back spilled out.

She explained that a razor blade was not the proper tool for such a delicate job.  She introduced me to tweezers.  My mother was a kind woman, so despite her conviction that my eyebrows were just fine and shouldn’t be tampered with, she sat down with me and carefully shaped my eyebrows.  They looked much better.

Over the years I reached a comfort level with my eyebrows.  They were a bit wide, (I never could allow them to grow too close together) but I had wide eyes as well and they looked fine to me.  Then I got a job as a model.  It was, unfortunately, after the big eyebrow look had come and gone.

I was sent to a salon to be “prepared” for my first shoot.  They cut my long hair, waxed my upper lip and tweezed my eyebrows before applying professional makeup.  They pulled hair after hair as I flinched and my eyes watered.  When they were done and I was handed a mirror, I gasped.  My eyebrows were two thin, black lines arching with surprise over my enormous gold-flecked eyes.

“Bee-yoo-tee-ful!” gushed the effusive man who would be doing my makeup.

I wasn’t sure.  But my eyebrows got rave reviews from everyone I knew, so I figured they were worth keeping.

I tweezed religiously to maintain those two skinny crescents.  I did it for years.  Then I got married and had a baby.  I didn’t have time for such a high-maintenance look.  I stopped.

I have a picture from those days.  It is a family portrait of my husband, our baby and me.  My hair is short, I am heavy.  My eyebrows are so thick it seems my eyes are about to be buried in an avalanche of coal-colored pine branches.  My smile looks wobbly.

Years passed, my husband and I fell into a routine and I found myself wishing I had never gotten married.  Life became heavy and so did I.  I can’t remember now what woke me up, but one day I decided to do something about it. I needed to feel good about myself again.  I started walking every morning, stopped eating cookies with the baby, bounced around with a workout tape while he napped.  I lost weight, colored my hair and began to tweeze my eyebrows.  I looked wonderful.  My husband thought so, too, for a little while.

I find comfort in tweezing.  It is an activity that requires complete concentration – one slip and you may find yourself cock-eyed looking or, just as bad, with a bald spot in the middle of one eyebrow.  I tweeze hairs long before they get long enough to be removed by waxing.  I can’t stand to let them grow that long.  I get them when they first begin to appear.  Sometimes the tweezers gently break the skin over a black hair just beginning to sprout.  I can grasp that tiny hair and pull it by its root before it ever gets a chance to change the contour of my eyebrows.

I go too far sometimes.  When I’m really worried about something, I’ve occasionally tried to tweeze hairs which were impossible to get.  I’ve drawn blood.  Sometimes I try to get at an ingrown hair because the lump over it annoys me.  That leaves a mark.

My husband left me last week.

“I’m tired,” he said.   “I’m not even forty and I feel like my life is over.”

He’d take care of us, he said.  But he didn’t want to live with us anymore.  He’d found someone else.  Someone fun.

I put Benny down for bed an hour ago.  He’s a terrific little guy.  He’s a happy kid and he deserves a happy life.  I called my girlfriend Mary and asked her if she’d come watch him for me tonight.  Mary and her husband are wonderful people and they are dying to have a baby, but they can’t.  They’re great with Benny.

I put the lid down on the toilet in the bathroom and pull the magnifying mirror close.  My tweezers are wonderful; large and thin and sharp.  I carefully, carefully pluck the stray hairs between my eyes, careful not to gouge myself.  Then I begin on the hairs underneath.  I should have enough time to finish before the pills I took hit me.  I want to look surprised.


Susan Barnett is a journalist, a writer and nationally syndicated radio show host.  She lives in Woodstock, NY.


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