My flat iron broke right before my 34th birthday, which made me start to rethink my entire life. I usually don’t get too riled up about piling on another year, but the fitzing out of my most prized beauty tool was somewhat of a PTSD trigger, a flashback to a time when said straightener was bait in a slippery-slopey path to a strange-sort of adulthood.
See, when I turned 30, my boyfriend at the time and I didn’t have any money. I was in grad school, living off of student loans, and he was just getting started with a full-time sales job, (i.e. his first full-time, non-bartending job). He showed up for my monumental 3-0 with a card. Sensing my disappointment (“Dude, you only bought me a card?”), he offered to take me to Macy’s. For some reason they had given him a line of credit, and I could buy whatever I wanted, he said, though that line of credit was almost maxed out.
I was confused about what to purchase. First of all, Macy’s is a bit scag. Unless we’re talking Herald Square Macy’s on 34th Street and all of its 10 floors, the department chain has been looking more and more Penney’s and less and less Thanksgiving Day parade grandeur for years. But I can find something to buy at a Nascar convention, so this wasn’t the issue; the bigger problem was I wanted to buy something to signify my transition into full-fledged adulthood.
I decided a mah-ture woman needed a scent. What the department store lacked in fashionable clothes and floors that weren’t layered in industrial carpet, it made up for in aisles and aisles of perfume bottles. Hillary Duff came in four flavors; Paris Hilton in three. They all smelt like bubblegum vaginas. Liz Taylor’s musky, dusty Diamonds weren’t much better. My nostrils started to burn and I began sneezing all over a cutout of Britney humping a tree of magnolia blossoms. I settled on Beverly Johnson just ‘cause.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. My new fragrance didn’t seem like it would give me the confidence of a 30-year-old who believed that grad school would make her into Susan Orlean or that her six-year relationship was headed somewhere. “Get something else,” my boyfriend suggested.
I thought about the usual suspects—a new pair of boots, a slutty top I’d never wear dancing—but I wanted a good investment, something I wouldn’t spent money on in my 20s. That’s when I saw the Conair titanium platinum series straightening iron. “Okay, I’m done,” I said snatching it up.
As I stood in line holding two products that I never even wanted before I’d walked into this store and didn’t care if I walked out with, listening to Linda Ronstadt on Muzac, and staring at racks of cargo pants across the way, I wondered how did I get to this point? I’m in a store that makes me itchy, forcing the man who became my boyfriend because we made out at the Christmas party to pay 17 percent interest on what were essentially toiletries, all to make me feel a certain type of grown up!
That’s when the hissy fit happened. “Whyyyy are we hereeeeee!!!” I whined. He bitched, I bitched, he sucked, I sucked. He paid for the gifts and said he was walking home.
Fast-forward to four years later. I’m turning 34 and no longer in that relationship. It ended shortly after I plugged in that straightening iron for the first time and made some choices. But with the iron dead in front of me, I wasn’t sure what to make of its passing, or more importantly, what to make of my inability to easily replace its $80-ness. I hadn’t even freelanced enough in August to cover my gym bill; I still wasn’t writing “Talk of the Town”s. I took my frizzy hair out into the humidity and went to Rite Aid.
My current and future boyfriend was coincidentally with me on this errand, and while I was deciding between the Conair $18 and the Conair $24 option, he came up and asked me if I wanted a travel toothbrush. We were going to Maine in a few weeks. Not really, I said, thinking that was another $4 I had to waste.
“It comes in a pack of two. I was going to get it, silly.”
“Oh, in that case.”
I walked up to the counter and paid cash for my $18 iron. It works just as well as the last one; hell, it even heats up faster. I rarely used it when we went camping in Maine a few weeks later, though both of us were happy I had that matching toothbrush.