My fairy godmother was a queen.
Every woman needs a fairy godmother.
Cinderella had it going on, man. The perfect ‘do, that figure-flattering gown with glass slippers adding just a touch of trendy—enough to ratchet the whole ensemble up a notch. You really think she could have pulled that off by herself?
I met Patrick shortly after I moved to Chicago in my early 20s. He worked at a high-end salon in the Gold Coast and oozed sophistication. He took one look at little ‘ole me from Ohio and the wheels started turning. As he turned my overly processed blonde mane into what could be called a proper style, the directives came fast and furious.
“First, honey, lose the sparkly pink lipstick. And the sparkly eyeshadow. You want red on those lips. You know how many women pay to get that bee-stung look? Play it up, play it up. And the baby blues don’t need sparkle. They sparkle on their own.”
As I hesitantly asked which shade of red, he was already snapping his fingers to summon one of his minions. This gentleman walked me through an entire new set of colors in no less than half an hour.
I walked out a hit.
In the months to come, I went from blonde to auburn and back again. My newfound confidence saw me being more fashion forward. I felt better, looked better and took more risks.
Patrick saw me through breakups, work crises, best friend blowouts and landlord woes. He swooped to the chair each time I saw him, in his sleek black ensembles, tutting and clucking over all the details of my Lincoln Park Trixie life. When my ex-boyfriend and I unwittingly booked appointments back to back, Patrick fluttered around us, solicitous that my broken heart would bring a torrent of tears at the unexpected reunion. I found the best tailors and restaurants through Patrick—and using his name always ensured excellent service with a smile.
We talked about who I was and what I wanted. We talked about his troubles with his parents. His favorite saying, if we started to sound too pitiful was: “Oh, get off the cross. Somebody else needs the wood.” We’d move on to lighter topics.
I ran into Patrick unexpectedly one morning at a Chicago breakfast hotspot. I’d rolled out of bed, put just a bit of lip gloss and mascara on, and was happily eating with out-of-town friends when I spotted him. I ran over to say hello and apologized for my disheveled appearance. With a somewhat sad look in his eye, he said, “Honey, if you look like that rolling out of bed, then my job is done.”
At my haircut that week, I asked Patrick what the look in his eye meant. Sad was not his modus operandi. He told me he had been HIV positive for years. He was reaching the point where he knew he’d need help dying. And he was going home to be cared for by his parents, who had never been very happy or accepting he was gay—but would now see him through his final years—in Texas, of all places.
That was the last time I saw or spoke to Patrick. Not one for long goodbyes or discussing his woes, he left Chicago behind for good. I’m still grateful to him for getting me to see the beauty in sleek and simple, and the confidence that comes from taking good care of yourself.
As I reach middle age, I think of Patrick more often. I wish I could bring him in to give my friends, most busy mothers who put everyone before themselves, a shot in the arm.
When my friend Gail and I shopped downtown before seeing a friend’s play the other night, Patrick whispered in my ear. Gail and I are both on budgets so we were more window shopping than anything. Nevertheless, Gail needed a new pair of readers and the boutique we were in had a wonderful selection. As I gave her a cherry red pair to try on, she balked. “I could never wear these,” she said. “Too loud.” I assured her she could pull them off and told her the mousy brown pair she reached for did nothing for her. “But they’re just to read a menu,” she protested. And I reminded her that we can all look good, even when “just reading a menu.”
We compromised on a black pair with a funky design. She looks fab in them. And seems to get a sassy look in her eye when she puts them on. Secretly, I think she likes the funk.
I still understand the need for quick and comfortable (as I type this in my grey flannel pajamas, specs on). But that’s a look we can save for our yurts, ladies. Patrick had the right attitude. You only live once. You may as well look (and feel) good doing it.
So this holiday season, I will forgo asking for the practical, the comfortable, the safe. I’ll let Patrick have his way. And if I see you out with a new ‘do, a bit of bling or heels our mothers would call impractical, I’ll silently applaud you for being your own fairy godmother. So will Patrick. You go, girl.