LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Gabrielle and I were at the pharmacy the other day waiting to get our flu shots when I noticed a familiar bottle sitting on the bottom shelf. We were sitting on the bench they reserve for people who are waiting forlornly for their prescriptions, and we’d just had a reasonable amount of fun taking our blood pressure by plunging our arms down that ever-tightening tube they have. But now, with the school day’s highlights reviewed, my email checked and nothing interesting on the Facebook feed, we were just waiting and staring in front of us.
And that’s when I saw the Sea Breeze.
For those of you unfamiliar with this product, I’d wager to say you didn’t have problems with pimples when you were a teen. I can firmly say I did not fall into that category. Instead, I was painfully familiar with this astringent that makes your face feel temporarily feel nice and cool — like it’s been kissed by a breeze — because it swipes away any oil that might be naturally occurring there.
My first encounter with it was at my cousin Lisa’s house at the age of about 10. I noticed the bottle sitting on her bathroom shelf in large part because of the wistful sailboat it had on the front of it. I instantly loved that boat for some reason — I actually love anything to do with the water, even though I get seasick — and I picked it up off the shelf and asked Lisa what it did.
Now, my cousin Lisa was just about the best cousin you can imagine. She was three important years older than me, but never made me feel too young or extraneous. In fact, she took me everywhere she went and, since she was absolutely beautiful, was admired with every step she took. Being that Lisa lived in the city, while I lived in a suburb considered the country, I always thought she went to feverishly interesting places, whether it was just walking to the corner store to get a Slurpee or to the playground where the bad kids had swung the swings over the top bar over and over so you couldn’t use them. Anything and everything was interesting when Lisa was involved, and she indulged me constantly, not even minding when I fell in love with all her boyfriends.
Anyway, when I asked her about the Sea Breeze, Lisa plucked it off the shelf, dabbed some on one of the cotton balls she kept in a glass jar (so fancy!), and playfully wiped some on my face. I felt the cool tingle as it dried and smelled its invigorating scent, one I imagined lived regularly on tropical islands where breezes come from.
“You put it on your T-zone,” she said, and I pretended I knew what a T-zone was.
By age 13, my face had sprouted an ugly garden of zits that spread hungrily, even laughingly outside of my T-zone and all over my face. In despair, I begged my mom to buy me some Sea Breeze, which she reluctantly did though she believed all I needed was Zest soap and water.
Each morning and night, I would rub that Breeze on my face, no longer enchanted by the scent though still a little in love with the boat. By 15, even the boat had lost its charm and I’d moved on to Noxzema, which seemed like it should be effective for the amount of work it took to wash off, but really wasn’t. Finally, by age 18, I was ready to concede my mom was right: soap and water really did work best. Oh, and being released from puberty, that helped too.
Anyway, as Gabrielle and I sat, I pointed out the Sea Breeze and noticed how antiquated it looked beside the peppy Clearasils and high-end Neutrogenas. It’s funny how a little bottle can encapsulate such a rush of memories, painful and cherished alike, and I tried to convey them to Gabrielle, who has started dealing with a few pimples of her own. But then it was time for our flu shot and we stood, leaving the little bottle standing on the very bottom shelf where probably no one buys it. So I went back and picked it up and happily paid for it.
And in a few days, my cousin Lisa, whose beauty still glowingly persists, is going to get a surprise in the mail.