Ants and Lashes
When I learned about the world between my lashes, the thriving bodies mating among my eyes and hatching in my follicles, I felt like a planet. I tried to hold magnifying glasses up to my face in front of the mirror to catch a glimpse of my kingdom of mites. I was fascinated knowing that I’d been born Demodex folliculitis free, and somehow they found their way to me across brow and lid and lacrimal. Perhaps as they came from momma’s makeup as she painted my face for the daddy-daughter dance Daddy took vacation time for. Maybe they fell to my face from the top bunk at summer camp, crawled off desks and onto my hands at school. They might’ve come from Daddy’s mustache comb, made of soft boar bristles, that he left unused in the bathroom cupboard. I wished I could feel them munching on sebaceous secretions and dead cells, keeping my eyes free of my body’s own debris. I wanted proof of a symbiosis that gave me purpose, not a pest to be feared, a problem to be dealt with or ignored, but an entire population of tiny animals that have only weeks to live their lifetime and lay their eggs around eyes that will never see them.
I wanted proof of a symbiosis that gave me purpose, not a pest to be feared.
I used to cut my lashes with scissors, pull them out one by one with tweezers and marvel at the naked sections of lid beneath toddler bangs. Once, I told a room full of adults, playing Euchre and sipping wine coolers, that I plucked my eyelashes and that’s why they were so long. I’d gotten the idea from my mother, who scolded me when I shaved my mustache like Daddy because it would grow back darker and thicker until I became a boy. I was spanked for my mistake. Do you want to be ugly? The hand hit bare skin until I shook my head no. Bent over her knee, I imagined the mites falling from my lids with no lashes to protect them.
When I was nine, I was afraid to wear my new green dress on the first day at my new school. Momma’s legs were smooth, but mine were populated with wispy blonde hairs I felt everyone could see. When she found me with my head in my hands, sitting on the edge of the tub, she told me how her dad didn’t let her shave until she was 16, how he was angry about the thick brown hair under her arms, about the tampons she kept in her book bag. Momma pulled off my dress and filled the tub with warm water. She lathered up my legs below the knees with cocoa butter conditioner, gave me her razor, held my hand in hers, and taught me which direction to shave. I was allowed to shave this hair, let it swirl down the drain and into the septic tank.
Do you want to be ugly?
Momma’s lashes were thin and blonde, not like the dark ones I shared with Daddy. I’d watch her get ready for bingo every night, a layer of CoverGirl powder, a shimmery blue-pink eyeshadow, a streak of black eyeliner from a red pencil she’d heat with her cigarette lighter, and a few swipes of peach blush using the same brush her own mother had given her when she was a child. Then she’d apply thick layers of Great Lash mascara from pink and green tubes. Once she’d left us alone in the trailer, I’d use her eyeliner to coat my lids like Cleopatra on the cover of my history book. I’d spray her perfume between my flat breasts. Ritualistically, in an effort to replace the absent tubes of proteins and melanin, I’d finish by trying to fill in the gaps I created with thick black clumps.
It always seemed like I’d pulled out thousands of lashes, sitting at the time-out table and piling them on school papers I’d never write on. As I raked them up with a stray staple or strand of my hair, they seemed as large as the piles of black walnut leaves Daddy raked in the yard for me to jump in before he set fire to them in the ditch. I would shake the tiny black hairs off the paper and onto the schoolroom carpet for ants to play with and carry away.
Sometimes I wonder where my lashes go when they fall away, when a lover brushes them from my cheek. I imagine them clumped up inside tubes of mascara, inside the bodies of vacuums, curled and pressed between the pages of books, and woven into the nests of the hummingbirds. I imagine the lashes of an elephant floating in the Congo, used as perches for tiny insects until they sink and become part of the sediment at the base of the flowing stream on its way to the ocean. I imagine a whale, whose lids are thick and naked, vocalizing her splendor with clicks and whistles heard from miles away.
Hayli Cox is an MA candidate and teaching assistant at Northern Michigan University where she enjoys views of Lake Superior from her office. She is an associate editor of Passages North and has work published or forthcoming in The Lightkeeper, Hippocampus, The Gateway Review, and Diagram.
Illustration by Keara McGraw.