Cami S. Newbold
I always start by choosing the color of my lipstick. Tonight, it will be burgundy, the color of the wine I used to drink to numb and hide. I smile and open our closet, pushing away the khaki-colored pleated pants and their equally monochromatic shirts. June Christy’s voice coos mellifluously through my phone.
“Who will I be today?” I ask my wife’s wardrobe and trace my finger over her dresses. There she is, I think, and pull out a strapless, floor-length gown. It’s navy with blue-black refractive plumage arced sideways over the bodice as if it were holding a feathered burlesque fan.
“Baby girl,” I say to the dress as I step one foot, then two, into it, swaying my hips slowly to the music as the satin penetrates so profoundly I can feel my soul leap.
My wife’s makeup kit is ready, lipstick open. I paint and powder my shaved face, create new contours, and narrow my nose. My once-inconceivable skill, establishing trompe l’oeil, improved. Before I apply my mouth, I select my hair.
“Yes, her,” I say delightfully as I choose the golden-yellow wig with Veronica-Lake-like waves that will cloak half of my face. The cap I use to keep the wig in place is unnecessary for tonight’s activity—I’ll only perform one song—but I want it to feel real anyway. As if I really were on stage. I affix the cap, tucking the loose ends of my hair underneath, and then ease ‘Veronica’ on by tugging each side until it looks natural. I fluff its waves over my right eye.
“Now, for the finale,” I say and pick my wife’s tube of burgundy lipstick. “Today is one month, three days, seven hours, and—” I check the clock before looking back at myself in the mirror, “twelve minutes.” I slide the creamy lipstick over my lips and rub them together.
I reach for my phone and choose my number for the night: “Girl Gone Wild” by Madonna. With two minutes to spare, I run to the kitchen to get a drink. My wife is acting as a COVID-recovery nurse at her mother’s. In the fridge, I see her beer and grab water instead. “Seven hours and thirteen minutes.”
In our bedroom, I turn on my laptop to get ready for my first drag night on Zoom since the shelter-in-place began. I clear a space on the top of our dresser, hesitating when seeing my work identification card on its lanyard: John Coiner. The name and its face are a betrayal of who I am.
I link to Zoom, and when prompted for my name, I type my stage name: Mesmerize. Immediately, I am connected. It’s my first time on Zoom. I see the seasoned queens and wave both hands excitedly. Not sure they can hear or see me, I ask, “Is this on? Am I here?”
Fellaciana smiles and squeals, “I see you, girl!” And for the first time in my home, I feel seen.
January 16, 2023
Cami S. Newbold is a writer, life coach, and intersectional feminist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lourdes University and a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University. She and her husband, Steve, live in Toledo, Ohio.