They replied immediately! With a form letter. It thanked me for my submission and said if I hadn't heard any good news in three weeks I should resume breathing. I sighed and let it go.
But then! Two days later! A phone call! "Congratulations, we'd like to publish your essay," said Mary-from-The-Washington-Post. In my mind's eye she was smartly bespectacled, with a warm smile and a pencil through her bun.
"We'll be sending one of our photographers out to take your picture next week."
Mary sprouted horns and blew a raspberry with her forked tongue.
I don't like greenbeans. I don't like suburbs. And I definitely don't like cameras.
Oh, I've got my reasons. Shyness, mixed with vestigial insecurity about my goofy adolescent face. Mostly it's about control -- I must be the first pair of eyes on any portrayal of my being, and wield veto power as I see fit. It's like the laser that shoots misshapen potato chips off the factory line: I will decide what's fit for public consumption -- and what is not.
Rebecca the Photographer phoned me the next day. I was fully prepared to tell her thanks, but I'm going to have my father take the picture because, well, I'm a little neurotic, and maybe kinda vain, and while I'm sure you're more than capable, at least if I keep this awkward exercise in the family I'll have some say over the outcome...
She was disarmingly kind.
"But I'm a designer; I'll probably try to art-direct you," I warned.
She said, "It's okay, I'm an artist too."
"I might cry."
Rebecca laughed and told me not to worry. We decided she would meet me Saturday afternoon at Cafe Deluxe, where I'd be lunching with friends.
Somehow I made it through the rest of the week without sprouting a zit. I drank two cups of diuretic tea Friday night to stave off any bloating. Saturday I spent 30 minutes applying too much makeup and another 45 wriggling in and out of every sweater I own, only to yank on my faithful black tee before launching myself out the door, shamefully late for lunch. My mirrored powder compact sat open on the table: First I fished out a rogue sweater fiber that threatened to redden my eye. Then I checked my teeth. And my lipgloss. And my pores, one by one. My friends were very understanding.
You probably expect me to say that all the apprehension was for naught; that once the clicking began I rose to the occasion and posed with the candid grace of a National Geographic gazelle. Yes, I could say that. But it would be a big fat overpowdered lie.
If you have never been on the business end of a professional camera, by all means give it a try. Not only are you painfully aware that each of your cells is being cataloged for posterity, the lens is so wide and shiny you can actually watch yourself shifting, squirming and wearing too much eyeliner -- from a distance of eight little inches. (Rebecca was going for detail.) It was like being pressed onto a microscope slide. I felt like a virus.
Rebecca was kind enough to show me her digital shots as we went along. I was inconsolable. "My face is too round! Why am I doing that with my lip? God, are my teeth really that big? Maybe I should have brought my laptop so we could see this on the screen. Do you want to come to my house so we can look at them there? No? I only live a few blocks away. Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post."
Rebecca seemed like a nice person, certainly a talented person, but not the sort of person who has a long fuse for high-strung persons like me. She was nearing the end of her rope so I decided to go for broke:
"Look, I just went through one of the nastiest breakups in the history of the civilized world. And let's be honest -- " I effected my best just-between-us-girls face -- "I'm all for living well, but looking hot in public is really the best revenge."
I don't know a woman alive who'd disagree with that. Rebecca promised to e-mail her top picks to me before she sent them to the paper, though after the way I'd exasperated her I half expected a shot of her middle finger instead.
Whatever the source of my discomfort in all this -- looking at my own face, or my face looking back at me -- the outcome is more or less irrelevant since I am not the intended beholder. My personal Peanut Gallery confirmed that of the three final shots, two were fit to print and one didn't look a thing like me. Which one will be published is anyone's guess.
'Til then, since Rebecca's had enough of me, I'll be bargaining with God. (Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post...)