Freeway Lips by Hope Demetriades

Halfway to her opening, she pressed her pinky finger into the tiny “V” shape in the center of her mouth. Her deep-rose lipstick always landed there as she applied it in a flurry. It settled where it didn’t belong, where it masked the delicate shape of her upper lip. Luckily, it only took one graceful swipe to remedy. One swipe … and her eyes were back on the road.

She had deftly used the rearview mirror since her early days of driving and rarely
wasted time at home on makeup. Efficiency was of the utmost importance to her … a borderline obsession. Very light coat of base, eyeliner, mascara and lipstick were all on, in a matter of seconds. She often wondered if it was her Swiss roots, years of ballet training or just your everyday run-of-the-mill OCD that caused her to be so attached to efficient movements through time and space.

Wind blowing her hair dry (an artist, and a hippie at heart) she was able to time it so she could close the windows seconds before the wall of traffic assaulted her as the 110 merged with the 5 freeway near Dodger Stadium.

Unlike novice L.A. freeway commuters, she knew better than to be lulled into a sense of ease when faced with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Her eyes darting from cheekbones to approaching offramp, she always knew the moment her attention needed to snap back to the road.

She expertly avoided the trap of Sig Alerts, during which out-of-towners frequently found themselves smashed into the cars ahead as the crushing traffic blindsided them. This mistake of careless attention could make her late. She was never late. Again, Swiss roots, or OCD … she’d never know.

Her husband never acclimated to her innate sense of when to slowly brake before joining the ranks of domino-like rear-endings in the Southland. Due to his mistrust of her impeccable sense of timing, he drove everywhere. This is why, on opening nights, she went solo.

*  *  *

By her mid-20s the traffic patterns of the City of Angels were etched into her subconscious mind like the premature lines of her artist hands. Like a doctor, she’d washed her rugged hands thousands of times, going from acrylic paint to acrylic heels a flash. A planner and perfectionist, but also open to last-minute, necessary changes, she often was still working on her artwork as the sun set on her opening nights.

During her graduate show she’d had to sidle up to a piece hanging on the wall to dab a little drop of glue that threatened to land on her professor’s Wallabees. “The most cohesive and mature senior show we’ve ever seen,” the chair of the art department had said.

She loved Los Angeles as only a native could. Too-fast car rides in her father’s Porsche from Northridge to Malibu — surfboard jutting up and back through the sunroof — and chatting with Sissy Spacek (a childhood idol) at the Whisky, among countless experiences that wed her to L.A.

*  *  *

Her rep, Agnes, greeted her with enthusiasm as she entered the gallery, responsibly early for an artist.

“Should be a big crowd.”

“Let’s hope not,” she countered.

“Oh hush, have a glass of wine. You’re just sore that a few celebs have RSVP’d. You’ll start having fun in about an hour.”

“We’ll see. I just want to go back to the studio.”

“Of course you do. You vant to be alone. Such an arteest!” Agnes mocked.

Though vastly different from her dad’s, her art revealed hints of her upbringing. Her two dads (one an artist, the other a surfer, both straight … long story) raised her (lovingly and loyally) with art and nature, and it showed in the work. Even the friendly but tumultuous divorces among her parents somehow whispered notes from a weathered and wizened childhood song into her pieces.

“Oprah! You made it!” Agnes called out loudly, clearly summoning her artist to the floor.

Now, she would have fun. Agnes was right. The woman she most admired, her biggest hero, had come on time, no … early, at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday night, to her little art opening! She could die peacefully now.

“Oprah frakking Winfrey,” she whispered, heart pounding, “You’ve got this. Breathe, relax, try to enjoy this before it’s over.”

Searching the mirror that had been hung in the hallway for just these kinds of moments, she located the “V” in her upper lip and saw that her lipstick was still in place after that glass of wine, as she walked briskly toward a dream.

Hope Demetriades is an artist, writer and educator who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Her traveling mixed-media installation, “The North Stars: Canonizing the American Abolitionists,” may be viewed at