‘i need chapstick & i need it RIGHT NOW’

[think kit. day seventeen.] THE BROWN LINE // CHICAGO — In my coat pocket, I have a tube of Carmex. I also keep a stick of Softlips in my backpack.

Throughout my apartment — in drawers, on shelves, in bags — you can probably find a dozen things of lip balm. I have a good reason for this odd collection.

Nearly 5 years ago, I had an internship in Rome. I left the U.S. for the first time, heading to a foreign country to live on my own, without knowing more than a few sentences — nay, a few phrases — in Italian. Not a great plan, but it mostly worked out.

One day, when I was on my way to work, I noticed my lips felt a little dry. I reached in my pocket, and I found only a hole in the lining — no chapstick.

The next 10 hours were hellish.

Realizing you need chapstick and having none available only magnifies the dryness, the discomfort, the desperation for relief. As soon as I noticed it, I could think of nothing else. I thought I had some at my desk; alas, no chapstick. Having looked forward to solving my problem the entire train ride, only to be let down upon arriving at work, the burning sensation on my lips intensified.

Something I think about in retrospect: Why didn’t I ask anyone for lip balm? I think I may have asked a friend or two, but given how uncomfortable I was, I should have asked everyone I knew, just to get over it.

Well, I didn’t, and I knew as soon as I got off the train in the city, my No.1 priority would be to find chapstick. I stopped in the first farmacia I saw and looked around for a few minutes, finding nothing that resembled chapstick. Worse: I didn’t know how to ask for it.

Because I found nothing in the aisles, I thought I’d look at the checkout counter — I figured, that’s a sure bet to find chapstick in an American store. Upon the counter sat two large bowls of something that could be a stick of lip balm, but they strongly resembled glue sticks. I observed from afar, debating whether I should get them (I didn’t want to get to close, risk the clerk asking me something and being unable to understand/answer her). In the end, I thought it wouldn’t be the end of I got glue on my lips. The stinging dryness I’d suffered through for hours was only getting worse, and I just wanted it to end.

When I grabbed a two-pack of the sticks, I was encouraged to see a little bumble bee on the label — it reminded me of the lip balm brand Burt’s Bees, making me think these massive sticks were indeed my salvation. I bought them and ripped open the package on my way out.

As I applied the honey-colored stick to my lips, I felt my hopes for relief fade: This stuff felt like glue. It didn’t slide nicely back and forth, administering much-needed moisture. It was sticky. It tasted weird. It took serious effort to apply it at all, which is not something I expected of lip balm.

I cringed but kept applying it, because it was much better than the cracked, flaky skin I’d dealt with all day. I still had a little less than a mile till I’d be back at my flat, so I was happy my condition had improved, and I could get this glue off my face soon enough.

Of course, I googled the label as soon as I got home. Turns out, it was lip balm. It was just really weird. Almost 5 years later, I still have one of these sticks — still feels weird — but I keep it next to my bed for dryness emergencies. Chapped lips are the worst.

[think kit. dec. 17. prompt: Time to go through your (actual) desktop, junk drawer, or coat pockets and share an artifact from your past. A half-torn ticket stub, once-washed receipt, coffee-stained map, anything in a frame: it’s all fair game. What springs to mind from your artifact? The smells, sights, and sounds? A specific feeling? Hold it in your hand, close your eyes, and go back in time to a moment.]

{image: the Italian lip balm that looks and sort of feels like a glue stick.}

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