Tuesday, March 31, 2009

(This Is) Me, (That Was) Them


Throughout my life I have found pieces of my mother in the unlikeliest of places. The bottom drawer of the kitchen hutch: angry typed letters to The Pope and Eddie Fisher, Steiff African game animals that served as centerpieces at my parents' wedding, a mysterious box of old tin toys, chipped and red with lead. As a child I loved nothing more than to paw through her jewelry box, inhaling the thickness of dust and precious metal, the violence of diamonds nestled between red velvet alongside my handmade macaroni necklaces and what I knew to be normal. I saw my mother through a mist, this woman who taught me how to rinse the soap from my vagina so it wouldn't sting, this woman who cleaned my face with her spit, this beautiful happy sad woman who had already lived 27 years before I was even born. When I whistle I can hear her breathe, and sometimes, I taste her breath in my mouth. And yet I also don't know her at all, cloaked as she is in the unspoken uniform of how a mother serves her child.
My father grew up in a tall tale that just so happened to be true. Whisked to school in limousines, a little Lord Fauntleroy in Brooks Brothers short pants, a Jaguar for his 16th birthday which he promptly wrapped around a tree, jumping out of airplanes and living in Africa just to get away from the starched collars that his great uncle had invented. Every Thursday a man would take the train from New York City to my grandmother's house just to wind the clocks... Rudolph Valentino shot one of his movies in the backyard... there were elevators, elevators! And other tales of a life I could not even imagine.
The man I know has a red beard, wears running shorts, holds a toothpick between his teeth when he isn't smoking. The man I know as my father has a strange love for bungee cords and the banality of their danger, the money having long gone somewhere south. I do not know the other man, even though he, too, is my dad.
Zoey is my daughter, my insides slick exposed to air. And yet for her, part of me will always exist in boxes and drawers, neatly tucked away in archival quality paper, photos of me in college, my eyes larger than she knows them, five foot eight in two and a half inch heels, stories told through a vaseline lens of the night she was conceived, our first house, the color of the wallpaper, does she remember it? Years from now she might say she does, but she won't, won't remember me at 35, won't know me at 20, won't believe that I was ever her age. But I was, I am; I swear it, though I have long been slipping away of this me for me. Me: the quick flash of a coat with peacock embroidery back when the door did not lock at nightfall, a box of pointy toed shoes, a bleached polaroid of that birthday when we all kissed each other because we could. She will never really know me, and it is this loneliness of parenting that nobody ever talks about, although when she whistles, it will be my song escaping through her lips.

18 comments:

Days of Golden said...

You are such a beautiful writer!

Judi said...

If this blog still exists when she's older, she'll know you. Even if it doesn't, you should save these things for her.

Anonymous said...

your posts always amaze me. seriously, they do.

alissa said...

this made me cry. in a good way and a sad way. but thanks :)

Jesse said...

These same thoughts cross my mind too, however--even in my head they are never as eloquent as you wrote them here. Lovely post, thank you.

Rachel Weill said...

I love this post - it triggered some serious nostalgia and I just sent it to my mom to read! There is no way you will remember this but on my first overnight at Robson camp (maybe 7 years old?) I was sad and wanted to go home. The counselors brought me into the tent with you and your friends and you gave me a twinkie. Thanks! It obviously made a big impression. :)

Weitzell4 said...

wow

Petunia Face said...

Rachel Weill!
I don't remember giving you a twinkie at camp but hearing it made me supremely happy.
Funny thing about Robson--one of my vivid memories is cutting through Robson with Tawna one afternoon after school--we were probably 9. A bunch of older boys started to chase us, yelling that they were going to kill us. I thought they were monsters but they were probably all of 13. We tore through Robson until we got to the other side and saw your big yellow house. Knowing that you lived there, we banged on the door and your mom answered and quietly listened to us tell her that some boys wanted to murder us. She was nice enough to put us in her car and give us a ride to Memorial park where my parents were watching my brother's little league game. I don't even know if she knew who we were, but she was a mom and that was enough.
So Robson has good memories between us :)

Richie Designs said...

great, totally crying now.

I don't know my mom and yet know her as you say. I was thinking the other day of what she was like when she turned 40 since I'm approaching that birthday soon.

She had two children me 12, my brother 9 she was divorced and a single parent.

I think of me and if I could be half the person she was and is and I don't think I could.

thank you for this post. amazing.

zakary said...

Breaking my heart all over the place.

krista said...

you're in my head again.
hey, while you're up there, do you mind organizing some of the archives? i'd greatly appreciate it.
oh, and don't be alarmed by the strong gusts of wind. it always happens when my daughter looks me dead in the eye. she can polish concrete floors with one glance.

Sschraed said...

Beautiful..you always make me cry. You are very talented :)

~j of skanksfornothing said...

Very beautiful, very true...

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

I'm only just now beginning to see my mother as a whole person instead of just my mom. I don't think it ever occurred to me until these past couple of years, that she's a whole person with a history and dreams and all of that stuff. It's strange to think of. You captured that feeling so well.

Pumpkin Petunia said...

Having a particularly bad week, nothing major, all inside my head and I think this put some of it into words. Wanting to let my two oldest know that there's more to me than they see. But they won't see it even if I try to force them; they're not supposed to. That's how it's supposed to be; I'm Mom.

Mollie said...

eloquent and beautiful!!!!

Adriene said...

I always enjoy your posts...but this is just FABULOUS! You put my thoughts into clever, beautiful words. Thanks for articulating my scattered sentiments for me.

Sair said...

good sad crying here too. all the things you want and can't have cause time has passed and i so want 'the lake house' with sandra bullock and keanu reeves, we (my daughter and i) would be so close if i was 31 and she were too, not 31 and 4. Yeah, sad good tears.