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.