The other day I was looking for a seam ripper to remove the label inside the pants I was wearing. Normally, I wear shirts long enough to stuff into my pants, but I had retrieved one of Maddie’s destined-for-Goodwill discards, a lovely coral colored cotton shirt which stretched to fit my body, but didn’t have enough length to block the label from irritating the heck out of my lower back. I avoid labels brushing against my skin by wearing clothes inside-out, but these were low-hung flannel-lined dungarees and inside-out would have negated the reason for their existence: keeping me warm.
I never found the seam ripper, usually stored in the top drawer of the dining room buffet, inside the silverware tray that has never held silverware during the length of our ownership. Instead, I found, among other interesting objects, my wallet from college days which contains several photos from high school days. Recalling that our reporter Jeff had recently mentioned something about my propensity for encountering famous people, I pulled the wallet out because I knew there were a couple of photos in it of me and George Harrison.
And then, seam ripper forgotten, I browsed through the wallet and found, along with George, most of my college ID cards. I was struck by the small delicate features of my face and the deep rich brown of my hair. I couldn’t believe how smooth and clear my skin seemed, how awake and alive I appeared. Where had that person gone, I wondered.
I’ve stumbled over those IDs before, but on the cusp of my 49th birthday, those images depicted someone I barely recognized. It almost made me cry to look at them. I spread the cards on the table and looked at them more closely. I brought them into the bathroom and compared them to my face. Those ID photos haunted me. Over the course of a week, I’d look at them, look in the mirror and fail to see the resemblance.
“I don’t know what happened to my face,” I told David. “It’s gotten so much wider. Even if I pull my skin back, it’s still so big. It’s like my bones have spread. I don’t recognize myself in those ID photos.”
“I was struck by how much they look like Rozee,” he said, ignoring my midlife whining.
“I didn’t appreciate myself back then,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t realize I was the least bit attractive,” I said. “But I wasn’t bad looking.”
“Maybe it was the camera,” said David.
“The camera that made my face look thin and attractive, but I was really ugly?”
Back when I was using those IDs to get into the cafeteria or movies on campus, I don’t recall ever looking at the photo and thinking, now there’s an attractive young girl. In my head, I carry an image of myself at 20—a generic youthful brunette, no attributes of beauty assigned—and lately, every time I look in the mirror and see an old and gray woman with a wide face, it’s a little bit of hey, who the heck are you? Who let you in?
I had that experience again yesterday when Maddie was in the throes of the flu. Between appointments with the barf bucket, she recounted a memory from a past illness.
“When Rozee and I were sick once and didn’t want to throw up, you said we would get a point for each time we threw up and then we could use the points to buy a toy from those kind Amy Miller use to sell.”
“Discovery Toys?” I asked, humoring her delirium.
I loved those brightly colored, sturdily built, educational toys.
“Yeah, and I wanted some kind of water toy like the Marble Magic game and you wouldn’t get it for me because I didn’t earn enough points throwing up,” she went on. “I had to get the picnic set instead.”
I listened to this wondering if I was the kind of mother who would entice her child to throw up by offering points. Didn’t sound like me. I know I always encouraged them to let loose if they needed to throw up, but for points? I asked Ben and Rozee by email and they didn’t remember it either.
“I don’t remember the puke for toys thing,” Rozee wrote. “I remember the picnic set though. That’s pretty sad she didn’t get the thing she wanted because she didn’t puke enough. Maybe you should buy it for her now.”
Or maybe a seam ripper so she could poke a few more holes in my mothering memories.- Jan. 10, 2007