You ask for happiness and the foghorn says No
And No again, stuck on it,
The way the beach is stuck on gull
— from Pacific by Paula McLain
And how are you dying, I write.
I mean doing, but maybe not.
I’m writing to her. Some people reach for the phone, trying to call a mother long gone. Sometimes while writing my pen takes an unexpected turn toward her.
We weren't penpals, or even pals in the way of today's mothers and daughters who are friends. For years we fought, too much alike and too different too. Later, we grew close, sharing quick banter, books, and friendly phone calls.
This is what you do after a death. You remember, and then you worry you have mis-remembered, that you rewrote the truth. To make it more. To make you hurt less.
I try to wear things from her closet, try to hold her close. But the things only make me feel far away. Her tan sweater is my color and style, but does not feel right. The skirt is too tight and long. The jacket with leopard trim is a perfect fit, but when I wore it last week I couldn’t wait to take it off. The jewelry too.
I am not her, and this may be proof.
Or maybe she didn’t like these items either, and they hung in her closet, as they will in mine, as a good idea but not quite right. I don’t recall her wearing these pieces. Even my father, upon seeing me in her sweater, said, “Oh she would have worn that before she got so small.”
The weight and the struggle, that’s the thing we share. And so, I inherit the neurosis — insecurity, insufficiency, body image, the triad of the Myron women. I knew this all along, and now standing here, awkwardly displaying her clothes, I know it even more. Was I trying for homage, or just some sort of connection?
The only thing that fits, the only thing that that feels right, are the makeup brushes. Nice ones, expensive ones, she bought when the two of us went to Bobbie Brown for makeovers. Make us pretty! Make us good! Make us us, but better.
We didn’t do these sorts of girly mother-daughter bonding things, but there we were — four or five years ago — at the makeup counter getting pretty. Frugal as always, I bought just a bit, a lipstick or blush. To my surprise, my mother who wore little to no makeup, bought the whole suite: concealer, foundation, eyeshadow, blush, bronzer, and the expensive brushes too!
Cleaning out her closet last month, my sister and I extracted the few items that were our size or style, and piled up a dozen bags for donation. After the main closet, the second closet, the coat closet, and the dresser drawers, we thought we were finished. Then my father motioned to the bathroom drawers. He couldn’t take the reminders at every turn. And so we picked through her lotions and potions, her brushes and combs, and a handful of makeup, smudged and worn. To my surprise, from that day years before she had kept the makeup chart, a drawing of a face with application instructions — and she had kept the brushes.
The next day I applied my own makeup, and finished up with the largest brush. Bronzer it said in small letters on the handle. I didn’t have any so I just swept the soft bristles across my face. And there she was, a golden highlight across my cheek.
My mother appears in a dream. She isn't center-stage, which is unlike her, but a hovering, a shadow. Still, I had a sense of her, and now awake, I see this is the truth of motherhood, of mothers and daughters, or maybe just us.