Sunday, January 29, 2017

Make-up and Perfume

A couple weeks ago at choir practice, our pianist Mrs. Carol gave me an orange symphony ticket for Cade. "The school may give him a ticket," I said.

"Then you use it," Mrs. Carol said, and in fact, Cade didn't end up needing a ticket because the clarinet choir in which he performs opened for the symphony. I would've liked to have gone but--upon learning of the symphony's plans to perform Disney music--decided I wanted Clementine to go even more. Since Cade wouldn't be available for Clementine the whole time, I arranged for her to sit with my friend Karen and her family.

I helped Clementine pick out clothes, scrubbed her head in the shower, and even put make-up on her. (Possibly the only bug flying around our yard, mid-January, had eaten Clementine alive to include her face. Of course.)

Charleigh was a bit pouty, but I promised her a special adventure, just the two of us. She and I walked Clementine to Karen just inside the high school and headed into town. Charleigh was quiet as a church mouse behind me in the minivan. Finally, I asked: "Are you okay back there, Charleigh?"

"Yeah," she said, "I'm just wondering when I'll get to see Clementine, again." She hesitated for a few seconds, then added: "But I'm glad to have special time alone with you, Mama." And I thought to myself: what in the world am I going to do with this child for almost two hours given that I can't really spend any money?

But I had six dollars and some change on a Dunkin' Donuts card, also a little more than a dollar in my wallet, which got us a box of Munchkins and a sweet tea from McDonald's. I considered going into Target after some laundry detergent but, on a whim, said: "I have an idea, Charleigh! Let's go to Ulta and smell the perfume!"

"What's Ulta?" she asked, then: "Is it far away? Can we smell all of it? All the perfume?" Inside the store, she admired the perfume bottles cautiously, her eyes wide as fifty-cent pieces. I showed her how to spray test strips at a little distance, then wave and sniff them. "How do you know how to do all this, Mama?" she asked, and I answered something about how I've been around for a good little while.

From the perfume section, Charleigh and I moved to the make-up section, where we tried all manner of products. We both left Ulta wearing foundation and lipstick. She was wearing bright purple eye shadow, to boot; I was sporting some mascara that froze my lashes, coal black, a full inch from my lids. "I want to tell Clementine everything," Charleigh said, waving a disposable mascara wand, "but will she think I'm bragging?"

"Probably not," I said. "She got to go to the symphony."

"I just wish we could've ridden an escalator," Charleigh sighed.

"We still have time to ride an escalator," I said and drove around to Sears, where we rode the escalator up to the bathroom. I noticed that Charleigh had six or seven perfumed test strips fanning out of a studded back pocket in her jeans. We rode the escalator back down and went to the high school to pick up the older kids.

"Oh Brandee," Karen texted. "Clementine loved it, her face was precious to watch."

A bit later, Charleigh asked: "Mama, can we do that again, the next time we have a special adventure, just the two of us?"

And who am I? Who is this person trapped in a fluffy body and pinched times? The perfume I liked best, tonight, smells like soap: like old-woman perfume, Cade said. There was no meanness in his words.

I am a woman who remembers buying expensive make-up and pricey, exotic-smelling perfume. A woman who remembers shopping at the mall. I am a woman who remembers turning heads. All of that is fading so quickly, though. Fading like the trace amounts of perfume on the test strips in Charleigh's back pocket. I would tell you that I'm sad, but mostly, I'm just tired.

I am a woman with friends. I am a woman with daughters, and the skin of their faces is taut, their pores nearly invisible.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To Cade, the Week of Your 17th Birthday

Hello, Son. I can hardly believe that, in one year, you'll be considered grown, although I'll admit: your face looked different to me, again, today. It wasn't just the way your chin's been reshaped by orthodontics, either; it was some of the other bones in your face, also the matter of facial hair. I wish there were no need to replace your glasses because your eyes are lovely. They look like my eyes and especially as my eyes did twenty-five years ago (I've always liked my eyes), only with more generous lashes: your dad's. Why do the boys always get the good ones. It's not a question, really; I'm just writing.

I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm just starting to figure things out, and you're practically grown, and I'm sure I've screwed up sixteen million things. I am somewhat comforted because we can really talk and because I seem to be the person you want when your heart is broken. That thing I do where I enter your pain: no one taught me that, at least not the easy way, so I do feel inclined to take credit for it, to pat myself on the back for that one small thing. I think it's nice how sometimes we can count on getting right the things our parents screwed up most. You'll probably be clean and faithful; I'm glad, relieved.

I'm glad we share so many interests: that we have an honest-to-goodness plan to read 100 classics together in five years, that we're both serious as a heart attack about it. I'm glad we have music in common to the extent we do. I loved our Christmas together more than ever I have: our mutual awe over the Mighty Wurlitzer and every second we put into our own performance. I was proud that my son was the one playing and singing, and especially that you were proud to be playing and singing with me.

Thank you for never being embarrassed of me, or at least, for never letting your embarrassment show. If ever you were to shrug me off in public, I would cry for a million years. Thank you for knowing that and choosing not to do it. I know you make concessions to protect my mental health. (I really am aware, Cade.) Thank you for calling if you know you'll be late. Thank you for never even dreaming of joining the military or police, even if just to keep me out of Tucker. I'm grateful.

I know the church thing wears you out, at points. You may look back on it with resentment, but Son. You have to know I'm all in: that I'm just clinging to Jesus. And if that's true--at the very worst and even if I'm dead wrong--I am all the time just trying to make sure you know where to find me.

Last point. Even though, in my weakness (which is at points extreme, I will admit), I bye felicia-ed you as you were getting out of the minivan, yesterday, there's no one in all the world whom I love more than I love you. You are my treasure and will always be.