Thursday, March 4, 2010


Juliet:  “You’re wearing your mermaid dress,” I say to my mother as she pours us to-go cups of dark coffee.  Is my smile stretched too tightly?  I’m just so happy that she’s so happy – as indicated by her wearing her “mermaid dress,” a long, spaghetti-strapped, emerald green casual gown covered with cheap lace, worn under a faded denim jacket that matches mine.  Her “happy” -- so happy she’s like immortal -- dress.
     I’m wearing a faded black tank with a faded silver arched cat on it, over a bright white tee, under my denim jacket.  Black leggings, knee-high boots with zippers up the backs.  Everything soft and worn, from my heart to my heels.
     “You should try wearing a tee shirt and leggings and cute boots sometime,” I say, getting into her car.  She never drives me!  This is way special.  I am way special today…  I don’t even miss not getting a ride from Derek, even though he’s my best friend and he’s driven me every day for this whole year and even though this year he turned into a total hottie, not that it matters -- Michael is, and always has been my one true love…
     I shake my head so that my thoughts stop jumbling.  My curls fall out from behind my ears, and I look even more like my mother.  Smiley and red-headed.  “I mean, it feels really good,” I continue – “I always feel really good when I wear this outfit.  Like, calm.  Comfy, but also kind of shiny, you know what I mean?”
     My mother pauses, the car key poised to turn.  Did I say something wrong?  Oh Goddess no… why can’t I do anything right?  I love you Mommy --
     But my mother doesn’t burst into tears, she just says, “Interesting, very interesting.”  Then she smiles at me, and I lean in close, holding on to her arm and breathing in her scent – peaches and bergamot and coffee.  Rosemary in her hair.  Love in her warmth.  She loves me!
     But suddenly, she’s gone!  Just like that, on the way to my school with me hanging on to her every word and movement and mood.  She’s drifted into a world I only get to watch-- Heavy lids, eyes almost unfocused but not enough that she can’t multi-task – still letting me hold tightly to one of her arms, and driving at the same time.  This while her brain has sunken into creative mode.  The artist at work in my element…
     Sliding into a parking space at school, she suddenly breaks the surface, splashing up at me with an excited sparkle– “When I wear my mermaid dress, I feel slinky and cool, like I’ve just risen from the deepest, darkest part of the ocean, up into the light.  I feel renewed.”  My mother ruffles my hair as she says, “And shiny, too.”
     “Um… interesting?” I say, trying to see where she’s going with this.
     “Okay, picture this – I’m onstage—“
     “Or me, I’m onstage—“
     My mother waves at me with one hand.  “Shh, shh.”
     I hate when she does that.
     She continues, the ideas bubbling up like the froth of a wave, crash! Ideas! And bubbly-bubble— “and the show’s called ‘You Are What You Wear,’ and I have on an outfit, and I’m talking about how it makes me feel and—“
     I join in.  Crash!  “—it’s one outfit, but it’s in layers that I peel back into other outfits, each one with a different feeling attached—“
     My mother has clasped my hands in hers.  (Crash!)  “We must make lists.  Of outfits, different outfits and feelings that go with them.”
     (Crash!)  “We’ll have to go shopping!” I add.
     “Maybe one of us will be lit at a time, and the other changes clothes meantime instead of showing the layers revealed—“
     “—maybe we call the show, ‘Layers Revealed’!”
     “No, honey, ‘You are what you wear.’ Is better, it’s like ‘You Are What You Eat,’ but--”
     “We should practice wearing our outfits one at a time all day and write down what we’re feeling—“
     This is so great, I don’t even want to go to school, I’m all—
     Oh no.  Shit no!  All of a sudden she has those glassy eyes again.  Mommy’s hands grow cold as she withdraws into her own creative space again.  Without me.  Goddess damn it!
     A boy whistles.
     Michael?  No he did not.
     OMG, it was Michael.  Not whistling at my mother, not not not!
     Was.  Was whistling.  At.  My.  MOTHER!
     I tilt my head down and hurry out of the car, run into school.  I will not cry. 
     I will not cry!  Leave that to her.  Let her cry.

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