Written by M.J.C
Mom was beautiful.
She looked perplexed and perhaps a bit annoyed. She stood there for what seemed like an hour, but was really only about seven minutes. She breathed quietly. One hand on her cheek, the other on her hip.
She took no notice of me but she knew I was watching. Studying. Learning.
She whispered to the air: I have nothing to wear.
Mom was preparing for work and this was hers and my ritual.
She stood at her closet and studied her inventory of clothes and stood decidedly unhappy with her choices. With light music in the background, Mom was focused.
She was like this when she shopped, too, and I loved watching her shop. Or eat. Or read. Or walk, or talk, or drink coffee. She always knew I was staring and it didn’t bother her at all. I learned later in life from Mom’s friend that it was no different when I was a baby. She said Mom carried me all day every day and ignored family and friends who told her to put me down. She just said that she didn’t hold her others as much so this time should would hold me as long as she could. As a result, her friend told me, nobody else could hold me for more than a few seconds before I started crying. She said that she, Mom’s friend, could hold me the longest but even then it was only for a couple of minutes before I’d cry and reach for Mom.
Mom would shop slowly and methodically while trying on some things I thought she liked but then would not buy, and then not trying on things that I thought she did not like but that she would buy. I tried to learn to guess what she would do and I never could find her pattern. I would guess right this time and then the next I would be wrong. Mom had no pattern in many ways and that never ceased to confound, attract, and fascinate me then and even now all these years later.
Only occasionally would she look my way and ask “What do you think?” Probably because I was pretty useless early on. I’d always respond with: That looks good.
Then she’d toss the item aside or hang it back up, leaving me wondering.
As I got older and learned more about her style I’d give better responses and she’d smile, or ask a follow-up, or toss the item aside.
Receiving her smile of approval or her agreement was my goal during these infrequent shopping sessions. Get something right and I’d feel complete and helpful. Get it wrong and I’d sulk for a little while before trying again.
On this day standing at her closet Mom finally found what she was looking for, quietly saying, more to herself than to me, “this will look good tonight.”
Then, to me: How do you like this? To which I replied: I like that skirt but with a different blouse; and you should wear the flower in your hair and that one necklace that hangs low. She stared at me, fully into her part of our ritual. I held her gaze as best I could. She was the only person I could look directly into the eye and hold the look.
She was so beautiful and I was always so.. Stuck. I just couldn’t move or even think. I just waited for her deep in her eyes. I saw her face, and hair, and robe, and feet, and her energy, but mostly I just saw her within her eyes and I loved her. She stared back, quietly, and then said:
And she whisked away to her bathroom to change. I should have left so she could have her entire room but I didn’t, and wouldn’t, unless she told me to “scoot away.” And I’d sulk away. But tonight she did not tell me to leave, so I waited for her to emerge fully dressed.
When she did emerge she had put on the blouse she wanted, not the one I suggested, and hers looked better than what I suggested. She did have the flower though and necklace. She quickly smiled at me while picking up her makeup bag.
Mom was beautiful with or without makeup. I watched her work magic item by item, stroke by stroke, color by color, and line by line as she turned into…Mom.
How do I look? She asked, knowing what I’d say. I used to think she asked that question so I could compliment her; now I know she asked it so I could express what my feelings were, showing on my face and in my eyes.
I replied: You look pretty momma. You always look pretty.
Thank you, sweetie, she replied, before telling me to leave so she could finish.
I used to ask her why I needed to leave, but I had learned there’s another level of activities that were not for my eyes, so I slunked out of the room closing the door behind me and waited for her to come out or allow me back in.
I’d sit right at the foot of her door waiting for her to call me.
Mom was dressed and she was rushing now as it was almost time for her to go to work.
She started moving faster and faster as she put the finishing touches on her clothes, make-up, her lunch, and anything else she needed. She rushed out the door, yelling good-bye and then slammed the door on her way out.
Then I waited.
Two minutes later like clockwork Mom rushed back in, sweeping through living room and saying “I forgot SOMETHING.”
This too was a nightly ritual – Mom left for work and immediately returned every single night. Small item, large item, new item, and old. It didn’t matter. Mom simply forgot something every night.
In a moment or two Mom got what she had forgoteen, whether her lunch, her flower for her hair, her watch, or reading glasses or, most often, car keys.
Finding whatever she had forgotten and thus returned for, Mom was again a blur as she hurriedly beelined to the front door for the door, while yelling out: “ThankyouIloveyouseeyoutomorrow” and she was out the door.
I locked the door behind her, then ran to the other side of the townhouse to the balcony that overlooked the walkway that Mom had to pass by on the way to her car:
Bye, Mamma, I’d yell.
Bye, sweetie; go back in the house, she’d reply.
I rushed in, slamming the sliding door behind me, and run to the back of the townhouse, to the window in Mom’s room that overlooked the street where Mom parked her car.
See you later, I yelled through the screen that covered the window.
Mom would glance up, give a breathless and barely audible “bye” before getting into her car and driving away, red lights getting smaller as she drove away to work.
Mom was beautiful.
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