Maybe he will remember me as a dancer
I’ve recently started writing about my ex-stepmother. A year or so before she died, she had moved across the country.
In one passage, I tell her I wish I had a beautiful picture of her so I could frame it and my son would see it and ask about her. Then I could tell him stories. He never knew her.
It was her liver. My sister, a nurse, said it would have been an ugly death.
A few bottles of your nail polish solidify
in the medicine cabinet. Your favorite colors.
One last effort to maintain control
over one aspect of your beauty that the cancer
(which took your hair, bloated you,
took away your bladder control, and your lovely legs)
could not destroy.
— Betsy Mars, Aromatherapy
For my son’s first communion, I was going to wear slacks. I hadn’t shaved my legs.
But I decided to ask him if he would prefer I “dressed up.” He replied, “I want you to wear a dress, Mommy.” I asked why. He said it would be more “appropriate.”
He’s 8 years-old. Where did he learn this? Not from a mom who would choose slacks. Who wasn’t raised Catholic. (He’s being raised Catholic, but that is another story.)
And why—why did I ask him?
I remember her when she wore her chocolate
colored hair long almost to her waist
and Evening in Paris perfume […]
— Joan Jobe Smith, We were rich during the War
When I was a kid, I watched my mom navigate clothing, hair, and makeup, and I did not approve. She was a brunette, but she wanted to be blonde and as such, her hair had a slight green tint.
And when she wore lipstick, which wasn’t often, it was a frosted pink shade.
There were decades of demure drugstore pinks, hastily applied
in rearview mirrors, during carpool, in the grocery store parking lot.
— Kathryn McMurray, Red Lips
One day my son asked me if I wanted to hear a “boy” joke.
“What is a boy joke?” I asked.
“A joke for boys.” (Duh)
I listened, skeptical.
“The sun is hotter than girls,” he said.
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, Mommy, there are two kinds of hot.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s not funny.”
“What does hot mean when you talk about a girl?” I asked.
“You know, when she puts sparkly stuff on her eyes.”
Lavender Lace Sheer—pearly white,
the shade my mother wore while waiting
for his call—all the rage in 1978.
— Suzanne Allen, Sticky
Recently, I got the chance to be photographed by a talented LA poet and photographer. When she sent me the photos, I asked my son to help me pick the ones I would keep.
There was one photo of me with a fancy paper fan hiding my mouth and chin. He said I looked kinda like Catwoman. I managed not to swoon (Who doesn’t want to resemble a superhero? Er, in this case, a villain and one of Batman’s love interests to boot). Then he said, “You should have painted your nails.”
The twenty-something in me who had watched several seasons of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway high-fived him for having a keen eye. I had thought the exact same thing on the drive to the photographer’s house.
Yet—I never paint my nails.
Among other things, I do the dishes everyday. And unless they’re perfect, I don’t like painted nails. Chipped nail polish only looks charming on girls and, as you can imagine, that is problematic and also, a different essay.
A photographer friend of mine has somehow managed to capture what I think of as me. He does not do portrait photography—he only shoots people in context, he shoots them doing. Being. He has captured me in motion. And for whatever reason, I believe that whatever beauty I do possess is in motion. Also, beauty is fleeting and that is a kind of motion.
I grew up watching her dance
across the slick linoleum
of our kitchen floor […]
— Donna Hilbert, Catching Her Dance
My son sees me dance.
He dances, too. Sometimes with me.
Maybe he will remember me as a dancer.
Beauty in motion.
Beauty doing; doing beauty.