Last night I was a moody but confident, passionate but restrained, weary but adventurous sixteen year old again. I was talking to a roomful of people from high school. We had played together in each other’s yards and attended public schools together for many years. My mother was at my shoulder and noted one young man in particular and said something about an event that had occurred. I reminded her I had figure skated with him although he was a far better speed skater. A sweet affinity was shared with the boy with the honeyed voice; we cozied up on the couch.
I stepped back and examined myself: auburn-brown hair touched with gold, bangs falling over one eyebrow, blue eyes peering out. The style was a modified style based on Twiggy’s, that famous beanpole model from the sixties. I had more curve and muscle. My skin was pale, smooth, softer than seemed reasonable. A smile swept over my face, light and breezy. It was good to be there that moment.
Then the scream of the alarm grabbed me from my dream with such force it felt like being pulled from deep waters–but I didn’t need or want to be rescued. I fell back. The dream arose once more, replete with familiar faces, voices entwined in easy conversation. The contours of living and dining rooms came alive; shadows shifted as bodies rearranged themselves. I sensed food being prepared in the kitchen: a party underway.
My childhood home, a sturdy yellow and turquoise bungalow. I crossed over the foyer, lingered by the baby grand piano, admired the dining table set with flowers. I glanced at the buffet which held a stack of mail, colored glassware, another vase with bright flowers. Music issued from the stereo, something I could not quite define. Was it classical? Did my gentle, dignified father put that on even though I wanted Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez? Then the den (a bedroom in earlier years), television room where a TV did not exist before 1963 because there was no time for it, no interest, really. There was always something else to do; my family got engaged in whatever required attention most. Usually music-making or studying.
Upstairs, two good-sized bedrooms and a bath. I paused on the landing, stared a long moment, then eased my way down. I sat on the third from bottom step. This was the best vantage point for many years, the place that was central to all first floor activities. I could hear most conversations, construct the scenes. It was the place from which I first discerned the fabulous, puzzling adult world. A spot where I used to cry without drawing attention, make a playground for a Barbie, and years later wait for the telephone to be free so I could talk with my best friend or maybe, surreptitiously, a boy. Where all five children waited for the door to be opened to Christmas wonders. I could nearly smell cinnamon rolls and sausage.
Out of some interior space floated my name, the nickname of my childhood. I entered the bright living room. My mother’s laughter became more quiet, then faded away. I glimpsed her fine-lined face haloed by the famous silvery white hair. The room remained filled with those I have known and nearly forgotten but no one is in a hurry. I wondered how long we would stay in this golden place.
Soon crows make a ruckus that punctuates city traffic. I sit up quickly, my eyes not yet seeing, my mind cloaked in secret things, unworldly things. Thin light is caught inside corners of the bedroom and so defines angles as I find my way back to this spot in time. I see the blue differently and realize for the first time it is the blue of my childhood room, before it was lavender. My heart is a cocoon of peace.
I can hear my youngest daughter’s voice. Laughter as she packs up to return to grad school. Her fiancé is washing up a few dishes as they talk.
After greetings and coffee, we pour over a bridal magazine and I know this is going to happen; she is getting married. And I want to tell her: “Grandma came to visit me. She misses you and longs to be at your wedding.”
Instead–there is not time for the tears that will find us–I tell her, “I had a dream of being sixteen. My face was open and so young, soft. There were many people at your grandparents’ house. It was lovely…”
I was married once in a chapel, the first time. I was more than a decade younger than this daughter and choices did not include quite finishing college. I was in love and unprepared, before much understanding was captured from life’s wily snares. I had ached to be wise, braver than brave as a youth, then as a young woman. But now I am a woman surrendering little by little to this ebb and flow of life, growing older. It is not arduous. Much like my mother was, I am filled with relentless curiosity, hope tinged with bittersweet yearnings and a reservoir of love that wants to transform discouragement and pain as well as celebrate triumph. All with a tale and an embrace, duly witnessing and making note of life in all its cantankerous and exceptional fullness.
I take a picture of my daughter and future son-in-law and there are my mother’s grey-blue eyes. Her crooked, sweet smile. Think: Well, here we are, Mom. This and much (you know how much) more to come.