You will know her best through images.
The pictures will frame everything she never told you.
She tells you how she modeled, once.
In Carmel. She tells you about how she ran away from her parents and how she felt her mother always hated her. This is a story that you memorize in childhood. That your grandmother hates her. That your grandmother is trying to destroy the relationship the two of you have. She tells you your grandmother is trying to steal you from her. There are too many back and forths. Two tides pull your chiildhood apart.
Clothes mean everything to her. She collects them like costumes. They become the costumes you will hide in, too.
You will learn the art of camouflage.
She teaches you. She tells you stories about her TC MG, and how her grandmother bought it for her and sent her up to Carmel just so she could get away from her mother. Later she will give you the silver bracelet she wore in the 1950’s. She designed it herself.
A silver cuff for a giantess.
She will tell you of her wild adventures.
You sit at her feet, writing poetry while she does this — wondering if your own life will ever be that large.
She’s beautiful to you.
She tells you that she feels ugly. She tells you about how she had her first varicose vein operation at seventeen. She will have her legs stripped of veins. Often. She couldn’t stand them.
Her lipstick is “Schiaparelli Pink.”
You have looked at yourself in her mirrors for years. She collected them and passed them toward you over time. You’ve never known what to ask the mirror, have you?
You look at your own legs and there aren’t any veins like that. You are at the beach, at thirteen, with her.
Her boyfriend is flying kites. They’re his specialty.
It’s one of those weekends when Daddy has come up to see your brother.
You didn’t realize you were going to have to choose loyalties did you?
You were going to have to choose loyalties to people because of her, and you can’t stand this boyfriend with his kites and his cocktails and the fact that he has moved into your house in the place that Daddy is supposed be. Daddy full of carnivals and cameras and horses and smiles.
Your life is full of all of her parties and her people and the house is big sitting squarely on a cliff overlooking the city.
The fog rolls in and covers the lights that sprinkle below in a sort of magic carpet.
Your brother is given the room on the third story down. But he gets scared sometimes and so he rolls up a sleeping bag and puts it just outside your door. He curls up there.
He’s only eight.
Only eight, and Daddy lives to the south and almost never comes up anymore.
The body is composed of veins that lead to the heart.
You look for hers.
You keep looking, and looking, and looking.
Daddy has taken hundreds of stills of her, and of you.
It’s been on and off since you were nine.
She never lets you go with them when Daddy comes. She made that decision for you. Like a lot of other decisions she makes. She doesn’t ever ask.
She makes pronouncements.
Her perfume is Shalimar.
At thirteen you look at all her pots and bottles of creams and oils and lotions and suntanning potions, and pink lipsticks and her endless costume jewelry in a Pop Art box. You try on the necklaces while she is at work. Her sunglasses.
This is the year that you meet your best friend.
Thirteen is the year you will finally be allowed to choose your own clothes.
Thirteen is the year that boys will be looking at you.
So will grown men.
You decide you will wear a hat. It’s going to be part of the camouflage.
It’s going to allow you not to have to meet their eyes if you don’t want to.
You decide that the 1930’s make sense, fashionably.
You begin to read Fitzgerald.
This is the year that everything is going to change. It’s the year that you read Jong. It’s the year you open up a voice and the voice starts describing fruits and vegetables. You begin to understand what will be arriving, all by yourself. It’s the year for back to school you ask for plaid. A plaid midi. A brown beret. Already you feel different.
Already you have begun to emerge.
Your mother wants to talk to you about Fitzgerald or Parker or clothes or films.
She begins to groom you for the life she didn’t get to live.
This is the year you will realize that you are no longer her daughter. She has found other daughters to mother. There are lots of them — mostly in their 20’s.
They are there for the festive atmosphere of the parties, or the cocktails, or the advice she doles out over gimlets.
Your brother curls up in his sleeping bag outside your door.
Years later he will say to you, “You left me in those years.”
“You were gone and I needed a sister.”
* * *
“Veins” — copyright 2009 — Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.