Seeing Red

I remember the house in Mendham where one summer day it poured on one side and did not rain on the other, and my brother Peter picked the crabapples off the tree in the front yard on the rainy side and threw them at me, and they were hard as rocks and they hurt.

I remember when I completed my PhD and my mother said she would buy my cap and gown, though I did not want any regalia, and after she found out the price, she said I needed to pay half even though I was deep in debt and needed the money to move across country for my first job. And she never did pay even half, but she visited at the end of my first year on faculty to watch me in my regalia lead the procession of graduates and to preen at the party at the dean’s home.

I remember my great-Aunt Helen sitting all day long in her office at the top of the stairs in her beautiful old home on the coast of Maine, her chin dropping to her chest as she dozed and her thin, soiled white hair clinging to her scalp. When she startled awake, her pale, liquid eyes fumbled through a film like the translucent lid of a snake’s eye that distanced reality.

I remember a red cape my husband gave me for my birthday a few years after we married. The color of a faded barn flushed in later summer sun glancing across a mown field. Big and sweeping and hooded, lined in plaid that made me think of a Scottish kilt, though it bore no resemblance, it nearly swept the ground. With the hood up and my long hair streaming round my face, everyone called me Red Riding Hood, and I liked it.

I remember my grandparents’ auburn dog and the fading luster of my grandmother’s burnished hair. The color of pomegranates outside my bedroom window in Mytilene. My rubber boots as a child. The winter coat I bought when I went away to college. The clay soil of North Carolina. The biting ants of Florida and the blood spurting from my thirteen-year-old pinkie when I slammed it between the rings in gym class attempting an Iron Cross. The lipstick my mother wore whenever she went out. The cardinal in the snow. The strapless gown I wore to one sister’s wedding and the high-collared sheath I wore to another’s.

I remember the sidewalk cafe a long block from the Seine where we sat in the perfect summer evening, listening to the patter of soft voices as we ate greens in vinaigrette followed by foie gras that melted on the tongue with figs and toast points and a sharp cheese before we walked to the Eiffel Tower to watch the fireworks bloom. And another time, a little restaurant in Boston where we ate the same with a glorious sauterne before our relationship soured.

I remember skinny dipping in the rain in the lake in Maine, drops slapping the water as if I could feel them on my skin though I dove under and watched rings spread around each drop to spread a veil between me and the dark sky. When the storm grew, sound was touch and touch sound or both so confused I could not distinguish. Above water the drops stung my face, and I laughed aloud, alone in the lake in the rain.

I don’t remember how many times my mother attempted suicide, but I do remember the time I laughed and said, “Who gives a shit?” when a classmate told me his mother dispatched an ambulance to rush her to the emergency room that morning and she might not make it. I remember the lies, and the secrets, and all the things I could not say.

I remember the mimosa tree in the alley behind our apartment in Charlotte dripping salmon-magenta blossoms that smelled like honey. I remember gathering acorn caps as a child and painting acorns with little faces. I remember my great-grandmother’s blueberry pancakes, and I will miss them when I die.

Photo by Ed Leszczynskl on Unsplash

July 2009

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