As a child, my parents’ bedroom was my playground—
especially my mother’s vanity, lacquered to a shiny
honey-brown, with carved feet arching like a horse’s
fetlock. I would stare into her mirror till my face grew
strange, pore through photos of her family in the drawer.
Their faces are still burned into my brain. Besides
the vanity, I loved their closet, where old purses
smelled of lavender sachet and purple sens sens,
old lipsticks’ tarnished canisters shone in the shadow
of her clothes. Here I found those broad-shouldered
jackets my mother used to wear during the war.
I wore them in high school with the scarves and
jewelry she bought in Italy. In comparison, my father’s
meager horde of shirts and slacks seemed sad, hiding
in the darkest corner. His few shirts sagged, dejected,
on the hangers, all blue, with breast pockets where
he would put his pens. His fearsome belts, still
for once, hung on a nail. My parents didn’t seem
disturbed that I was trying on their clothes, shuffling
across the floor in their big shoes, exploring everything.
I was quiet, couldn’t hurt myself or destroy the clothes
or jewelry. I had to leave them where I found them,
never take them from the room, not unless I asked,
a rule I gladly minded. Years later they were all still
there, furred with dust. The rats and roaches ran riot
through my former playroom, gone to rags.
It was a kind of justice, I suppose: I was the one
responsible for cleaning it all up, the family
wreckage fallen to its one beleaguered heir.
At age 13 I joined a Jewish youth group. My mother
wanted me to go to dances once a month. I couldn’t
dance, so I stood there in the corner in my mother’s
homemade finery, watching the others do the Cool
Jerk and the Bristol Stomp, though I never mastered
any of the moves. I don’t remember much about
those nights, except the longing, the wish that I could
just let go, feeling my head sway, hips and arms flow
with the rhythm of the band, playing “My Girl” and
“Wipe Out” too loudly and a bit offkey. Not long ago,
on Facebook, an old friend shared a photo from those
times. There I was on the top steps of the old JCC,
in my navy peacoat, bangs flung forward over one
eye, looking skeptical and slightly bored, already
on my way out of that crowd.
Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at http://www.RobbiNester.net