“If I can,” she’d say and with a wave of her manicured hand sweep away all responsibility. She never could.
Something more interesting would always come up. There were always more cocktail parties to attend, more exotic locales to jet off to, more trips to Bloomies to make. Occasionally, after seeing an acquaintance’s well-coiffed and charming child, I would peak her interest, though I could never keep her attention for long. I was a hopeless case: bookish, gangly and awkward, unsuitable for the position of my mother’s newest accessory. A useless child was simply an inconvenience she didn’t have time for. And yet, stupidly, naively, as only a child can, I hoped this time would be different.
“Of course,” she would say when presented with my latest recital or school event. “I’ll clear my schedule. You are my world.”
In this fantasy, my mother would sweep me into a Chanel #5 embrace, the scent that kept me and her many beaus desperately hoping for more. If I were feeling particularly dreamy this fiction would include a lipstick cool kiss, the kind that leaves a scarlet afterimage.
In real life, this had happened only once, when her marriage to the odious Baron von Schlecht was dissolved. The marriage only lasted a month, as even his money couldn’t redeem his fleshy face and fishy breath. She twirled me around and kissed my blemished cheek, elated that she was now free to marry someone richer
and handsomer. I didn’t wash my face for days, not wanting to lose tangible proof of my mother’s affection. Such acts were few and far between and made me all the more determined to earn one, though I rarely could.
Years passed and I no longer believed in fairy tales. My mother and I became nothing more than roommates, strangers who occasionally inhabited the same apartment. I was basically ignored unless my mother was entertaining, in which case I was sent to the public library lest I do anything embarrassing. When she was around, if some social arrangement had fallen through or if my presence was unavoidable, I studied her. What was it that made people gravitate toward her? How does one become the sun? Was it her golden blond hair and the way she would look out from under it, shy and coy at the same time? Her half smile that said if you came closer she would let you in on a wonderful secret? The husky voice courtesy of a pack of Pall Malls a day, like honey covered pebbles? Whatever it was it gave her power, and I both hated her and wanted to be just like her.
I went off to college, and tried to make my own way in the world. I exchanged our lonely apartment for another, 5th Avenue for Park, but I could never really escape her. My mother gazed at me from every mirror I passed, despite my attempts to eradicate her. I could sport a pageboy instead of teased curls, but it would still be her sunny shade. I would hear that ringing laugh at some party or another, and turn around, searching for her in the crowd, before realizing the sound had emanated from my own lips.
My circles were different, but no better than hers had been. My crowd was consciously intellectual, full of Vassar and Smith girls hanging on to every word of whatever self-impressed Harvard or Yale grad was holding court that night, while their dates orbited around me, offering to fetch me drinks in the hopes of being gifted an approving smile.
“Would you stop by my party tomorrow night?” One blur in the crowd would say hopefully, nervously adjusting his tie. “Or how about drinks at 21?” if he was feeling particularly courageous.
In the end, I was no better. Maybe I had been doomed from the beginning. The ghost of my mother would look on approvingly as I surveyed him over the top of my glass with studied indifference.
“Maybe,” I would toss out casually, perhaps cruelly. “If I can.”