This is my gift to you,
my mother whispers,
We will have two Christmases.
And itís true, days after
the first one we have Christmas again. She unpacks 30 meticulously
packed boxes of decorations: handmade ornaments, glass bobbles,
strings of white lights.
But for the second Christmas
the presents are only empty boxes dressed in ribbons. The
fireplace turns on with a switch. My father stands like a coat
rack in a corner, a wool jacket draped over his arm.
My mother is at the center
of my memory, coaxing smiles from behind the glistening eye of the
camera, more focused this second time. At three years old I donít
realize it, but this production is not for me. The second
Christmas is for those precious photographs, which my mother felt
needed redoing because of an error in clarity or light. The second
Christmas is for the scrapbooks.
I am told now that there is
a whole community of scrapbookers: women who meet on Sundays,
suitcases of supplies under their arms. Like my own mother, these
womenís memories are too precious for plain photo albums. Their
family lives must be laid out at jaunty angles, titled with gel
pens on black acid free paper, kept safe under plastic.
Growing up, I only knew that
my mother spent hours with my image every night. She worked at her
desk, under a circle of lamplight, after I was in bed. When I woke
from a bad dream, Iíd find her there.
My parentsí wedding
portrait hung in the foyer. When I was young, Iíd study it.
Upstairs my parents yelled and cried but in the picture my father
was handsome and laughing into my motherís lacy bodice.
My father kept coming home
later and later until one evening, when the ground was covered in
snow, he didnít come home at all. After days passed my mother
removed that portrait from the hallway. It left a dusty
silhouette, which she eventually scrubbed away. For weeks I stood
in front of the newly empty space, trying to see my fatherís
face there. In truth, I donít remember much else about him.
What I do remember are
the freakishly neat rows of trees in our neighborhood;
saplings supported by stakes, positioned so that one day they
would become an allťe over Maple Street.
Every street in my
neighborhood is a dead end. Every street is named after a type of
tree and demarcated with saplings not much taller than I am on my
bicycle at nine.
We kids in the neighborhood
watched new houses go up: toxic siding, tufted pink insulation,
pressure-treated wood. Dark-skinned men in angry machines bullied
the earth around these houses. They kept pushing the soil into new
configurations, so that eventually all of the old trees--the real
trees--died and got ground into mulch; their gravesites buried
beneath rolls of new sod like they never existed.
I also remember weekly trips
to the craft store, the parking lot and expanse of black asphalt
punctuated by bright painted lines. The aisles of the store are
long and too cool for summer. This time my mother has brought me
under the pretense of buying decorations for The Fourth of July,
but we never even visit the section of flags and sparklers.
Instead, my mother heads
straight to the scrap-booking supplies. We circle like sharks
until I am so frustrated that I start to cry. ďBe a big girl,
now,Ē my mother says. She forces open a pack of crayons from an
adjacent aisle and hands me a coloring book we havenít even paid
for. I plop down on the cold linoleum, my lip jutted out like a
Mylar balloon. I use red, white, and blue crayons to color inside
Bored at the Store,
my mother muses as she digs in her purse for one of several
disposable cameras she keeps there. Then she thinks better of it.
I am too old for this type of picture, she must think. At the
checkout a gaggle of girls in front of us shimmy and shake; they
brandish American flags and silvery pom-poms.
I donít have a friend over
to my house until I am twelve years old, and even then I know
better. ďLetís hang out tomorrow afternoon at your place,
Carlie,Ē my best (and only) friend, Jala, says. I say okay
before I catch myself. The neat dimensions of the meeting, between
4:00 and 6:00 pm, make it almost feel safe.
There are several instant
cameras in our house and countless disposable ones: five in the
foyer, three in the living room, one in each bathroom upstairs. In
the dining room, my motherís workshop, there are fleets of
disposable cameras, sheathed in plastic. The day that Jala is
supposed to come over I try to collect or cover them all.
I also plead with my mother
to stay out of my bedroom. I banish my mammoth collection of teddy
bears from their nest on my bed. The bears arenít mine anyway,
not really, even if I do sleep among them and chew on the pink oneís
ears while I sleep. My mother has given me one bear for my
birthday every year of my life. She says each one represents
something about me.
Every year the bears come
and I allow it, like I allow the incessant photographs and the
Do you have a new favorite
Which star do you have a crush on?
Who is your favorite teacher and why?