Poll Nailish

It’s early September. Olivia would have been starting her senior year. For the first time since she was a small child, I’m not part of the back to school shopping rituals. Instead, I pass by the rows of school supplies and clothing that all calls to me—the fat pencils for small hands, the trendy clothes for teenage bodies, the bright bedding sets for dorm-bound freshmen. For an instant, I stop in front of a display of lunch boxes on sale. Finally, the perfect thermos for Olivia’s hot Chai to go… And then I remember. What am I doing? I scan the long rows of things my daughter might have once needed or wanted, exhale, and walk in the opposite direction.

Driving home, I turn on the CD player and one of Liv’s hip hop mixes begins to play. It’s too good to switch CDs. In the empty passenger seat next to me, I see my teenager kicking off flip flops and putting her small, dirty feet up on the dashboard, splotches of blue nail polish in the center of each tiny nail on each adorable little square toe.

Poll nailish. Do you remember when you used to call it that? I’d ask if she was here. She’d smile, whether she still remembered or not. Sometimes it feels like just this morning I rocked my baby in the same old rocker that lives on our back porch, and by noon she pierced her nose (like me, but on the other side), and by dinner she left home, dropped out, and stopped speaking to me. If only she was okay. Truly okay. I write lines and then delete them. And then rewrite them.

After I stripped her bedding that last time, I descended the stairs to our basement with my arms full of soft cloth. Before I lowered her sheets into the white metal box that would wash her scent away, I brought the bundle to my face. The sweet scent of my child was all I had left of her. I’d not even been able to hug her goodbye on the day she left. I’d longed to embrace her, to kiss the top of her head, which I could indeed still do as she hadn’t yet grown as tall as me. Instead, of course, I gave her space. I stood aside from the door. Said I love you.

I don’t know how many weeks it took me to lower her sheets into the washing machine.

 

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