It had been years since I’d seen him and I could tell he noticed a few changes in me. In fact, he appeared to be backing away. I hadn’t thought, frankly, that time had been totally unkind to me but with each step he took backward, I took one forward until, finally, he said, “What’s wrong with your face?”
The vanity gods struck as I put my hand up to my face and it slid across my cheek. I had left the house with my white anti-wrinkle cream still applied. He was looking at a dollop of thick cream the size of a small casserole with a nose sticking out.
He nodded as I sputtered and promptly waved as he sped out of the post office. He appeared to think it was a skin condition that was contagious or that being seen talking to a lemon meringue pie might reflect badly upon him. Perhaps, a policeman on the corner thought him suspicious as he jumped three steps to get out of Dodge.
I tried to remember all the other places I had visited before the post office as I ran back to my car. My head sagged into the well of the guillotine steering wheel. I had also been to the grocery store and seen one former student and another parent. Is death by a large axe blade painful or sweet? I remembered the face of a psychiatrist I knew who was leaving the Zoots Dry Cleaners as I was going in, just after I’d gone to the grocery store. I had smiled at him and he had returned that pinched passive look that comes with years of watching natural disasters unfold on his couch.
If my mother were alive on this day, she would have dropped the blade of the guillotine onto my reddening neck herself. Is it possible to drive home safely following decapitation? I’m about to find out. She died of natural causes at the age of 96 with her Max Factor compact open on her bedside table.
I contemplate at a stoplight the contrast to my death from embarrassment at 63. Love for her make-up pot had been strong enough to defy dementia. Vanity was her weapon not humiliation. She could spend whole afternoons staring deeply into a mirror the same way Stephen Hawking looks into black holes.
What love objects shall I throw at dementia if it comes my way—my favorite egg salad sandwich with green onions? My Bose Wave radio with Ipod dock?
When I open my garage door, I have a solution. I’ll move the mirrored chest from the bedroom to the hallway and place it in front of the door as a barricade—my vanity, literally and figuratively, my “catcher in the rye”.
It shall prevent aging children from falling off the cliff, or at the very least, from ever leaving the house again without first looking in the mirror.
©Pat Coakley 2008
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