Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Mirror (who else can I still be?)

This is a quick short fiction. Um...and someday I might even stop writing about mothers and daughters. Someday.

Most of the time I ignored her, sitting there with her coffee cup, the milk chasing her spoon around as she stirred and stirred. She was like a parody of depression, leaning on her elbows, staring off into nothing. And believe me, I know from parody. Actors have to be careful of it.

"Sondra could have been anything, done anything. She is so gifted." Then she would sigh again and look intently into her cup. For a clue, maybe.

Sondra is my sister. Firstborn, the screen onto which my mother projected all of her hopes and dreams. And Sondra tried to live up to them, she did, for a long time. She grew her brown hair long and dyed it blonde, brought home so many boyfriends it would have made you dizzy to try and keep up with them, dazzled her teachers, her friends, and everyone else around her.

Until the one day she grabbed her bus pass and a change of clothes, and disappeared. She was 21.

At first, my parents thought she had gone back to school, or to a friend’s house.

But I knew right away. I tried to make my parents see, to get them to realize that Sondra hadn’t gone for an hour, or for a night, but forever. And not because she said anything to me, but just because...I’d spent a lifetime, 16 years, watching Sondra, studying Sondra, loving Sondra. I could have gotten a PhD in what I knew about my sister. And what I knew back then was that she needed a break. How long a break, nobody knew.

She’s never come back. Not yet. But I’d know it....I’d feel it if...if things were different. I think she’s still out there, still dazzling. She just needed a different stage for a while.

I can relate, but I spun that urge out. I’ve turned myself into an actress...quite a good one, as it turns out. I love to look into the mirror until I can’t quite focus, until I can’t see myself anymore. Only Lady Macbeth, or Daisy Buchanan, or Juliet.

But my mother avoids the mirror, avoids looking at anything too closely. Too afraid of what she might find. I don’t know why...Mom is beautiful, still milk smooth skin, still bright hazel eyes. Her only indulgence is her monthly hair dye. Blonde, like Sondra. I don’t even know what color her hair would be now, or what color it started. Was it like my strawberry blonde, or Sondra’s smoky auburn-brown? Or maybe some other color that only belonged to herself?

Our house used to be a cyclone of activity—two teenage girls colliding like atoms and dancing away. My father would sit in the den and watch us like a tennis match before his eyes flicked back to the television set. Only my mother stayed still, seemingly forever stirring coffee and waiting for someone to notice her. Only her eyes roamed us, making sure we were decent, making sure we were stars. Her little emissaries into the world. Especially Sondra.

My therapist says that I’m forever in danger of shaking free of myself, like a dog after a rainshower. She said something about projecting myself out and out, and how acting has made me diffuse like mist. But I like that about myself, living so many lives at the same time. Small lives, big lives, in between lives. It’s better than being a Trojan horse like my mother—where only the eyes are alive.

I am so afraid of being like my mother I don’t stop moving. I am so afraid of letting Sondra down that I pretend to be someone else.

So I decide to notice her, my mother. I decide to make her notice herself.

It’s easy enough to make a paper doll, did you know that? All you need to do is take a photo to Kinkos, enlarge it, and copy it again and again. Same with the clothes, the outfits of different selves. So I make the dolls, and I dress them, and I write the book.

The book that I will use to notice my mother. The book that will get her to face herself.

I leave it there for her, by her coffee cup. She pretends to ignore it, at first, pretends that she’s not curious, but eventually, she starts to flip through it.

My airline pilot
My Renaissance princess
My racecar driver
My nun, as author, as scientist, as karate black belt, as gypsy, as ballerina, as professor with a tweedy jacket.

I don’t see when the tears start, not the exact moment, but I feel them. Or maybe those are my own.

She looked up at me, wary, exposed. She doesn’t trust me, not yet, wants to know the catch. Wants to know why I’m playing with old wounds.

"Sondra could have done anything, mom. But what about you?"

She shook her head, maybe she was trying to shake the truth away. But it didn't budge. The truth of those potential lives was right in front of her.

"You don't need emmissaries, you know." The words that had choked my throat since Sondra left dragged past my lips, finally. "You just need to be your own mirror." The words hung there, like mist.

Was it like a fairy tale, did my words break the spell? No, not really. But something did break that day...some invisible spiderweb that kept my mother tethered to that chair in the kitchen...waiting for Sondra to come and live Mom’s lives for her again. Oh, sure, we still look for her, the one with all the lives inside of her. We wait to hear her key in the lock.

But my mother stirred that day, started reading, started talking to us again. She began to push herself back into the world. And she started looking in the mirror.

And me? I’m still acting, still projecting myself into Juliet and Marianne Dashwood and Alice in Wonderland. But they’re being pulled into me too.

I’m living so many lives through their words. But I’m living as myself in their skins.

And I’m learning to be my own mirror.

For more potential lives, go here.



Anonymous Fern said...

Wow. WOW. Ok, that was amazing. Is it ridiculous that this made me cry?

"She’s never come back. Not yet. But I’d know it....I’d feel it if...if things were different. I think she’s still out there, still dazzling. She just needed a different stage for a while."

ACK! Your words are almost *too* beautiful sometimes.

So powerful and heartfelt. My heart broke for eveyone in your story.


4:45 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I've read it three times. It's a cautionary tale, a prophetic tale, a hopeful tale. Almost anyone can identify themselves in one of these characters at one time in their lives. Such a great treatment of the prompt. You're an incredible storyteller.

4:48 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger severtheties said...

This is really beautiful.

4:56 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Remiman said...


lpd said it all.

Your are a wordsmith of the highest order. Your story pulled me like a magnet, unable to pull my eyes away.


7:11 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger deirdre said...

I have goosebumps and a lump in my throat. Stunning, beautiful, and so, so real.

7:31 PM, August 13, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

I love, love, love, LOVE this!!! I positively love where you took this prompt. FABULOUSLY DONE!!

8:08 PM, August 13, 2006  
Anonymous jeannette* said...


I found you through the 'creative exchange' links. Your writing is stunning. This piece brought me to tears. There is something very special about the way you express your words, something so unique and so deep and hearfelt. Your words dance off of the page. What a gift...
I will be back, thank you for sharing this.

10:00 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger wendylou who? said...

It always is easier for the one who leaves...I left my mom...and I have FEELINGS about that...but I'm pretty sure that my sister who stayed closer, would say I have it easier. She may be right. This was a very thought provoking pc. well done!

11:09 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

This is a really beautiful story - or perhaps a cautionary tale - full of wisdom and warning of more future pain, if changes aren't made. Very well-written. Bravo!

4:27 AM, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Pacian said...

Gorgeously beautiful!

5:18 AM, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Bug said...

GReat story! I love the line, "I could have gotten a PhD in what I knew about my sister." Nice post!

9:41 AM, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

Wow, wonderful. So many great lines, and I am in awe of the way you can create a whole sense of real lives that go off the page, and with such a short piece. This is so vivid and real. It makes me really really want to know what Sondra is doing with her life. Did you think about it, or is it just a mystery?

6:57 PM, August 15, 2006  
Blogger AscenderRisesAbove said...

Agreeing with all the others - yours was a real treat to read! Hard to believe this was fiction!

7:09 PM, August 15, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

That's just wonderful writing - I had to remind myself it was a fiction

4:55 AM, August 16, 2006  
Blogger Kay said...

I echo the "bravo" comment! I'd love to hear how it all turned out, and what Sondra has been doing all this time.

9:43 PM, August 16, 2006  

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