Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ms. White

I remember when every strand of her hair was entangled in a thick lock that hung down her back. She didn’t just throw away the bras that lifted her breasts and the stains that made her lips shine and her eyes “pop”. Along with the crop tops and the curve accentuating denim, she had denounced basic hygiene like washing and conditioning her hair. She said it was so that she’d garner respect for her intellect and because she wanted people to gravitate toward her for her winning character, impeccable musical taste, well thought out advice, blah, blah, blah. I remember gravely setting about the task of emancipating the strands from their dense and dirty prison. Equipped with rat tail combs and safety scissors, we gently pried pieces from the whole. As we did so, as that singular entity was separated into so many dark, twisting lines, my mind wandered off and the tools in our hands shifted shape

I held a mirror while she swept a whiskered brush across her cheek- adding coral coloring to her already flushed face. I held it while she lined her lips with gloss and sprayed strands of her hair until they lost all will to fly away. I helped close the jeans she insisted on squeezing into and I helped lace the shoes she couldn’t walk in. And when her face was put on and her body sufficiently costumed, we walked to the house.

A gaudy chandelier hung in the sitting room, centered above a plush couch, so white and pristine it was sinful to sit on. But after a few drinks, we did. The couch was flanked on both sides by wooden tables housing books of photography and soft leather coasters. While I joked and laughed and requested songs, she admired those inanimate objects. Commenting first on the elegant binding of the books and then on the suppleness of the coasters’ leather, holding her glass out of reverence for the latter. I didn’t notice her leave initially. She was so un-engaging, so taciturn. But when she returned from the basement she was talkative. Riddles, indecent proposals, anecdotes, song lyrics, all streamed forth. She left again and came back energetic. Twirling and gyrating as if possessed. On her third return, blood burst forth from her nostrils and a bit leaked from the left ear and I took her to the hospital. At the hospital that night, the doctor informed her she’d damaged her ear drum. The next day, she didn’t wash her hair and she didn’t wash it the day after that or the day after that or the day after that…

I also remember yesterday. I remember that we found a well worn bench. I remember that the curve of the wood fit the angle of our bodies comfortably. I remember the overbearing branch, extending nosily from a near by tree, that shaded us from the hot white sun. The wood was oddly discolored and we spent several minutes thinking about the stains previous visitors had left. I remember her telling me about researching the habits of auks in the arctic, about the farming co-op she was going to live on. I remember her telling me about hefting books and judging them for their apparent page weight and literary worth. I remember how short her hair was, but how healthy it looked. I let her sing to me:

down at headquarters, there’s a big database
with black and white photos of the side of your beautiful face
and your library record, and all your test scores
and an invitation to party like it’s 1984

I reveled in the fact that she wasn’t trying so hard, and I was happy she wasn’t deliberately wearing a symbol of her refusal to try any longer. And I remember that I said, “Lettie, I see you, now and I am confident that you are living your life under conditions that you have chosen.” And yesterday is all I will choose to remember.


Skinny! said...

because she wanted people to gravitate toward her for her winning character, impeccable musical taste, well thought out advice

i actually know who i believe is Mr white. actually his name is arthur french JR, son of the actor. he is everything that described ms white, he would come to work all disheveled, and grungy, he was pretty much like rain man though, ask him any question and he had the correct answer

Nell said...

will you email me?