by Karen Rose
I do remember the last time I saw her. She tucked me into bed the night before my fourth birthday and went downstairs to her sewing machine to finish my birthday dress. My white dress with light blue Swiss dots, a matching blue ribbon for a belt, and another to hold my long hair in a ponytail. I imagine the last thing she said to me was, “Sweet dreams honey. Tomorrow’s your birthday.”
She never finished the dress. My auntie came over to add the finishing touches of lace trim and heart-shaped buttons. She brushed my hair into a perfect bunch atop my head so I wouldn’t sit on it when I sat down. My mother loved my long hair. That’s what my auntie told me as she tied the blue hair ribbon into a perfect bow.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I was standing on a stool so my auntie wouldn’t have to lean down to fix my hair. This was probably the first time I really took in my reflection. I was now four, but somehow I looked much older. So serious, so intense. My dimples were gone, except for the cleft in my chin that refused to disappear with any amount of grief.
Four year olds were supposed to cry, kick, scream, or throw a fit. I had nothing. Just a peach colored face with a battle-shocked expression. My auntie shook her head, patted my shoulder and walked away. I kept staring into the mirror. On the counter were tubes of my mother’s lipstick – reds, pinks, corals. I took the reddest red and began coloring stripes down my cheeks, like Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Red, like blood. Red, like anger. Red, like a warrior. I had nothing. No tears. No cake. No mother. Something wasn’t right. Actually nothing was right. I just wasn’t sure why.
A few days later I sat behind a screened-in seating area with other family members. The spot reserved for the grieving. The adults in the room took turns staring at me and shaking their heads. No tears. No emotion. No mother. I had nothing.
As the funeral attendees walked by the casket paying their respects, someone lifted me up to see my mother for the last time. “Kiss her,” they said. “No!” I screamed. I found my voice. I found my anger. That’s not my mother, I thought. The woman in the casket is white. My mother is peach. That’s what she said.