MIRROR MIRROR EXCERPTS
Chapter 1 -Childhood by the Sea
Good Mother Bad Mother
I watch my mother glide across the speckled floor of my room in a long blue skirt. Her peasant blouse falls over her shoulders. There are flecks of red in her long, auburn hair. How could anyone be more beautiful? My mother comes over to me and enfolds me in her arms. I smell tobacco on her fingertips and perfume on her wrists. My body takes on her scent and texture. My head finds the pillow of her stomach. “You’re a part of me,” she says. “I won’t let Daddy yell at you anymore.”
That night my mother comes into my room and snuggles up next to me. I tangle my short stubby legs with her longer ones, knitting us together. We sing lullabies in Yiddish and in English. My mother’s voice, which sounds more like talking than singing, is sort of loud and off key; mine is soft and sweet. “You’re my beautiful, wonderful, smart little girl,” she says when we finish. I fall into a fuzzy kind of sleep, rocked by her presence and the darkness.
The sun sends down a hot mean shine as I climb the ladder of my lookout tower. My father has constructed the tower out of metal ladders, which converge on a solid wood base surrounded by a railing. Standing on top, I love looking over the hedges far into the distance. Today, I look at the sky and the trees. I hear a robin’s nest whisper. My mother, who is standing on the ground, calls up to me, “Hold on, for God’s sake. You’ll fall on your face. Stupid, ugly girl.” My legs turn to liquid. I grip the bars tightly to steady myself. The sky becomes an underwater painting through my tears.
When I wolf down Cheerios and milk from my Alice in Wonderland bowl, so I can see the white rabbit at the bottom, she sneers at me. “You’re a little pig, aren’t you?” Tears that burn like soot well up in my eyes; my chest is hot and tight. Since she won’t go away, I crawl into my invisible turtle shell where it is soft and moist and dark and nobody can see in, but I can see out. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see what my mother sees. I want to hide that fat, stupid, ugly little girl away from everyone.
The summer I turn seven, storms roll across the New Jersey shore. Through our picture window, I can see waves charge like tigers. I can feel thunder rock the sky.
One night when it is raining hard, I get out of bed and walk into the living room. The blinds are wide open and my mother is standing in front of the window looking into the distance. I hear my father shifting in their bed, pretending to sleep, making a funny low growl in his throat, which means, “Leave me alone.”
My mother seems to come awake suddenly. As a streak of lightning fires the darkness, she puts her arm around me. “It’s a dragon’s tail,” she says. “It’s a magic wand,” I say. The sky becomes quieter. “Go back to sleep, “ she says. She is watching the sea; she has forgotten me.
Another night I discover my father in the kitchen. In the dim light, I see he has a red summer blanket around his shoulders. Rain is drilling the roof and the windows; a sharp wind comes under the door. He heats some milk for me and pours it into my favorite cup with the picture of the White Rabbit on it. The milk tastes gentle and sweet. When I look up, I see tears on my father’s cheeks.
In the last week of August, a storm gathers its breath and becomes a hurricane. As the sky rages, my mother, father and I run for cover into the small cozy den without windows and huddle together in a big upholstered chair the color of earth. I sit on the cushion and my mother and father sit on the arms on either side of me; we all have our arms around each other; my father kisses my nose the way he did when I was very little. My mother’s soft hand around my hand feels like a velvet glove. “Everything is going to be all right,” she says. My father says, “We love you.” When fall comes and the weather clears, my parents file for divorce.