Thursday, June 11, 2009

Junk Drawer

I’m in the kitchen frantically looking for a new sponge to replace the one that is now mysteriously caked with mozzarella on its scrubby side. I yank out the drawer next to the sink. In the tiny junkyard of useless things, among the sealed mouse traps, loose batteries, wayward nails and various busted cork screws, I see it lodged between a key less pad lock and a postcard from my dentist’s office that reads “Happy Birthday, time for a cleaning!”

This plastic anachronism pulls me out of my day. I travel to a place in time where I was the epicenter of all things because my smallness and innocence required it. This relic of my childhood stares up at me and I snatch it from the drawer, coveting it as if it might evaporate if left unacknowledged.

The object consists of two lighter size picture viewers, one pink and one blue linked together by a rusty ball chain. It’s the kind of novelty item that serves as a souvenir from a trip to the shore or a wedding and can be found dangling from key chains – a reminder that you were there. I remember marveling at the pictures when I was a kid. Wondering how they made my tall heroine tiny enough to fit inside its narrow tunnel and then I’d wield the ball chain around my grubby fingers at the kitchen table – wishing I were big, wishing I were her.

Today, I look through the first eye hole and hold it up to the light, magnified is my mom. She is smiling, alive and radiant, wearing a white dress with black polka dots. I scrunch my eye closed again and peer into the other time capsule, expecting to see the familiar image of her in the handmade, clown costume she wore to the Eastern Airlines employee Halloween party. But instead of seeing her making one of her signature silly faces and honking her big, red clown nose there is nothing but a brown smudge.

The euphoria of my nostalgia sinks realizing that somehow in my many travels the tiny glass must have popped out from the eye hole and with it went my itty-bitty circus mom. I begin to cry and damn the caked on cheese that spawned this discovery. There are things unlike sponges that cannot be replaced and although I have hundreds of pictures of her that particular one is now lost forever.

My mom has been dead for so long that she has taken on the mystery of a mythical creature that appears in my reflection when I least expect her. I remember all of the details of our short time together but none of them are in motion. I have ten years worth of vivid pictures, sharing the same power source, rigged with brown extension chords, running down the length of me. To avoid a blackout I turn each picture on slowly in my mind’s eye and watch it until it begins to move. I scrutinize the details. I tug at my senses until I smell her L'air du temps perfume. I slowly conjure up the sound of her voice, her perfect teeth, the softness of her café con leche skin, her laugh and the way she always looked at me as if I were the most important person in the world. This is how I have survived twenty-two years without her. I don’t need a stinking peephole to remember these things!

I hold the picture viewer up to the light one more time and stare at her sitting in the little plastic shrine like a Virgensita waiting for a prayer. I say one and put the plastic time machine back where I found it and continue to search for a sponge.


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