I don’t remember who took this photo (it was probably a selfie?), but I know I’m wearing my mother’s top and I’m sitting by the dresser in their walk-in closet in our Xavierville house. You can see I lowered my retainer, so it wouldn’t show up in the pic, but I can see it just above my bottom lip. My hair is curly because it was in a bun. The blue eyeshadow tells me that this was from that time my younger brothers and I were in a play called The Night Before Christmas. Mommy would put on my makeup for the play and I would take pictures because it felt like a big deal to have blue eyeshadow on. This was my takeaway from watching My Girl one too many times as a pre-teen. You can see I tried to make it look like I had bangs, arranging the strands as an attempt to cover my always-too-wide forehead.
I spent many pabanjing-banjing moments, sitting in front of Mommy’s dresser. I was always poking at her cosmetics, collecting dust from being unused for so long. I would wipe off the dust that formed on her old lipstick, so I could swipe some on my own lips. I would admire my “masterpiece” in the mirror and hurriedly remove the traces of rouge with wads of tissue when I heard footsteps coming. Then I’d run into their shower to take a bath.
I don’t think I wasn’t allowed to sit there. But whenever I opened all the compartments of her acrylic drawers and tinkered with the trays that held eyeliners that were probably expired, it always felt like I was trying to uncover some mystery. And I never wanted to be caught doing it. But oh how I loved doing it.
Sometimes, I would go through her closet, opening the dust bags hanging from the doors, peeking at the purses that never really got used anymore. I would look at the dresses and wondered if one day I’d grow into them. Under her dresser were yellowed shoeboxes that had pairs of Ferragamo Vara pumps, gifts from Daddy whenever we would go to Rustan’s. They were still much too big for me even with cork inserts, but that didn’t stop me from trying them on and walking around feeling like I was a grown-up.
When she died, we moved out of that house. They packed everything into boxes and hardly threw anything out. So the clear acrylic organizers that used to hold her forgotten makeup were finally mine. I threw away her moldy lipstick and the expired Ever Bilena eyeliner but not before using it for months until it dried out. Oops. Don’t worry, I have since bought many of my own (some of them are now probably expired).
Her clothes never quite fit me, so I was happy that we had the same shoe size. I kept a couple of her pumps, the same ones that I walked around in with my tiny feet. I remember how good it felt when I slipped my feet into them and they finally fit just right. No cork inserts needed. I kept one of her bags, saved from an old suitcase with moldy leather things. They were going to throw everything away, but I grabbed her Coach Janice Legacy bag in tan. I still have the faintest memory of when my dad bought it for her. There was no more dust bag, but that meant I could use it and it didn’t have to stay inside the closet anymore. And when paired with her Vara pumps, I felt extra grown-up using it.
I’m close to 40 now, but sometimes, I still think about wanting to sit in front of her dresser. A strange fantasy of putting on expired lipstick and admiring my made-up face in her mirror, wearing her clothes that might fit me now. Wishing and hoping to hear her footsteps coming, and me rushing to remove any trace of my secret mischief.