I remember the day my mother first took me to a department store. She woke me by opening the curtains real wide. The pool outside sparkled inside the room. Normally the room stayed dark and only a little glow from around the edges of the closed curtain got in. I used to sit next to that glow and peek out. Sometimes there were kids my age at the pool, other times there were adults. The morning pool was usually filled with the old people. With the curtains pulled back and the sunlight streaming in, I knew this was going to be a good day. She came over to my side of the bed, smiled to see my eyes open, and pulled back the covers. Scooting me into the bathroom, she urged me to get ready for the day, but to hurry. As soon as I was done, I raced out into the room where I noticed the familiar smell of her curling iron. She was already fancied up; she said it was my turn.
Sitting in the chair in front of the mirror I watched as she gracefully wrapped segments of my hair in the curling iron. Then she turned me around and put stuff on my face. When she said go see if you like it, I ran into the bathroom to see myself in private. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror and was almost frightened by her. Pretty, ugly, beautiful, disgusting…it was a mixture of emotions seeing myself like that. I came out and sat on the bed feeling a sort of smile on my face. She dug through my clothes and tried to find something that would go with how I looked. I thought that would be impossible. I am not exactly the most girly of girls. The best she could do was a pink tank top and some jean shorts. Then it was out the door trying to keep up with my mother even though she was wearing her super high heels.
I sat on the bench at the bus stop while my mother stood off a distance having a cigarette. A car pulled up slowly, the window rolling itself down as it came to a stop near my mother taking her last drag. She tossed it and walked up to the car and leaned down. They spoke for a bit, but soon the car drove away quickly peeling the tires as it went. My mother sat down next to me and pat my back. She gave me her fake smile and I looked away so she didn’t have to do that. Soon the bus came and we were taking the strange trip. An older lady sat near us and complimented me on my hair, but looked strangely up at my mother. She was just looking out the window the whole time and didn’t notice the people who would look at her. I tried to look at her the way they did. Halter top dress, super high heels, and clunky bangles. Her blonde hair cascaded down around her shoulders in big curls. She was just my beautiful mother. If she wasn’t wearing sunglasses they would see how warm her brown eyes were.
Walking through the door of the department store was like going into another world. The smells, the cool air, the fancy lights so different from the hot concrete world I was so familiar with. We walked up to the perfume counter and my mother held up her favorite perfume. She caressed the bottle, held it up to her nose and stretched out her arm to spray some on her wrist. She told me to do the same and the cool wet blast startled me. She showed me how to rub my wrists together and then take it up to each side of my neck to do the same. A few feet away, something sparkled from the sun that sneaked in when another customer walked through the great glass doorway. I dragged my mother over to the costume jewelry hanging from the racks in tangled masses. She deftly released one of the long necklaces from the mess and hung it around my neck. It was so long it hung down to my waist. She laughed and looped it around my neck a few times to make it a better length. Still wearing the necklace it was her turn to drag me over to the dresses. She found a bunch of red dresses and flipped through to find what she hoped would be my size. Excitedly, she pulled out the one and held it up to me. She shoved it in my hands and scooted me over to the fitting rooms. Inside the cramped room, she directed me to take off my clothes and helped me into the dress. It fit perfectly, she said. It did not fit comfortably, I said. She shook her head and dragged me still wearing the dress over to the shoe section. The shoe assistant looked at us from where he was organizing boxes. He had the same funny look on his face, but came over to help us. My mother swept her arms over me revealing me like I was some kind of prize on a game show. The man gave her a strange smile and looked at me almost sadly. He went into the back through a curtain and came back a short while with a few boxes. My mother stood over him directing and redirecting him. They both stood by as I walked back and forth in the various pairs of shoes. Finally my mother and the shoe man agreed on the tan pair with the ever so slight heel. My mother told me to wait there while she and the man went out to smoke a cigarette.
I felt funny wearing the red dress and the heeled shoes that were a small version of my mother’s. I wanted to put on my old clothes and my flip flops. I wanted to pull my hair back in a pony tail. A sales woman came over to see if I was ok. I didn’t know and so I just shrugged and said I was waiting for my mother. After a while she came back. She looked different somehow. We went back to the fitting room to put on my old clothes. She told me to leave the dress and shoes behind. I asked her about the necklace and she looked at me for a long time with her thinking face where she played with her lips. Then she nodded and went to the cash register to pay for it. She asked the lady for a rubber band and then helped me pull my hair back in a pony tail.
Later that day, she sat in one of the lounge chairs by the pool while I swam and played with a couple of other kids. She had her brown drink in a glass beside her. When I was tired I came to lie in a chair beside her listened as she took a clinking sip. Even though she had her sunglasses on I could tell that she was crying.