I dreamt I saw you; your beauty astounded me. Rumors circulated you like a tornado waiting to touch down. People said your eyes were like turbulent oceans undulating with waves of amber fire. The blue and the golden-brown swirling around terrified me but also mesmerized me. I couldn’t wrap my mind around your presence. I heard someone murmur, “She’s a viper wrapped in swan feathers,” and that’s when I awoke.
The dream was beautiful. It consumed me for a few days. I asked people who knew you to tell me more about you, so I could understand you better. Some talked about how artists the world over traveled to our small town to paint you, to sketch the graceful slope of your neck, to trace pens over canvas to capture the smooth line of your clavicle. Others mentioned the way you moved through the village I called home like a panther, silently stalking the streets always at night, always alone. An elderly blind man told me you smelled of lavender, and I found that to be lovely.
As I glanced in bits of polished glass, dust-streaked mirrors, and dirty windows, I would arch my neck and beg to see beauty awaiting me. I looked like I was straining, or I was in pain of some sort. Eventually, I perfected the arch of my neck. A passing photographer took a photograph of me and so stole a bit of my soul. At least, that’s what I tried to convince the photographer over coffee, but that’s a story for a different day.
I saw photographs of you in glossy magazines. You were always surrounded by others. The light in your eyes was perfection. It was the mad waves of blue and gold I had dreamt about, and though you were the focal point of a crowded photograph, you always looked alone to me. Always pining for something. I imagined to myself you remembered me and wished to know if that was indeed what you pined for. The life we could have had together. I imagined you returning to our village. You in your furs and expensive sunglasses. Me, a bit broken yet somehow lovely. I never knew the way you smelled from personal experience, but an elderly blind man told me you smelled of lavender.
To me, you always smelled of whatever cologne advert they happened to put in the magazine that featured you. I tried to hold the magazines close in an effort to feel your embrace, but I always felt foolish. The pages would stick in the humid air, and you were still nowhere to be found. I made up lives for us. I told people what I imagined to be true. That you were thoughtful and kind. You sometimes gave money to the homeless, but you never fed them because you barely ate yourself. Sometimes, you’d hug strangers in the streets, and they would walk away, feeling as though their lives had changed. Of course, none of this was true, but it didn’t stop me from imagining it to be so.
I had an au pair from America who accused me of being a liar. I naturally took offense to that and told her I had a vivid imagination and that you would have appreciated my imaginings. She scoffed and turned on her heel. I flipped to another page in the magazine that did a five-page spread of you. You looked fabulous in heels. I murmured that to the magazine when the mean au pair was not around, but my remarks went unheard.
I spent my life on the heels of another, chasing you around the world while remaining solidly in one place. The dreams I had were crushed when I became an adult. I realized the au pair who accused me of being a liar was not mean at all but a realist. I saw you all the time on billboards, eating apples, or in magazines drinking sparkling water. I saw you on runways wearing the season’s hip new clothes, but when I attempted to approach you, always a man in brown stopped me. He called himself your agent and told me you were not for sale. I never wanted to purchase you; I simply wanted to call you mother.
I remember going to the ballet with the photographer I had met when arching my neck. The photographer had framed the photograph of me and given it to me. I put it on the piano, and the lovely photographer had taken several more of me, doing every day things: getting out of automobiles, drinking champagne, reading a book, watching the television, pining for you. When we went to the ballet, I was stunned to read your name in the pamphlet I held. My hands trembled as the pamphlet wavered in my hands. I was shocked to discover tears in my eyes.
When the photographer asked me what had caused me to react in such a way, all I could to do was point to your name. We watched the ballet in stunned silence. It was the closest to you I had been in years. Your form was exquisite. Your body: still flawless. I could not tear my eyes from you. Like a child, I wriggled in my seat, begging for you to notice me, but instead a large man in a red sweater who sat behind me scolded me and chastened me into stopping. The photographer sloped an arm around me, and I snuggled close, inhaling the scent that was not yours.
The ballet ended abruptly. It felt like waking from a dream when someone was in the middle of a sentence. I wanted so badly to approach you, but I saw the man in brown shake his head at me once more. He approached me instead. The man in brown told me I was a nuisance, and you would rather forget me. These did not sound like your words, so I chose not to believe him.
Many years later, you became something of a New York City icon. I was told your image was plastered up in Times Square. I was told there was a nude painting of you in their modern art museum. I tried to imagine you. At this point, you would have been elderly. In most elderly, there were wrinkles and graying hair. When I searched for your image, I found a woman with hair as white as the clouds, and eyes as clear as the skies, though turbulent with their golden swirls. I imagined saying your name, and my voice was dust.
I never felt so beautiful as I did standing next to your portrait with the photographer I loved snapping photographs of me. I never felt so tired as when we flew to New York City as a surprise to you. It was to be a grand event for you. A pianist playing melodies written strictly for you, painters and artists and ballerinas floating around. What would it hurt to have a photographer and a woman who begged to know you as mother in your flat?
What would it hurt?
It hurt worse than walking the scalding coals. It hurt worse than being dragged across a bed of nails. It hurt worse than an automobile crashing into me and crippling me. You shot me a scathing look and told me to be gone. Just like that. Just like a sentence interrupted. All my memories of you washed away with the fresh batch of tears. All my memories of you–