When I was a kid I had about four freckles over my whole body. I thought patches of freckles were a strange thing, and I was confused when I was told they were caused by the sun. I thought tans were caused by the sun..? The summer of my 16th birthday, I hit my sun exposure limit in the brighter sun of Honduras and came home with constellations of freckles on my shoulders that never left. Mom seemed secretly delighted when she saw them. “Oh, one of you DOES have some of me in you!” She joked in the way people joke when they are joking.. mostly. If Mom reads this, I’m sure she will not recall saying that and will deny being proud of my sun damage, but I think of that conversation every time I see my shoulders in the mirror. I put a tattoo on one shoulder, but I chose line work over full shading – partially so the freckles could still be seen.
It had never really occurred to me that Mom would have wanted me to be like her, or wanted me to WANT to be like her. As a kid I wanted to be like Dad, charismatic, cool, tough and a bit reckless. I wanted to be the kind of person who made the house messier, not the person who cleaned the messes up. I could later see, when my perspective had gained a little bit more sophistication, how stoically cool and unfazed my mother could really be. Like the time my sister popped out of the back of our van with her face painted in nail polish and Mom just gave a bit of an Aubrey Plaza shrug and said “I hope you like it that way.” She also nonchalantly performed feats of toughness such as riding a bicycle all day, the day before I was born, in July and could make any Halloween costume I thought up (even a peacock) as long as she first said “I’m not creative enough to make a costume like that, I don’t know how to make that!”
When I was about 17 , my cousin’s baby suddenly died. My parents were away at.. a decorative cement trade show? We were already at the wake when they arrived , straight from the airport. Some one said “Ann and John are here” and I looked up to see them standing in the doorway, in whatever clothes they were wearing. I don’t think Mom said anything at all, and if she did it was lost in her action. She came straight into the room and took my cousin in one arm, and his wife in the other, just like it was natural, and they all cried. I stood there, as I had stood all night, and as I have stood at every wake or funeral since then, ineffectively, and uncomfortably. And damn, I wanted to be like her.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed myself periodically checking my life against her at my age. At 20, she was my age when I was born. At 24, she was my age in that photo wearing acid wash jeans and long wavy hair, with me tugging at the belt – wrapped twice around her hips – that held Dad’s gun. At 26, when she was my age, she had five kids. I was modeling when I was 25, lying my age down to 22, when I was handed a proof that at first glance struck me as a picture of Mom. At second glance I recognized myself and realized that the photo was nearly the same pose and angle as her senior photo. I sometimes catch myself still trying to be the person who doesn’t clean up messes. I still have a wild need to be the hero in my own story, or at least the most colorful character – a trait straight out of Dad’s book. I never did learn her emotional naturalness, and I still wish I had.
I still have the stars of sun damage on my shoulders.