by: Kate Rabinov
A vault of treasured memories, that incessantly drift off into the ether…
I am certain my sister stole my mother’s Chanel purse. No one in my family will admit to the theft, yet my father claims he knows who has it. We are a family of secrets, so it is no surprise that the whereabouts of this exquisite, quilted leather bag remain a mystery.
My mother is alive, yet she has not set foot into her expansive walk-in closet in ten years. She often lies unmoving in her bed, or is transferred to her wheelchair to make the journey downstairs to the den or to visit the garden. Diagnosed with a brain disease nineteen years ago, my mother has been robbed, little by little, of her independence. She cannot walk, go to the bathroom or eat when she chooses. Her memory has gone dim, and she cannot dress herself.
My mother’s walk-in closet was my playground as a child. I was enamored by the mannequin in the corner with its perfect hourglass figure that waited patiently for its most recent design. My mother was a gifted seamstress, as her mother was before her, and the mannequin was the last vestige of her days as a seamstress, before my father became wealthy and my mother’s clothes could be couture. I remember putting on her mink hat and pretending I was Julie Christie from Dr. Zhivago. In that closet, I was Julie Andrews in a Liberty-print swing skirt, Brigitte Bardot in a mod mini-dress, and Ali McGraw in a chic black turtleneck and trench coat. Playing dress-up, I imagined myself a very small version of my mother. The smells in her closet intoxicated me, especially her perfumes, like the rose and jasmine scent of Joy or Bal Versailles. The long white silken gloves, the pillbox hats and costume jewelry. The card I made my mother when I was in nursery school, my report card from third grade, and my immunization record, it was all there – her memory, my memory.
Now, my mother cannot find her memory. It has been lost, taken away, stolen from her without asking, hiding somewhere in the closet of her mind.
I want my mom’s closet to remain intact. But my sister has matured to the same size and shape as my mother from before her sickness, and I know she rifles through it now. The sleek-looking Valentino suit is gone. The stunning black Armani dress has vanished. The Chanel purse, swiped.
Theft is a funny thing. The brain is even funnier. How is it that your brain can rob you of your memory? Isn’t memory locked away inside your brain? Sometimes when I bring out a particular dress, or the wide black belt with the rhinestone sunburst buckle, my mother remembers the evening she last wore it. There’s the gown she wore to the Academy Awards, or the celadon jacquard suit that my mother donned for my sister’s second wedding, and the purple jumpsuit I would beg her to wear when she picked me up from school in fifth grade, the one that made me think she looked like Mary Tyler Moore. They are all still there in the closet waiting for her. Yet more often than not, my mother does not remember her past; and I have to remember for her. I suppose I think that if her closet can remain untouched, it can house the memory that her brain does not allow.
My sister can keep the purse. I would, however, like her to return the neatly folded handkerchief tucked inside; I know it would smell of Bal a Versailles.
Kate Rabinov writes strings of words, paragraphs, and sometimes little stories. She resides on the East Coast.