TRUNKS AND VIDEO TAPES

The memory rose, a fever in her blood, as slow as mercury in moms thermometer, attacking her spirit, numbing her limbs, making her feet throb and then deaden.

Each morning she fought despair, waited for the nausea to subside, so she could brush her teeth, swallow juice, pack lunch, crackers, an apple, stuff notebook and texts into her satchel. The routine helped crush the images.

She never glanced at the mirror.

Had hoped her mother would cover them with pillow cases, torn sheets like the rabbi instructed when her daddy died.

My daddy died.

Tiny shivers pulsed through Lena. Why do I repeat that? Like the mantra OM, meant to calm me. No use.

Through elementary and middle school, friends shied away. Lena’s eyes were teary.

At times Lena burst out in giggles, free from the fog of being fatherless, but that didn’t last.

She needed her lonesomeness, comforted by the distance she put forth.

Teachers at school sent home notes to her mother. What to do? How to reach her?

She wore dresses too large for her petite frame, let her hair become long and stringy, had no desire to mix with the boys.

She flinched when Mom’s male friends patted her back. Any physical overtures shunned. Her world had been a struggle since she was four, the year her father passed after a long illness.

Cancer, mysterious and deadly. Mornings became mourning that year. Casting a cloud of misery over the brick house.

The darkness of that huge room at nursery school, black velvet, shutting her smile, and Mom’s, too. But Mom recovered, was able to laugh, and read and listen

to the funeral dirge of Mahler’s First Symphony without a meltdown. “I cry inside.”, she told Lena. That was the way grownups grieved.

Gradually, Lena emerged from her self-imposed tunnel. No magic wand, no psychologist.

Some movies on television resonated. Lena watched these imitations of life’s sorrows, stored them.

She recognized none of them similar to hers. The nursery school disappeared from her head. Lena ever addressed the scenes.

Her skin glowed, though she never wore makeup. When her mother took Lena clothes shopping, the blouses fit, skirts swayed, and the jeans shaped her long legs.

She accepted dates with young men who were friends first, great talkers, drink sippers.

Movies, soda shoppes, no sudden moves. A kiss on her cheek, a hug. Her first year at college, she studied, spent free time in the dorm or in the library.

Friends never approached unless Lena welcomed them. If anyone tried to bully or shame her, football players were quick to be guardians.

During semester break her mother asked about her social life. Lena’s response was that she could handle anything.

One afternoon Lena overheard her mother saying to a friend, “When it happens, I will celebrate by baking a cake.” She sensed that her mother was worried she would ever marry or have a child.

The summer after the freshman year, Lena met Mike. Not the best looking guy, but Lena liked his broad smile, big ears, sense of humor.

Lena felt slight tremors in her heart, loved his strong arms.

The morning after their tenth date, Lena came down to breakfast. Her mother stared at her.

What happened? You never stay out so late. Lena smiled. “You can bake that cake.”

Her mother nodded, waited. Soon, Lena assured her that Mike had used protection, talked Lena through it. She had shared with him the reasons for being reluctant.

Her mother leaned against the counter, turned reached for a bran muffin, a candle, lit a match. When she began singing happy unvirgining to you, Lena blushed.

“If grandma saw this she’d be furious.” Her mother replied, “Grandma doesn’t know what you’ve gone through to reach this moment. I informed her that I had given you VHS tapes about date rape and AIDS and herpes in your trunk before you went upstate. Grandma did not take it well. Too much a prude.”

“How come nothing about sex and contraception?”

Her mother laughed. “I knew you were great at research.”