I lost my mother’s red plastic heart sunglasses when I was seven. She used to wear them with a pair of dark denim pedal-pushers whose seams were stitched with blood-red thread. Above, she wore a red-and-white-striped shirt with a pleated front and little flutter cap sleeves. Below, she wore strappy red leather sandals. In the middle, a red webbed belt—the kind that Boy Scouts and soldiers wear. It was 1982. She was the most beautiful thing.
I lived with her only on the weekends. During the week, my grandmother’s old, sour sister kept me and took me to school, but on the weekends my mother made up for her absence. She made me pancakes for breakfast and let me try on her clothes, pulling one Pierre Cardin shirt after another over my small head. She let me whirl her tams as if I were making pizza dough. She let me borrow her sunglasses and wear them to school.
What can I say? All second-graders like bright, new things, and every girl in class wanted to try on my mother’s shades. We passed them up and down our rows of desks until the teacher caught us and snatched them away.
My mother forgave me as soon as I got home from school and called and told her what happened, but I kept crying into the receiver until my old, sour aunt took the phone away from me. It’s almost forty years since those sunglasses went missing, yet the guilt still lingers, plaguing me over breakfast. I pour our bowls of cereal and apologize once again when my mother passes me the carton of milk. Yes, we live together now.
If only I hadn’t lost them, we might not be where we are today. My mother thinks I mean the current presidency. She thinks I mean the masks, the virus, the quarantine, and all the police brutality. Which, of course, I do. But, also, the way I’m afraid to lose anything, to this very day, which also means that I’m afraid to hold on tight, which also means that I’m afraid to have, which also means that I’d just rather not.
My mother asks, “Why do you think you’re responsible for all the woes of the world? Why do you think everything is your fault?”