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It was a Wednesday afternoon, just past 5 o'clock, and my hair was thrown in a high ponytail. A few blonde strands framed my face in a casual way, the product of haste, but enhancing my appearance nonetheless. The thick black band securing my since two-days washed head of hair wavered under the weight of my thick locks, yet I knew it wouldn't budge from experience. The buttery yellow strands flushed down the small of my back like a waterfall crashing over large rocks. Because of this sight, the girls I saw at the deli on Sunday mornings smiled at me, their twitching lips a cover for malicious envy secretly coveting that very Barbie ponytail.
Little did they know my mother brought home a box of chemical-smelling, headache-inducing Clairol hair-dye from the corner drug store last year in the same shade all the famous salons used (of course, she had researched this on marieclaire.com). She forced me to trade in my natural mocha do' and argued that my new hair make us both appear more pretentious, a facade she always pined for. After all, the majority of the women’s daughters in the Bunko club she had wheedled her way into resembled Blake Lively, so that was obviously The Thing To Copy.
I was wearing a rosy hued track suit with a popular, authentic designer emblem printed on the chest. Several of my Upper East Side classmates would sigh with envy if they observed me wearing it. I knew they would inwardly beam yet show anguish when they hurried over with bottles of club soda and napkins if I dared drop a spot of tomato sauce on the sleeve. I paid no attention. I didn't care - this suit was just one of the products of one of my mother's abundant 5th Avenue expeditions.
Little did they know this suit was probably purchased with a maxed out Visa, or stolen off of Bloomingdale's rack. Little did they know I would probably find out it was a cheap knockoff after it fell apart in the Laundromat’s aged dryer and I hadn’t a jacket to brave the cold, fifteen-block walk home with. Little did they know I was only wearing it because it was the last clean article of clothing in my dresser drawer that morning, besides that tie-dyed t-shirt from seventh grade summer camp upstate that my mother deemed I Would Not Be Caught Dead Wearing.
As I stepped out of the overhang on Broadway, I sauntered into the indistinctly marked limo with the inky windows and Gucci sunglasses-clad driver. I didn't mean to walk at an enchanting pace; it was just my natural step, something that had been compared to the stride of a gazelle and the stroll of Giselle. Several well-groomed young men and a few zealously wary women eyed me with contempt. Again, I paid no attention, and kept insouciantly walking.
Little did they know that, despite the fact this was my natural walk, my mother aimed to pretty much bottle it and manufacture its formula. She thought it was an outcome of my goal to rise to prep-girl popularity, not realizing I simply didn't care and just walked my God-given step.
We drove in silence. I hardly knew anything about the man; he was the confection of my mother's dream of a wealthy fairytale lived in The City. Despite my protests that millions of young girls wander the city every day, she had never let me brave the subway or relax in a taxicab. Her cautions were not the spawn of a protective fear over her daughter's safety; she simply just wanted me to appear better than the other NYC gals. However, a taxi driver would be just as familiar as Raul, the man currently navigating the limo. I knew of him since the wee age of six, yet our conversations still consisted of "yes," "no," "school," "the ballet studio," "the apartment," "the Hamptons," and "thank you." Occasionally our eyes would meet in the rearview mirror and he would earnestly smile; I would respond with a half-fast grin, my eyes not quite meeting my lips. He would eventually direct his gaze back to the road, and I would glance back out the window, peering at the storefronts and little marketshops we drove past daily.
We ended up at my home at 5:23 – the usual 25-minute drive had been cut short. I climbed the stairs to our apartment in Brooklyn. This place was my safe haven - no one from school knew I resided in this borough. It was a well known fact my "address" was 5 Park Place – or so they thought. Little did they know, I commuted across the bridge every day to my scholarship program at that fancy prep school who just hosted that art benefit.
I knocked on the hollow, peeling door, but there was no answer. That was funny; my mother usually ran to greet me on the afternoons, showing off one of her Henri Bendel or Sak’s ensambles. I dug in my bag for my seldomly used key, confused. I turned it into the lock for the first time in weeks, noticing my mother’s usually obnoxious talk show wasn’t blasting brainwashing nonsense.
10 Years Later
“Excuse me, miss. Miss! MISS!”
I bristled, and turned to the slightly balding, portly Italian man chasing me down Fifth Avenue.
“Whaddya want? You laughin’ at me? Huh?” I spit a thick layer of yellow plaque in his direction.
He took me in, inch by inch. I guess my sweaty mane, frayed red plaid jacket and ripped men’s knickers somehow appeared more appealing from the back, because he noticeably stiffened. Like a gentleman, he remained polite, and smiled.
“I think you dropped this,” he explained with a wink. I glanced down at the green-hued paper in his hand; he was holding a fifty dollar bill. To a bystander, it was obvious someone like me wouldn’t be carrying that much money – after all, most of my meals come from soup kitchens or the 44th street diner’s dumpster. However, I was never one to turn down some easy green, and looked at him.
“Thanks.” I earnestly muttered.
“No problem, just doing what anyone else would,” he said. I looked him over – no fancy watch, no tailored suit. I wondered if the fifty dollars had genuinely come out of the generosity of his heart, or if his selfless act had been fueled by something else.
I looked into his blue-green eyes. “Come on. Let me take you out to lunch to make up for it.”
At the 44th street diner, the hostess seemed perplexed to see me eating inside instead of scavenging for scraps like a squirrel outside, but she made no comment and instead showed us to a table near a window facing the street. We sat facing each other, both content to sit in silence yet wondering what the other was thinking. I started.
“So, do you find big bucks on the ground often?” I asked, not caring much for the answer and just passing the time.
“Actually, you know when you meet someone, and you know you’re lying to them?” He asked.
I wondered what he meant by that. “No.”
He sighed. “I was sent by your mother.”
In a heartbeat, I turned lightheaded and felt like I was going to faint. My cheeks turned redder than average rosy and I grew noticeably pale. The afternoon waitress, the nice one who would usually let me eat some leftover bread after her shift, hurried over with a glass of ice water and a napkin, asking if I was alright, miss, was I alright…
The word “mother” had brought back so many memories; memories I had tried to forget for ten years. That fateful day a decade past, I had returned to my former home, and found it empty. There was no sign of my mother or any of her worldly possessions – just my room, left intact, and a note. In plain block print on a faded yellow sticky note, it simply read, “Sorry.” She left neither money nor no phone number – it was like she had just vanished without a trace. I tried to keep up with my studies by continuing out the school year with help from a part time job, but by then I was old enough to drop out, and did so. The prep-school girls who once doted on my hand and foot, thinking I was richer than them, instantly deserted me the second I explained my dire situation. None offered any assistance, not even a nickel. I couldn’t afford rental payments with my meager McDonald’s salary, and was forced to move my dresser drawers into shopping carts. On the streets was where I stayed.
I glanced out of the diner window at my threadbare, bent shopping cart outside. I had spotted it on an expedition uptown years ago and taken it. Now, it contained what was left of my once mountainous Brooklyn bedroom, which was not much You would be surprised how much those designer sweats fray and rip without a washing machine’s gentle guidance.
I shifted my gaze to the strange man before me. He bore no expression, yet his face drove me to curiosity.
I opened my mouth, but my lips grew numb. I repeated the only phrase I could think of.
“My mother, my mother, my mother, my mother, my mother…”