Remembering.Posted: May 8, 2011
I twist the lid off the jar of Noxzema. Jars back in the Sixties were of deep indigo glass. Now they’re a shade lighter in plastic. Nothing’s like it used to be.
The level of cream is so low I can see a spot of blue at the bottom, the size of a fingertip. I gasp air, and a flash of heat runs up my face. It’s close to being gone. What will I do then?
Noxzema cream is caked on the inside of the lid and stuck to the sides of the jar, but it’s still soft and wet-feeling. I lift it to my nose and breathe in the comforting smell of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. It takes me home, and I’m thirteen again, with the familiarity of things I used daily—thick Cover Girl makeup that was too dark and left a line at my jaw because I didn’t put it on right, nubby red Maybelline eye pencil, OJ’s Beauty Lotion with Witch Hazel in it, blue eye shadow, a clear plastic container of brush hair rollers the size of frozen orange juice cans that I used every single night in the years before blow dryers.
I don’t use Noxzema anymore.
This was Mama’s jar. I picked it up off her dresser the day we cleaned out her house. Mama used Noxzema all her life—all my growing up years and beyond. She bought it for me when I was a teenager. She bought it for my sister. Noxzema became a part of my day. Morning, spread on face, rub in a circular motion, rinse. Night to take off makeup—rub it in, wipe with tissues.
Noxzema took me from being thirteen to newlywed. When I moved away, I thought I had to have more expensive lotions.
This jar has been around a long time. Its contents look old, the color’s a little off, aged yellow, maybe out of date, if cleansing creams have expiration dates. But I’m using it anyway. I don’t care if it’s old, if its ingredients are starting to separate into different textures, if it’s not stark white. It was hers. I couldn’t throw it away.
When it’s gone, does that mean she is more gone than she was?
She has been gone nineteen months. This month brings what would have been her ninetieth birthday, but she won’t be here to give Gerbera daisies to, or a wind chime, or new garden gloves.
I took others personal items of hers, too, when we were selling and disposing of her belongings. I took a tiny crystal vase holding her collection of old red eyebrow pencils, sticking up like a bouquet. I took her jar of Vicks salve, the answer to all ills. I have her hair brush. With hair still in it. In the brush her hair is white. All her life except for the last three years she kept her hair brown. White marked change—her allowance that age was taking her and she was becoming less.
I can’t look at the brushful of hair without crying. There’s something about having a dead person’s hair—it was a living part of them, and now all the other parts are gone, but here’s this fistful of hair twined around bristles, clinging fast, denying its removal. I won’t let myself touch it. I won’t let myself throw it away.
Maybe I need to protect it because I couldn’t protect her.