During my childhood, my father’s mother sent over boxes of cast-off reading materials. I grabbed each package and eagerly pillaged its depths. Magazines included Reader’s Digest, Life, and Time. Among the books, I often found collections called Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I did not realize until years later that the truncated versions of novels such as Christy left so much out. What did I know? As a voracious reader, I greedily carried stacks into my bedroom and stayed awake for hours tearing through the volumes.
In my late high school years, my mother went through a period of personal challenge that she later called her “breakdown”. I must have been sixteen or seventeen when she fell into that abyss. Everything caused anxiety. She would clutch her cheeks and tell us that we made her face hurt. Desperate to help, I bought product after product to give her facials, which she claimed ease the pain. I would read out loud to her, especially articles from the discarded magazines from my grandmother. She liked the happy-ever-after heartwarming stories in Reader’s Digest; along with the little fillers at the end of each piece, such as “Life In These United States” and “Laughter: The Best Medicine”.
My mother and I would sit in the living room poring over these offerings. I’d rub various types of goop onto her face and massage her hands with Pond’s cold cream. I traced the brown spots on her olive skin and ask her if I would get them when I grew older. We’d wrap our hair in curlers and look at patterns for dresses that I might want her to make for me. Mostly we just talked, about nothing, really; I can’t remember debating any serious subjects, not during that time. Anything important would make her cheeks hurt.
I think of my mother when I perform little personal acts, like tweezing random hairs from my brows. When I apply colorant to my grey roots and moisturizer to the wrinkles around my eyes, I recall the color of her lipstick and the fragrance that she wore. My mother didn’t do much to enhance her natural appearance, but she used those basics, and a little bit of powder from a compact. She always looked fresh, even when I knew she had barely slept, plagued as she was with worry.
I do not take after my mother, except in the texture of my hair and the shape of certain isolated features. But her soul sits on my heart. Like my mother, I reach for a joke when my burdens seem unbearable. Laugher is, after all, still the best medicine, despite the advances of science in the thirty-seven years since my mother left us.
It’s the third day of the one-hundred and third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.