By Genia Blum
My first date arrived empty-handed.
I greeted him at the front door, my parents by my side, both waving to his mom and dad, who waved back from their air-conditioned car. I exchanged glances with my mother and, instead of fetching the carnation for his buttonhole, abandoned it on the kitchen countertop: a ruff of white zigzag petals, trapped in a mall florist’s transparent box.
His dad drove and commented on traffic. We sat, silent, in the back. His mom twisted on the front seat, penciled eyebrows arching, measuring my checkered mini-dress, my grown-up, puffy hair.
Heat and noise engulfed us when we entered. Guitars, a drum set, four youths in identical collarless jackets, reedy voices amplified by dilapidated speakers, riffed and rocked the crowded gym. Crepe paper streamers drifted from the ceiling; balloon clusters bobbed and struggled on tangled strings. Girls showed off orchids on wrists or bodices; boys flaunted carnations on blazer lapels.
I didn’t realize …
Oh, I never expected a corsage!
My white lie crumpled with the Twist, the Frug, the Shake.
During the last, slow dance, when he slid his arms around me, I pressed in close, inhaling Old Spice and pungent sweat, and crushed a nonexistent blossom between my bosom and his chest.
My mother placed the orphaned boutonniere in the freezer, where it collected ice crystals long after I moved away from home, behind a brick-sized hailstone that once dropped on our lawn during a spring storm and a lump of yellow dough she’d cling-wrapped before she died.
My father’s new wife defrosted the freezer. Relics melted, recollection dissolved. Pictures, china, souvenirs disappeared. A large painting of my ballerina mother, posed with arms curved gracefully above her, was exiled to the cobwebbed storage space under the basement stairs.
When nothing else could be eradicated, the new wife escaped their miserable marriage, driving off on a sub-zero winter night in a sporty red car my father had just bought her, leaving only her Tupperware behind.
Some journeys should continue in reverse gear: red car gliding over newly fallen snow, wheels rolling backward in time, passing last week, last month, years, decades.
In this version, my mother has survived her ruptured brain aneurysm.
We sit together in the kitchen, papered in giant orange and yellow poppies, a jumble of pictures and photos on the walls. Her portrait in a creamy white tutu still hangs in the front room. We drink coffee and eat warm cookies, and my mother tells me everything about her youth, the theater, and the lovers who broke her heart.
In the freezer, under a blanket of crystals, my brittle carnation sleeps.
Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian dancer, writer and translator, whose essays have received Pushcart Prize nominations. She writes a series for Queen Mob’s Teahouse titled Let Me Clarify: Unsolicited Advice by Genia Blum. When not working on her memoir, Escape Artists, she tweaks fonts and photos on her website www.geniablum.com and haunts Twitter and Instagram as @geniablum.