My mother called today from the other coast asking if I got the package she sent. I said no, and then the buzzer buzzed, and the UPS man knocked on the door with the package. “Call me back after you’ve opened it,” my mother said.
Inside the big brown box, I find another flat, rectangular box, covered with a lime-green rice paper – very thin, textured, fibrous. In the center of the box top, some kind of Asian graphic: purple lines forming what looks to me like a stick figure sitting cross-legged, but is probably a Chinese character. I open the box. Underneath pink tissue paper, a hand mirror. Octagonal, technically, but wider at the top, narrowing towards the bottom. A beautiful dark wood, mahogany perhaps, but lighter. Koa? A large tassle of bright colors – red, neon pink, lime green, royal blue, electric yellow – trailing down from the handle. A Korean giveaway. The backside of the mirror proper: embroidered flowers, pale pink, and small leaves in all shades of green, red veins accenting. Another Chinese character in the left-hand corner. Buried in the tissue paper, the note says: from Jagun-ummah, youngest aunt. In Korea, mother gives to daughter on wedding day. I think it means “happiness,” but not sure. Be sure to send thank you note.
Back to the big brown box, I find 50 lavendar packages of birth control pills, floating in foam peanuts. The note reads: thought you running low. I notice the expiration date on all of them: 10/93. Next, a mouse pad bearing the snow-capped mountains of Yosemite National Park – from our trip last year. I keep forget to send to you. Finally, an envelope: photos from Christmas day, my family minus my husband and me. My father smiling wide, wearing the wool zipper-front vest we sent him, my mother’s corduroy floral backside to the camera as she bends over to pick up crumpled wrapping paper, my sisters both with eyes blinking shut (who took the photo? I wonder). Double prints.
Last night, in the silence after the ugly argument, I lay in bed thinking, in a Jimmy Stewart-esque way, what would happen if I were to disappear. If I simply ceased to exist.
I call my mother back and thank her for everything. I ask what’s new, and she says she wants to buy a computer, she’s been researching. “What about all those megahertz of memory?” she asks, mixing up computer terms. “Do I need all that? I want one of those big screens and big sound systems; you know, for music and for old people.” I tell her to go with mail order, so she can get the 800-number help desk. “You think?” she says. “What about zip drive? You have a zip drive?”
My mother used to rummage through piles of papers around the house, asking, “Where is that L.L. Crew J. catalogue?”
Today, we talk about the rain, my father’s business, his secretary who is suicidal again. All the while, I’m carefully laying out the contents of the package on my bedroom floor: the mirror from my aunt that my mother forgot to give me when I got married, the expired pills, the mouse pad for my mouseless ergonomic keyboard, the terribly shot photos. And as my mother tells me about the latest deal between Microsoft and Sony, about how despite Sony’s reputation for unreliability Microsoft is forging some kind of partnership based on mutual interest, I find myself covering the mouthpiece on the telephone, blubbering uncontrollably, dripping tears on to lime-green rice paper. I am remembering what it is to feel the largeness of love, the relief of simple gifts, given in earnest. I am thinking of my first week of college, of the package of crumbled cookies my mother sent me, the note enclosed boldly saying: Hope your first day is as smooth as a sail.
Originally published in The Threepenny Review, Winter 1999.