My Marilyn Monroe Blouse

Another version appears in Ophelia's Mom by Crown Publishing

Sometimes, but never aloud, I call them my chocolate and vanilla girls: my blonde, blue-eyed older daughter is a clone of me, and my dark-skinned, curly- haired youngest daughter the image of her father. Our Russian/ German heritages combine in a mysterious way to make them what I’d always wished I had— Sisters.

They share a special language: subtle nuances, weird observations about people’s peculiarities in their ever-changing world that may send them hiccuping in hysterics, making me feel a little bit excluded. But mostly I am thrilled by the powerful magnetism that draws them together. I find comfort knowing they’re a team, that they can depend on one another.

As they leap over the threshold entering their teenage years, I’m reminded of a sudden gust of wind slamming a door shut. The cozy calm I once knew is shattered as the desire to be separate human beings becomes evident. Although this transformation makes life more interesting, it becomes more challenging to be their mother. A response or suggestion used successfully when parenting one daughter, can fail horribly when applied to the other.

Overnight, they develop varied interests, choose different friends, express opinions? sometimes aggressively. I thought the strong magnetic pull would stay with them forever. I believed in the line “opposites attract.”

At thirteen and fifteen, Jennifer (there are at least 5 Jennifers in her class) and Bari (she likes and hates her name on alternate weeks) have both everything and nothing in common. 
The everything is their shared obsession with the smoothness of their hair and the never- ending search for the highest wattage blow dryer in America. And I can’t forget the ten foot yellow plastic appendage they grow from their shoulders known as the telephone cord. We keep the yellow princess phone in Switzerland, which is what we call a small patch of occupied hallway just outside their bedrooms. Whenever the phone rings, their doors open simultaneously as they make a jackknife dive for the receiver. The quicker of the two, at that moment, yanks the phone into their room to talk in PRIVACY PLEASE!!!

The nothing is their totally different tastes in music: Jennifer has tried out for Annie, as in Orphan Annie, as well as had the lead in a camp production of Annie Get Your Gun. Bari prefers acid rock and bands that end their concerts by blowing themselves up on stage. Her clothes are often an eclectic mix of plaids and stripes reminding me of the colorful swatches my father used to peddle around as an upholstery salesman. Jennifer chooses whatever’s in vogue or hanging off the skeleton mannequins in the local mall. Or in other peoples’ closets.

They shared a bedroom until their constant bickering turned to screaming and screaming turned to bleeding. “It was just a little mole I scratched off her, Mom, no big deal, it would have been removed anyway.”

Too often, the dining room chandelier trembles leaving me to expect, at any moment, a fluffy-slippered foot protruding through the plaster ceiling. Hadn’t I suffered enough growing up in a household with two rowdy younger brothers? What happened to my two pig-tailed pixies in matching Healthtex overalls? Finally, I decide it’s not too big a price, really, to give up my writing room so they can have separate bedrooms. There’s a closet right off the laundry room with my name on it. I’ll have privacy one day, I’m sure, perhaps when I’m 70.

Their bedrooms become different forks in the road with bold non-trespassing signs. Bari spends hours in hers, working on crafty projects like jewelry design or reading books and writing stories, while Jennifer is usually on the telephone, mediating some major fracas that occurred between friends that day at school. Every night, before bedtime, she plans her next day’s wardrobe. This entails the need to crawl past me, as if she’s a tiny soldier avoiding gunfire, while I lie in bed, reading my book, dozing off.

One night, she sneaks past me, enters my closet and finds a blouse that I’d warned was never to be touched, tried on or borrowed. Both girls refer to it as my Marilyn Monroe shirt (they give a lot of my clothing names). This particular shirt is pale pink with rolled-up sleeves, in the style of the 60’s. One of my favorite garments, not because it was expensive. It wasn’t. It just fills me with nostalgia every time I wear it? reminds me of the time when I played my 45’s and sipped egg creams without worrying about my waistline. I guess it makes me feel young again?a lot like them.

I search everywhere for the blouse. While driving Bari to her after school bowling league and Jennifer to dance class, I try to sound nonchalant and ask, “girls did either of you see my Marilyn Monroe shirt?” I peek at them through the rear view mirror. Bari looks directly at Jennifer, which gives me my first major clue. I wait. Jennifer, right then and there deserves an Oscar. She makes me feel awful that I’ve even suggested such a thing. I make a mental note to check the dry cleaners. Maybe I forgot to pick it up.

Weeks later, while searching the bottom of my closet for a pair of boots, I discover a pink wad of fabric— my Marilyn Monroe shirt rolled up in a ball, sporting stains unidentifiable and indelible. Lunch room pizza perhaps? Kraft macaroni and cheese. Not in my diet!

I am furious. My fingers are trembling as I put the blouse on button it up, stains and all and march into the den where Bari and Jennifer are sprawled out? in a rare moment? sharing a bean bag chair, watching TV. Seeing me, Bari gasps. Covering her mouth, she flies up the stairs, leaving me face to face with Jennifer, who begins throwing out apologies as fast as curve balls. But it is too late. There were two crimes here, first the lack of respect for my personal property and second, the deceit.

My youngest daughter takes her punishment well, although she campaigns for me to PU-LEASE! reduce the amount of her telephone-less days. She doesn’t mind having to clean up the kitchen after dinner. Somehow, she manages to employ the aide of her older vanilla sister, who had witnessed her mischief and urged her to come clean. All the time promising that she’d never, ever tell?reminding me of the way they had been?and could be again. And then:

Some weeks later, on a windy, rainy morning the two flavors miss the school bus. Okay, I’ll drive them on my way to the train station. Sure, I’ll pick-up Wendy, too. She’s Jennifer’s best friend who lives down the block. At a traffic light, I glance at Wendy noticing how pretty she’s become. Is that lipstick she’s wearing? And boy, that aqua sweatshirt she has on, sure looks familiar. “Wendy,” I ask, in an improbable non-intimidating voice, “Is that my shirt you’ve got on?”

A shivering silence holds my answer.