Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Day the Perfume Bottles Danced

Last night I saw Ainsley playing with the little bottles and tubes and jars of little-girl lotions and potions she keeps on her dresser. She told me they were a family and that she had named them; her Johnson's 24-hour moisture lotion, with her tallness and curves, was the mom; the fingernail polish, lip gloss, deodorant, and body glitter were her kids with names like "Brittney" (that was the body glitter, natch) and "Evan."

This sounds weird, I know. But it wasn't weird at all to me; I did the same thing when I was little.

I think it's because both Ainsley and I were/are the only young children in our houses, and had/have very active imaginations. She is populating her room with imaginary characters because she doesn't have to share it with any real ones. I also think we both have the storytelling gene; we like to invent little dramas out of the ordinary and everyday.

My mom, a certified cosmetic addict, had a dresser full of lotion, makeup, and perfume that I used almost every day as a small child to act out a grand soap opera. I've always been a fan of ongoing storylines. Because I was an early watcher of Guiding Light and As the World Turns, my literal soap opera had my dad's aftershave cheating on his lovely wife Jean Nate with the elegant young tube of Avon red lipstick. Perfume and body spray bottles that didn't at all look like each other were discovered to be long-lost sisters, and the eccentric old vixen was a bottle of foundation that was emotionally and physically half-empty.

When Mom completely used up one of her cosmetics and needed to throw away the empty bottle, it was quite an ordeal. It was like I'd lost a member of the family. Mom would roll her eyes as I staged an epic funeral for Mrs. Secret, who had lived a long life and was loved by everyone...but did anyone really know her? Only after the rest of the cast had said their goodbyes could she be thrown away, to be replaced by...(duh duh DUH) ...newcomer Feelin' Fresh, who was going to raise a little hell. You could just tell by her shape and the intoxicating way her aroma filled the room.

Once, as a 4-year-old who should have known better, I got so mad at one of my villains that I had another character throw her across the room and break her. God bless my parents; I was not an easy child to live with.

Things came to a dramatic conclusion, though, on July 27, 1980.

I was six years old. It was a hot, summer Sunday, and Mom had just called me in the house to cool off and to have a late lunch. Dad had the Reds game on, so I headed back to direct the latest episode of As the Noxzema Turns.

No sooner had I rounded the corner into the master bedroom and positioned myself in front of Mom's dresser and its huge mirror did the scene descend into chaos. I heard a loud clap, like thunder, and suddenly the little glass bottles began to dance, moved my a violent unseen force.

I can still see my little skinny bowl-haircutted reflection in the mirror as it, too, began to shake. All of my actors began to jump and move towards me, those closest tumbling off the edge of the dresser as if trying to escape doom by jumping off a cliff.

I ran.

"Mom, mom, there's a ghost in your room! There's a ghost in your room!" I'd seen enough horror movies to know that ghosts moved things when they wanted to scare the shite of out of the living.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth the gallon of milk Mom has placed on the counter suddenly pitched into the middle of the kitchen floor.

"It's not a ghost, it's the damn washing machine." Mom ran over to our washer, which got out of balance and shook the kitchen regularly. But I knew better; no washing machine in the world could have caused what I had just seen in her bedroom.

Things got eerily quiet. Mom realized the washer wasn't out of balance about the time I noticed that I couldn't hear any birds chirping outside or the TV in the living room; the screen had suddenly gone dark. The three of us looked at each other for a split second, all three of us feeling a sense of doom.

See? I wanted to say. Told ya we have a ghost!

Then life started up again. And by that, I mean the Reds game came back on. But we all three heard the announcer say that those of us watching in Cincinnati had probably just felt a tremor, and to stay tuned for more details.

Turns out a 5.1 quake with an epicenter just southeast of us was what had rocked our world. Not a ghost, not an out-of-balance washing machine. A real-life honest-to-goodness bit of drama had presented itself to my little theater of beauty products.

The rest of the day we were, if you'll pardon the pun, shaken up a bit. There were reports of minor damage across northern Kentucky, but all Dad's inspection found was a lot of spilled milk, a loose mirror above Mom's dresser, and some seriously misplaced perfume bottles. Later most of the neighbors gathered outside to swap stories of what they were doing when the ground started shaking.

"Cranky thought it was a ghost," Dad told them, and all the adults laughed and took another sip of their PBRs. I made eye contact with my best friend from across the street, and we didn't laugh; we both knew that things moving of their own accord is not hilarious when you're 6 and alone in a bedroom.

I could never quite handle being alone with my cast and crew making up scenes after that. I knew it had "only" been a minor and rare earthquake, but the horror I felt at seeing inanimate objects suddenly become animated was lingering. It's one thing to imagine a perfume bottle engaging in dialogue with a lipstick in my mind's eye; it's another thing altogether to see these things come to life and march toward you as if getting revenge for years worth of bad storylines and uneven plotting.

At 8, I don't imagine Ainsley's stories with Brittney and Evan and the rest will last too long, anyway. For all I know last night's play was an isolated incident brought on by boredom and her having a bit of an upset stomach and nothing better to do.

At any rate, I hope her cast never quite comes to life for her like mine did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I'm telling you... I look forward to your posts.