"I'm your father and mother," my mother would say when I was quite small. It made me cross because of course, I as a snarky five-year old would think, she was only my mother.
She dropped me off at a birthday party in Silverlake, admiring some very modern houses on the way, houses very different than our bungalow in Hollywood on a street where cars drove too quickly to leave it and there really was a stranger offering candy to children. I leaped out of her car into a happy house with its father sitting in a comfy chair with a cacophony of little girls, an entire first grade class. I handed off the present my mother had wrapped and noted that in the hierarchy of size and beautifully wrapped presents, it was small and the ribbon was tired.
The bow on my dress was generous and my black patent Mary Janes were shining, white lace ankle socks were clean and the memory of the baby powder sprinkled carefully into my shoe my mother remained. The father held up a book and twenty scattered girls flopped at his feet in unison, as we'd learned to do at school. I shut my eyes while he read, wondering again why I didn't have a father and a little angry at my mother.
My mother had told me stories that didn't make sense to a five-year old, that she'd loved my father so much that she'd torn up all his photos. She held my hand at an amusement park as she instructed the sketch artist on the details of my father. When it was done, she looked at it and remarked that my dark hair was very much like his. I liked that much more than the vague sketch of a father.
She sent me to private school, drove me to ballet three times a week and made my costumes, she found an upright piano and a teacher, she kept me home from school for an entire morning to make me learn the multiplication tables. She and I played dress-up and glided through the small house with books on our head. She let me wear her cherry red lipstick pretending not to notice that I'd taken it, again, from her purse. She clapped too loudly at recitals and spelling bees and unlike my classmates, she sat alone.
It was hard and would get harder for her as she struggled with secrets and mental illness. As her world fell apart, she kept my tutus hung carefully and smiled at me when I came home from school.
I miss her. My mother who was both mother and father.