“Let’s stop at Sephora and get some perfume samples,” says my mom, taking my arm as we stroll down the sunny warm sidewalks of Omaha’s Village Point Shopping Center. It is the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the middle of the year in the middle of the country. We have just finished a lunch of cafe salads and mango iced tea, which is all we set out to do when we left her house in Lincoln late this morning.
“They’re always so nice about giving you samples,” she says. I think I must have learned this from my mother–this shared tendency to become overly excited at the offer of free samples, the prospect of getting something without really working for it.
“Sure,” I say. “That’d be fine.”
We walk into the shiny black-and-white palace of beauty products, bypassing row after row of cosmetics and heading straight for the wall of perfumes. I spray a few of the little white tester strips and fan them in front of my nose–floral and fruity, musky and powdered. I don’t wear perfume often. I’m more of a body-spray person right now. But here I am with the offer of a free sample. I will not turn it down.
It is my last afternoon with my parents for the summer. After a full month of visiting family and friends in the midwest, attending sundry “life events” including the birth of a baby and the marriage of my sister, I am returning to California, which is the reason my parents and I came all the way to Omaha to have lunch. (Flights from Omaha being better and cheaper). My newlywed sister and her husband pulled out of my parents’ driveway three days ago. My brother and his family headed out this morning. Now there is just me.
“I’ve had such a good time with you, Olive,” says my mom, who continues to call me by this nickname derived from the long gangly arms I had as a teenager. She looks a little wistful as she picks up a jewel-shaped bottle filled with thin pink liquid and spritzes it into the air. Maybe she is sad to see me go. Maybe it is just the perfume stinging her eyes.
I feel sorry for my parents whenever our family disbands. I know it is difficult that we live so far away–they in Nebraska, my brother in Milwaukee, my sister in Las Vegas, and now me in San Francisco. It is hard for them to strap their grandchildren into car seats, knowing how quickly those little people will grow. It is strange for them to send my sister away with a man who now shares her home and her bed, as well as her life. But I think it is hardest for them to watch me, suitcase in hand as I roll my way through security and wait patiently for a window seat, which is easy to claim when you are a family of one.
“Let’s pick out a new fragrance together,” my mom says. “Something for this new chapter in your life.” I smile at her thoughtfulness with an internal smirk toward her enthusiasm. There have been so many chapters in this life I have lived, some shorter than others, and I know why she is ready for a new one. Because this past chapter has been grueling. Not dull or tedious or boring, just hard and long and refining. I am ready for a new one as well.
“Ok,” I say. “That sounds nice.”
She picks up a tall thin bottle with a purple satin rose that reminds me of the 80’s. She reads the label and then whispers to me, “This one.”
It is Tresor’s Midnight Rose.
“You know, the eleventh hour, just before midnight, is a very significant time, Amanda. That is where you are right now. This past year I have seen so much beauty and kindness and grace blossom in your life, like God is opening your petals. You are the midnight rose that no one sees blooming, but you are beautiful even in the darkness.”
My eyes begin to tear up. And it is not because of the perfume in the air. It is because something she says resonates deeply in my spirit, a spirit that knows she has grown, but wonders if anyone will really see her for who she is now. If she will even be able to see herself in this way.
My mom takes the bottle to the Sephora lady, and as the black-smocked girl prepares our samples I wonder where I will be and what I will be doing when I wear mine. I wonder how long it will last. I wonder when morning will come.