My father doesn’t really do facial hair. But there he is in his wedding photo with a mustache. A nice one, too, the color of September though it was only June, fading gold, a final bronze punctuation mark. He is wearing a white tuxedo, and I don’t have the picture in front of me but I swear there are ruffles in there somewhere. Maybe on my mom’s wrists. They, the two of them, look like a perfect match. Two eyes, two ears, one nose each. Hair like fine wool. I never had hair like that.
She is thin. Arms bowing in blithe symmetry, hands meeting at the navel clasping a shock of white roses. She glints like a piece of quartz. She is absolutely real right then—this picture more de facto, more present than my most recent memory of her. Her face is the face under her face. A face I’ve never seen.
These are not my parents, of course. They are protagonists in the story of me. They eat coconut ice cream and lie about for hours and read novels. They motor around in old cars and hike mountains and wash each other’s hair and cook together, tossing ingredients across the kitchen, leaving the dishes until morning. They play frisbee, argue about politics, curse loudly and laugh louder. They stop to help strangers on the side of the road. They have dirt under their fingernails but they smell clean and raw like limes or fields of alfalfa. They know people. They have friends in Mexico and Canada. Sometimes people will visit and stay for weeks. My parents just smile and pull fresh linens out of the closet in the hall. Downstairs there is an open window where a cool breeze hurries in and tangos past the pot belly stove, up the stairs to the loft where they sleep gracefully on a mattress on a worn oak floor.
They are professionals, actors or models, posing for pictures while my real parents are getting dressed in the bathroom. My mom is sweating, her make-up is starting to cake up and she is dabbing her face with toilet paper. My dad is in his undershirt, bent over the sink with a safety razor, scratching at the hair under his nose, shaving off that mustache at the last possible moment, right before the music begins to play and the guests file in and the world is born and practice is over.