Drawing, slowly, I caress her face as I never did in life, feeling the bones under her fine thin skin. Her birth, 100 years ago, give or take a few; Armenia, Alexandria: implausible route to another birth, the body known like my own.
My mother-in-law's birthday was yesterday, May 8, and I wanted to spend my drawing time with her. Originally I had thought of drawing a still life based on some of her things, or things that remind me of her, but then I looked at some of my husband's beautiful photographs of his beautiful mother, and decided, instead, to try a portrait.
While doing this drawing, I studied her face as I never had in real life, and afterward, I realized I had learned it in a new way. Later, in bed, I looked closely at my husband. What are you doing? he asked. Comparing your face to hers, I said. And there's not much resemblance, really. No, he said, I think I look like her father, my grandfather. Yes, I said, a combination of his face and your own father's, but narrower.
Curiously, both my mother-in-law and father-in-law had those deep set hollows in their cheeks.
She was a wonderful person; I miss her. Because she was a refugee from Armenia as a young girl, there was no birth certificate, and she insisted that she never knew exactly how old she was. But she would have been about a hundred yesterday. I miss her loving presence in our life; her laughter when delighted that made her face look like a little girl; I miss her love of fine handicrafts and color and flowers, her commitment to peace, her intelligence, her fierce caring for her family. And I miss her cooking: the taboulleh and kibbeh and yogurt soups, and especially her sambousek made for all birthday celebrations except her own. She's been gone for about twelve years; I'm glad we were fortunate enough to have her with us for so long.
Tomorrow: further explorations of a face.