i remember

Narcissister, the performance artist making her film debut with the forthcoming Narcissister Organ Player, shares memories of her mother.

i remember being afraid to lose her. this had built to distinct anxiety by the time i was in my mid twenties.

i remember seeing her stretching her hamstrings naked with dad in their room in the back of house and i saw from the back her white tampon string hanging out.

i remember the story of the vagina shape on their closet door.

i remember her clearing her throat and putting on a formal voice to call the school when i needed to stay home sick from school.

i remember delicious home made food: pizzas, french tarts, whole wheat bread, salads, guacamole, pizza bread, lasagnas, puff pastry fruit desserts, tomato meat sauce with cinnamon and we could make it even with frozen beef, flank steak, fish from el pescador, i still remember the sweet taste of runny egg on toast for breakfast, fruit cobblers with fresh creme, beautiful trays of watermelon, kiwi, cherries, jello with fruit floating in it. i remember finding her hair in the food sometimes, baked into the bread. i remember helping her in the kitchen, grating hunks of cheese, creating the pizzas, lasagnas and pies, rolling phyllo carefully brushed with butter we melted in a small orange metal pot, punching the dough that had risen, pulling dried oregano off the stock. bernard made salad dressing. i remember her asking me to tie her hair back while her hands were covered with dough.

i remember her bringing several freshly baked pizzas on her big silver round pans with foil on them to the deli close to the mall with the idea that they might sell her pizza slices. and i remember when she said she went to pick up the pans they didn’t say anything about the pizza. do i remember her feeling hurt/defeated? was there a pang of feeling sorry for her, of feeling embarrassed for her, of feeling responsible for buffering her “hardships”?

i remember during one period when she was sick she had a friend over and she asked me to put a beverage in her cup in the fridge with foil on it. for whatever reason i started puncturing the taut foil with a knife. i liked the feeling of it, how the knife cut the foil so easily. i remember she and her friend were disturbed that i had done it and asked me what it meant, how i was feeling.

i remember dad pulling her bandages off after she had had a surgery and how dramatic and emotional she was about how painful it was.

i remember her burping a lot and loudly.

i remember the rough (awkward?) way she would wipe herself after peeing and the gold bracelet on her wrist as she wiped.

i remember when i got caught stealing at the market in la jolla shores. did she say she also stole stuff as a child? was she embarrassed/angry at me? what did she say?

i remember her being a bit grumpy (when we would pick the strawberries out of her morning fruit salads, when i vomited on the couch, when i would wake her up in the night with my insomnia, when driving, when people would stop by the house unexpectedly) but always kind underneath.

i remember her always encouraging my artist life — “it’s good to be bored” and saying it’s legitimate and wonderful for me to see my girl scout leader’s face in my fingernail, showing me interesting things like her braids that she cut when she was pregnant with me and had stored in a clear plastic ziplock bag, showing me her old clothes that she used to be able to fit into, getting me a toy sewing machine and then encouraging me to use hers.

i remember her saying that she thought i told her from the womb to cut her braids and also to start eating healthy food herself before i was born and to prepare fresh healthy food for me, a child.

i remember my parents fighting and dark scenes where me and bernard got involved. i also remember that they were very social with regular dinner parties at our house and other houses, beach picnics, game gatherings, etc.

i remember her new age ways — dancing next door at grandma helen’s house, doing weird stuff with margaret frith. i remember her macrobiotic phase with brown rice and wheat grass (bernard would drink it too).

i remember her sliding down the wall by the phone crying to a crumpled seated position when she was on the phone hearing news that her mom had died.

i remember she liked to put her hand with her gold bracelet from morocco under my shirt and rub my chest with sweet, kind affection.

i remember her singing bedtime prayers in french “mon dieu, conservez-moi …” and “the lord is my shepherd i shall not want” and in hebrew too and scratching my back with her nice long nails.

i remember brushing her hair and how she said when she had her first heart surgery there was a very nice nurse who would come brush her hair for her.

i remember sitting with her when she was reading and that she would give me a book and ask me to find certain words and let me write in the margins and always say i had found just the perfect one.

i remember her making liver for dinner and serving it on green plastic plates.

i remember her being sensitive to the sun and always sitting in the shade and wearing hats.

i remember that she would pick me up from gymnastics and always bring a snack of cheese sandwich.

i remember she would always leave us handwritten notes on the stool in the kitchen letting us know where she was or she and dad were.

i remember when we would go camping she would look at our caca and say “nice pancake!”

i remember the portraits of her from tangier, how they were in the musty, tall cabinet by the phone and i would pull them out and marvel at them, “wow, that’s my mom!” and she would smile and say yes, they were taken in high school by a fancy photo place, studio de france, in tangiers. i just couldn’t believe that was her, she was just as beautiful as the blonde la jolla girls, just as beautiful as the marilyn monroe poster on my wall. i remember her telling me later how fake and fabricated marilyn monroe’s beauty was and what an unhappy life she had had.

i remember her taking us to places to eat — el pescador, jeff’s burgers, the cafe in the department store (red jello with fresh creme puff on top). was there something about all these outings with us that spoke to her loneliness, her exclusivity (were other kids, friends invited?)? do i remember her being melancholy? crying? did i feel her clinging in my childhood? did i rebel against this more while bernard was her “mama’s boy?”

i remember caryn/kathy winters and the pink purse and big key ring and deposit slips she would give me, i remember being very curious about sex and the body as a child and keeping it to myself. (i remember finding their joy of sex book and — climbing high to the top shelf to find it — and her diaphragm in a drawer and her old bras and panties and bead necklaces and various pouches and things that smelled like incense.)

i remember getting homesick as a child and she and dad would come pick me up in the night. i remember seeing the international scout arriving, the only car in the night, from the top of the hill at lynn’s house.

i remember the heathy lunches she would pack for me that i felt ashamed of.

i remember going browsing in the bookstore on prospect st after dinner at alfonso. i remember going to the unicorn and getting the popcorn there. i remember being easily scared by films. i remember getting very hungry waiting for a table at carino’s pizza outside.

i remember seeing the cartoon image of me drawn at a school event in black marker on white paper and running around showing everyone. i saw i was pretty for the first time.

i remember her combing and smoothing dad’s afro with the afro pic.

i remember dad’s loud nightmares in the night and her waking him up and comforting him.

i remember her waking us up and saying “it’s time to go to the beach!” and spending all day there with packed snacks and breaks at jeff’s burgers, and lots of playtime.

i remember her encouraging me to plagiarize for one of my homework assignments and the teacher calling us in.

i remember one of the family stories she repeated was that she dressed me as a tomboy when i was a child as a feminist statement, put me in my brother’s old clothes, and at one point i told her, “mom, i want dresses and hair bows!” another story was that i was very eager to get out of my playpen and would lift my leg up like a gymnast and climb out.

my childhood nickname was izou.

i remember when i came home from my teenage abortion, it was easy to hide from her that i was late, she seemed distracted and irritated and was in the kitchen, there was a baked chicken with soy sauce and potatoes on the counter.

i remember my mom’s over-involvement with me and my life (that i could clearly see and feel) happening around the time i met james, my high school boyfriend who was 9 years older than me.

i remember she said when she and dad went to europe when we were babies and left us in L.A. with grandma helen. when she came back i cried and cried, clinging to her leg saying mama don’t leave me again! and she remembered this and was surprised at my reaction.

i remember she said i was a quiet baby with big black eyes and i would just watch everything around me.

i remember the 1974 song “sister golden hair” playing in our car (with dad solo?) at the beach parking lot. was that when mom and dad were separated? i remember liking the song.

in elementary school, i think i remember being embarrassed by my mom and dad and our car during drop-off/pick-up from school

i was encouraged to do sports (softball, gymnastics), play piano and flute (horribly shamed during group practice), join girl scouts, take art classes at ucsd, etc. did bernard do a lot of activities too? was this my escape?

my mom had theories about everything, why my brother was gay, why my dad was wounded, why I was susceptible to vaginal infections.

one of my earliest memories with my mom was outside our house on poole st. we were on the brick walkway under the pepper tree at the top of the stairs. she was wearing peach-colored denim bell bottom pants that had a peach-colored denim braid running up the outside seam as decoration. i remember reaching up to grab her thigh and feeling the denim fabric and the braid. i remember she and my dad were talking about money. she seemed stressed. i said something like: “are we poor, mama?” and she said “no, things are just tight right now.” i remember being struck by the use of the word “tight” in this context.

i remember my mom told me that when she got pregnant with me her doctor told her to consider aborting me because he felt she was too weak, she was still recovering from her heart surgery and undoubtedly because she already had one child to take care of. i remember she said my dad agreed with the doctor that it would be too much stress on her system. but she told me that she was so clear about keeping me, that she was strong enough and we would both be fine and that she had an easy pregnancy.

i remember i could always figure out how my mom could assist me with my projects in a way that was physically possible for her. for example one day she was with me at my studio and i was working on a video project. i figured out that something she could do to take part was to sit in a chair next to me and gently kick this little music maker with her foot while i was filming. i remember i had to keep reminding her not to comment on the process while i was filming. it’s tender to remember how hard this was for her and some of her enjoyment was captured in the video.

Narcissister is a Brooklyn-based artist and performer. Wearing mask and merkin, she works at the intersection of performance, dance, art, and activism in a range of media including film, video art, and experimental music. She actively integrates her prior experience as a professional dancer and commercial artist with her art practice in a range of media including photography, video art, and experimental music. Her first feature film, Narcissister Organ Player, premiered at Sundance and SXSW in 2018 and starts its theatrical release through Film Movement on November 7 at Film Forum in New York City. She has presented work worldwide at festivals, nightclubs, museums, and galleries. Her art video Vaseline won “Best Use of a Sex Toy” at The Good Vibrations Erotic Film Festival. She received a Bessie Award nomination for the theatrical performance of Organ Player and 2015 Creative Capital and United States Artists Awards. Interested in troubling the popular entertainment and experimental art divide, she appeared on America’s Got Talent. In collaboration with playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, she is a Sundance Theatre Lab 2018 Fellow for the development of a new evening length performance commissioned by the Soho Rep in New York that will premiere in 2019. (Image by Ava Porter.)