my fantasies as a child were no different than yours. perhaps you were jealous of my solitude, but that did not matter to me. i did not have to share my toys, my books, my bedroom, my mother with anyone and although you might imagine that would make me a selfish person, it has not.
it is possible that i am better equipped to be alone, that my ability to manage on my own far exceeds that of someone with brothers, sisters, a father, and a mother. it is also possible that i am at turns gregarious, charming, shy, aloof (not necessarily as opposite as one might think, although a coolness does run through those social skills.)
these perfume bottles were my toy soldiers. i never thought how unusual it might have been that my mother had collected these bottles in the 30s and 40s and then carted them around in an old red velvet-lined silverware box. (what happened to the silver was never a topic of conversation.) i would line them up on the linoleum in the kitchen or in my bedroom; the short squat ones with the black lids the front line of defence, the thinner and taller ones making the important decisions, guarding the flanks.
the battle would stop when a bottle fell over, a quiet ceremony of picking it up, unscrewing, uncorking its cap, the left-over scent of a long-ago perfume imagined (or was it real? maybe a bit of both.) as i grew older i would try to discern the words on the labels, “mr. poulter of new york”, “divine”, “honeysuckle”, paris, london, rome, avon. each a symbol of something grander, of something more mysterious (my mother; they are mysteries to their young boys, these mothers who control your life. you know they are different, but you are unsure of what that difference is. you throw yourself into their arms in fear, in love, in fun and bury your head in their lap, their breast. your thin arms stretched around their hips, their waist for protection and reassurance.)
i’ve never thought of photographing them before today. and now that i have i think i can let them go; each wrapped in toilet paper and laid into the red velvet-lined silverware box with its faux leather exterior (a warm camel color) and bakelite black handle; soldiers buried, wars won, medals pinned to chests, conquests of foreign lands (the chenille rug, the hassock, the child’s rocking chair) remembered.
*i never had real toy soldiers; i used what was available to play my boy games. nurture or nature or fate? (all of them.)