As it turned out, all of our mothers had goodie drawers.
Our discoveries revealed lacy, frilly contraptions outfitted with not a small number of straps, clasps, and snaps; soft cylindrical apparatuses with compartments for double-A batteries; plastic bottles of what looked like Dippity-do hair gel. Later, we would know these items by their proper names and what they were meant to summon: merry widows, vibrators, Tutti Frutti Motion Lotion. But because we happened upon these items when we were eleven, maybe twelve, we were on our own to make sense of these secreted collections, which rendered our mothers mysterious and complex—frightening and enthralling at once.
Most of these curiosities were found in the bottom drawers of one of the nightstands that flanked our parents’ beds. Some of the getups were cutesy and cherubic, like shrunken First Communion frocks. Their proper names, once we learned what they were, left us disappointed, because they robbed our mothers of their strange and sudden power: teddies, babydolls, anything ending in a Franglais ette. Infantalize to tantalize, Meredith would say when we were much older, planning her costume for Halloween. Other items seemed downright dangerous, things that should be kept out of reach of children: toys and garments that were red, shiny, or embellished with a flame stitch. With webbing or binding. Some to be worn, others to lather on, it seemed. Things that were supposed to fit, somewhere.
And because we’d never seen these particular items on our mothers’ persons, we gleaned that none were meant for the light of day. We envisioned our mothers transforming not superhero-like in telephone booths but in the secret, soundproof spaces of our homes to which they removed themselves—the guest room, on a phone call with Aunt Jill; in the garden, a drink in hand, to deadhead the daisies at dusk; on the back porch with a cigarette after we’d gone to bed, the smoke rising past our bedroom windows. We’d imagine our mothers emerging from the dark, glittering and extravagantly adorned, but equipped to do what? Those of us who’d already snuck behind the cafeteria’s dumpsters at recess with Brett Schneider or Peter McLaughlin knew, we just didn’t know-know, and we didn’t really want those suspicions confirmed. And our immediate response was always, gross.
Which didn’t make these finds any less thrilling. Layered in crinkled tissue paper was what Becca’s mother referred to as her bridal peignoir. Although Becca had first fingered its fine silk and Chantilly lace years before, it wasn’t until one afternoon at Marshall Field’s, while shuffling through racks of similar numbers spaghetti-strapped to plastic hangers, that she learned what a peignoir was, hangers clacking away as her mother breathlessly offered suggestions: This one for the honeymoon, don’t you think? (I wanted to die, she had told us later). Holly, meanwhile, had found fur-trimmed handcuffs; Naomi, red polka-dot panties without a crotch. There were VHS tapes without labels. Fishnet stockings. Gossamer robes trimmed with marabou. On afternoons when our mothers were gone, we’d sneak upstairs and with one index finger looped around the drawer’s brass handle quietly pull it open while listening carefully for the garage door’s rumble, for the jangle of keys. We were careful to remember the precise position and arrangement of each specimen. Then we’d strip off our school uniforms and pull on the stockings. Or drape the see-through robes over our shoulders. And then we’d turn to the mirror over the vanity and stare at our bodies, ornamented and more peculiar than ever. Altered, we recognized ourselves—something else we never could have imagined.
The most curious of these novelties belonged to Lindsey’s mother. Lindsey’s birthday was the upcoming weekend; she’d been snooping around her parents’ bedroom for any peeks at packages or shopping bags. And initially, that’s what she thought she’d found—a blush-colored cardboard box illustrated with flourishes and filigrees, brambly vines and peacock feathers— looking like the cover of one of her beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett paperbacks. But this was no special edition of The Secret Garden, though a fairy-tale font spelled out An Enchanted Evening, there, in small print: A Beautiful Game for a Couple to Share.
When her mother had left on the night of Lindsey’s slumber party, Lindsey brought An Enchanted Evening down to the basement’s rec room, where we were listening to her mother’s old records and taking turns plunging hands into a big bag of Ruffles.