“A Memory of Make-Believe”

Written by Rebecca Selma Cohen, in 2004.

I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I had heard about her, and I had even seen her picture before. She looked pretty; she wore makeup and smiled so that her teeth showed. I knew that she had two daughters who were much older than me, and that she lived alone in New York. I knew that my dad was very fond of her.

Before she arrived, there were preparations to be made. The piles of newspapers that usually covered the counters were thrown away, and fresh flowers were put on a table in their place. Thirteen years later, I can still see the sun beaming into the kitchen. I can almost feel the anticipation building up inside of me, making me nervous and fidgety. I didn’t know if she’d like me, or if I’d like her for that matter. I hoped that she was everything that my dad had said she would be.

“Oh, you must be Rebecca! And hello, Seth.” I knew what her name was, but wasn’t about to say it. Normally, I was outgoing and maybe a little bit too talkative, but at this moment I was quiet and reserved. I just looked up at her, and nodded my head as if to say yes. I didn’t want to get too excited – not yet. After all, she was a stranger to me.

“I’m Jane,” she said with energy. Later, I would practice writing her name over and over again on the dry-erase board on the refrigerator. I spelled out J-A-I-N in big bold letters, but erased it before anyone managed to see it. Jane rhymes with rain, and I think I told her that.

She knew a lot about me. I realized then and there that my father enjoyed my company and shared stories about me with other people. She knew that pink was my favorite color, and that I loved Barbie dolls… things that almost every 5 year-old girl enjoys. But while most adults might continue a conversation by saying how old I was, or how cute I was, she had a different approach.

“Do you like monkeys?” she asked. Sure, I liked monkeys. I had seen photographs of monkeys accompanying articles in the “National Geographic” and had even seen one at the zoo. Jane slowly began to scratch her head. “HEE… HEE… WHO… WHO… HEE… HEE…,” she started. There, in front of me, a grown woman dressed in jeans and a sweater, had transformed herself into a tree-climbing, banana-eating monkey. My eyes grew larger, and my brother stepped back a bit. I joined in; I began to raise my arms and scratch my head. Within seconds, a jungle surrounded us. Chairs had become trees, and a telephone had been transformed into a banana. I laughed so hard that I started to tear up.

Never before had an adult treated me with so much attention. Jane had, herself, become a child once again. She was able to get down on the ground and play make-believe, something that I didn’t realize “big people” knew how to do. She remembered what it was like to be little, and she understood what was truly fun.

Jane gave me two tangible gifts that day – a mug with my name on it, and a tape recorder. Recording on the tape later that day, I described the mug that I was given: “it’s all pink with hearts on it… and my name, Rebecca. Seth got one too,” I say, “but his is just blue and has his name. Mine is better.” This cassette is one of the few concrete things that I have preserved from when I was five years old.

The tape recorder broke long ago, and I don’t know what happened to the small, pink plastic, girly mug. I still have the tape, though, and I listen to it fairly regularly. And I still have Jane, my monkey friend, role model, and stepmother.