Lovers & Latchkeys: Tales From a Greenwich Village Girlhood

Seahorse Anything

THAT was what she wanted for Christmas or her birthday: seahorse anything, in copper, silver or pewter. And they were everywhere! Earrings, pins, an ashtray with a seahorse motif. If it existed, I tracked it down, new or used, bent or slightly chipped, it didn’t matter. The motif was esoteric enough that trips to Woolworth’s never proved very productive, but the Salvation Army and various church or symphony thrift shops often proved fertile hunting ground.

My mother knew not to wear too much jewelry, and so even the clunky copper seahorse earrings looked elegant, dangling above a black scoop-necked leotard top and a long, batik-patterned skirt, her hair pulled back from her face.

“When your face is candy-box pretty, you have to be careful not to overdo it,” she’d say, looking in the mirror, and that puzzled me, because I would have been thrilled to be pretty that way instead of cursed with ears that stuck out perpendicular to my head like England’s Prince Charles, or Alfred E. Neuman of MAD magazine fame. At eleven, all I wanted in the world was to be able to pull my thick dirty-blonde hair back into a ponytail without being called Donkey Ears by every boy in the sixth grade.

And lo, one day my wish was granted, and I was waking up from general anesthesia after having surgical “tucks” made in the ears I’d been born with, sadly lacking the correct wrinkles and folds. I have no idea how much this plastic surgery cost my father in 1956, but it was the answer to years of desperate hoping. My parents, long-divorced, had managed to agree on this major event and both were at my side when I came to in a world of nauseatingly white curtains.

The ponytail became a standard look for me, it grew ever longer and thicker, but life stayed pretty much the same. Boys were not throwing themselves at my feet. Then I read somewhere that the male seahorse hatches its young, and afterwards stays around to babysit.

So that’s why she liked them so much! It wasn’t the delicate equine face, the gently curving tail. It was because the male stayed around and played with the kids—that was, indeed, her wildest and most glamorous fantasy, never to be realized.

Well, my ponytail and I would do better. Anyone could do better, really. I stopped looking for seahorses one year, and she never asked why.