I wish I could tell you that she behaved after that. I know her mother prayed and bargained with God that she would finally settle down, fold her hands in her lap, and grow roots where she was planted.
But she just couldn’t stay put. The morning after her mother picked her up from the police station she woke up limp, quiet, compliant. She showered until her fingers were wrinkled, then dressed herself in a white sundress and brushed the knots out of her tangled wet hair. When she went downstairs her mother was at the kitchen table, turning a chipped white mug of coffee around in circles and wiping up crumbs with a tightly folded paper towel. When she sensed her daughter approaching she looked up, took in the dark rings underneath her eyes and how small her limbs were underneath the sundress. Her girl, her sweet small baby.
“There’s food, if you’re hungry. Yogurt and fruit or toast. Shall I put more coffee on?” The words felt garbled and forced when they came out; it’s hard to be nonchalant after a night like they had.
“Coffee would be nice, Mom, thanks…” She started rooting in the canvas tote bag she used for a purse, digging and shaking the contents around. “Ah, there they are…Do you, do you mind if I smoke in the courtyard? I can go to the garage if it bothers you.”
Of course it bothered her. It bothered her that her eighteen year old daughter was smoking and drinking. It bothered her that her daughter was small for her age, that her eyes were too big in her face and she wore too much makeup and it made her skin break out. It bothered her that she had failed to keep her daughter safe and happy. Because isn’t that what every parent wished for from the moment they’re handed their baby for the first time? Let them always be safe, happy, and loved. The “loved” part was a given. She loved her daughter fiercely.
“I don’t mind. Go ahead…I’ll make you a pot of coffee before I take my shower and leave for work. Any hot water left?”
“I dunno…don’t worry about the coffee, Mom, I can make it.”
She could feel her daughter’s relief spilling over the room when she mentioned going to work. Maybe she should stay home today, call in sick and say she’d explain later. She worked with a group of women her age who understood the magnetic pull of obligations of home. But she knew her daughter needed to be alone for a while, to watch awful reality television and bury herself in blankets on the couch.
“Okay…and we can talk more about last night when I get home, if you want to. I should be home before five…”
Her daughter’s voice was quiet, fainter and more ethereal than usual. She was fading away and it hurt. Her daughter’s rocky start to adulthood had left her feeling weak-kneed and ancient. Suddenly she wanted to make an appointment to have her hair bleached, she wanted to take a lover, she wanted to drain her bank account recklessly. Maybe if she joined her daughter on whatever murky path she was on they might be able to stay friends for a little while longer.