Loco Parentis: The Long Goodbye
I turn off my Cold Case rerun and carry my glass of merlot upstairs to my office.
I boot my computer, log onto my e-mail, find the document she’s sent, open it, and begin to read:
“In Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, she neither pities women as victims of male-dominated society, nor blames the individual man fully for his position as dominator. Rather, she examines the complex forces behind our society’s dualities of ‘natural’ versus ‘other’ and ‘dominant’ versus ‘submissive’ in relation to man and woman historically, and in the context of her time.”
I’ve been proofreading Marcy’s papers for years, all through high school and her freshman year at college. They’ve been well written, well researched, pretty much grammatically correct — but they were written by a girl I knew. This paper — it goes on to apply de Beauvoir’s theories to the characters in Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place, which happens to have been published in 1956, the year that I was born — was written by someone I don’t recognize at all. I pore through it in astonishment: Where did this come from? Whose brain thought this up?
I’m used to Marcy spouting ideas that spring out of what we’ve been through together — the town we live in, the elementary school she went to, the friends she made in Girl Scouts and playing lacrosse. Suddenly I find that other people, utter strangers to me, have been putting notions into her head — Simone de Beauvoir, and a crazy music-theory professor, and the widow she lived with during her semester in Mexico, and her roommate Susan, who grew up on a farm in Kenya. I’m no longer in charge of the show. In fact, I barely play a cameo role.
She has a new boyfriend. He is, once again, Latino. I haven’t met him yet. She’s being cagey this time around, which makes me think he must be highly inappropriate. I’ve only seen him once, through an open door in his red sports car. The windows are tinted black; my daughter vanishes when she steps inside.
She’s come to that stretch in life where I’m an embarrassment, a reminder that she used to come home crying when her lacrosse coach yelled at her, and loved wearing Aéropostale clothes. Other people, abruptly, are wiser than I am. She can be new with them, her own creation, free-falling just like Jake in Italy.
I guess I realized on some level, all along, that this loomed in the distance. But knowing something doesn’t make it easier to face. I give myself stern talking-to’s: Remember that kid from high school who still lives with his mom? Do you want them to wind up like that?
Well, yeah. A little bit, I do.
The midnight call from Marcy is unusual, I realize as I read through her paper. She doesn’t need me as much these days, is handing off less of her strife. My children are becoming themselves. They’re less knowable to me, but the surprises they reveal are like a Christmas gift you don’t realize you want until you open the box.