She doesn’t want to do anything but be angry, but once again I find myself helplessly … stupidly … making offers, my voice rising in optimistic suggestion at the end of every bit of querying hope. How about the zoo? Or a museum? Want to go somewhere for lunch? The library — do you have books to return? It’s sunny out — we could go for a hike? A bicycle ride? Which of your friends are in town – maybe call one of them and get something arranged? I need some socks – want to go shopping? There’s a new art exhibit downtown if you’re interested? Or we could just hang out here and read? Play a game? Want me to check if there’s an afternoon concert down by the waterfront? Want me to make you some tea? Hey, see if a friend of yours wants to go to that trampoline place? Or rock climbing? You want to take the dogs for a walk? How about a movie? Want to find a recipe and make something new for dinner? Want to help me paint the hallway? Do laundry? Oh I know … how about we go to the bookstore and hang out for a few hours? I don’t spit out these suggestions all at once, but over the course of an increasingly hostile morning; her response to everything I offer is an irritated and incredulous version of no. I don’t know why I keep talking; I hate myself for accepting responsibility for the failure of her day.
She says, “If Daddy had left his car home, I could drive somewhere.”
“I suggested that to you yesterday. I suggested you ask Daddy to trade cars with me for the day so you could drive.”
She shrugs. “I didn’t want to yesterday.”
“So where would you go if you could drive?”
“Nowhere. There’s no point in wanting to go anywhere if I can’t.”
“How about you take this time to learn how to drive my car? It’s really not so hard to drive a stick-shift. I can teach you.”
I resolve to stop talking. “Want to help me hang the new birdfeeder?” I hear myself say.
I take a deep breath. “This is stupid, just like it’s always stupid. Figure out what you want to do with your day and let me know.” I wave a hand as she starts to object. “Or do nothing … nothing is a perfectly good choice. I’m just done trying to guess what it is you want.”
She is aghast. “I don’t want to just do nothing. I have this whole day off, and I don’t want to waste it doing nothing.”
I grab a few tennis balls and call the dogs. “I’ll be in the back yard for a while. If you figure out what you want to do, let me know.” The dogs are bouncy and elated at this unexpected development, and I am horrified to feel my eyes welling up with tears. I turn my back to my daughter, embarrassed and overwhelmed at how grateful I am to the dogs for wanting me so unabashedly in this moment.
“Seriously, Mom?” I think for an instant she has noticed and is commenting on the ridiculousness of my emotion, but no, she’s just angry I’m walking away. I close the door on her question.
By the time she emerges from the house, the dogs are exhausted, tongues lolling out, flecks of spittle caught in the whiskers of their chins. She is wearing her gym shoes like slippers, her heels crushing the backs of the shoes into ruin, so I know before she speaks she is only here to voice objection. I am not wrong. She stares off into the trees and says, “How long are you going to be out here?”
I throw the tennis ball to the opposite end of the yard. “Why? Do you need something?”
“If I’m going somewhere, I need you to take me.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. I need you to help me think of what I want to do.”
I shake my head. “Just play back all the suggestions I made earlier and choose one. Or think of something else.”
She is furious. “Why won’t you help me?”
One of the dogs drops the tennis ball at my feet and I throw it again. “I’ll probably be out here for another half-hour or so.”
“So you’re just going to waste my day?”
I walk to turn on the hose, fill the dog dish with water. “You are driving me insane. I hope you appreciate that fact, because when you look back on this day, when people ask you what you did with your day, you will be able to say that you drove me insane. Well done.”
She doesn’t answer me. Instead she yells at the dogs, “Why does she always know what you fools want? Why is she always trying to make you happy?” The dogs stare at her in puzzlement and then dip their heads to drink the water sloppily, their tails wagging. She turns to me and repeats the question, “Seriously, why are you always trying to make them happy?”
“I am always trying to make you happy as well.”
She glares at me. “I am not happy.”
“I didn’t say it worked.”
She stomps up the steps onto the deck. “I don’t want to just sit here all day. I want to do something that is not here.”
“Walk out the front door and start making choices about where to place your feet and if you accumulate enough of those choices about the next-step-taken, before you know it, you’ll be somewhere other than here doing something that is not here.”
“Seriously? Your advice is that I run away from home?”
“Take your phone. Text me when you’re done being adventurous, and I’ll come pick you up.”
“Why don’t you just drive me to the place I am going?”
“Where are you going?”
“See? You need to practice making the tiny decisions that over time accumulate into the truth of larger choices.”
“You make no sense.”
And she slams the door.
She is 16. She’ll be 17 in a few months. I was her age 33 years ago.
I remember walking away. From everything and everyone. From myself and everything that had thus far gone into making me. From anguish. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but only on the outside. One foot in front of the other until blocks turned to miles. To the Greyhound bus station, with its dull curved plastic seats in a row. Listening to the announcements of destinations and arrivals. Watching people come and go. Pretending I was in the midst of a journey, molding my body to the not-quite-comfort of going nowhere. Not enough money for a ticket, and no destination even if the ride were to somehow start.
The change in my pocket enough to claim a bit of bolted-down transience … I fit the quarters in the slots, pressed the money forward into escape.
The screen on the small round-cube television attached to the side of the burnt-orange plastic chair flickered black and white and gray … a 30-minute offering of elsewhere against a laugh-track as alien to me as moonscape.
One Day at a Time
And then home.
I sigh and walk into the house, where I find her slumped against the kitchen counter, her head in her hands.
“What do you want from me?”