There's More Than One Way to Lose a Child—And Get Her Back
Last night at around 2 a.m. she was perched on the corduroy couch writing in her notebook to the sound of Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations in a continuous loop on her Walkman. "Aren't you tired?" I asked. A vigorous shake of her head, a cease-and-desist hand gesture, while the other hand, the one with the pen in it, scuttled faster across the page. Stinging rudeness. I hesitated in the living room doorway, watching her ignore me: her almond-shaped Galician eyes, her hair that doesn't grow from her head so much as shoot out of it in a wild amber burst, her hunger for language, for words. Bach, Shakespeare, the bubbling hieroglyph of her journals…
I leave the apartment and head downstairs, five flights through a series of paint-gobbed halls that haven't been mopped since anyone in the building can remember. Independence Day weekend. The Village feels like a hotel whose most demanding guests have departed. I walk toward the coffee shop on Greenwich Avenue where Sally likes to hang out in the morning, then almost collide with her as she rounds our corner. She seems flushed, annoyed, and when I routinely ask her what her plans are, she turns on me with a strangely violent look that catches me off guard.
"If you knew what was going through my mind, you wouldn't ask that question. But you don't have a clue. You don't know anything about me. Do you, Father?"
She rears back her sandaled foot and kicks a nearby garbage can with such force its metal lid clangs to the ground. A neighbor from across the street raises his eyebrows as if to say, "What have we here?" Sally doesn't seem to notice him or care. There's something oddly kinetic about her presence, though she's standing still, staring at me, her fists clenched at her side. Her heart-shaped face is so vivid it alarms me. When she goes to kick the can again, I place a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
Irritably, she shakes me off.
"Do I frighten you, Father?"
"Why would you frighten me?"
"You look afraid."
She bites her lip so hard the blood goes out of it. Her arms are trembling. Why is she acting this way? And why does she keep calling me Father in this pressured, phony voice as if delivering stage lines she has learned?
I ask her if she's okay.
"Are you sure? Because you seem pretty tense. You haven't been sleeping, and I've hardly seen you eat all week."
"Maybe you should take it easy tonight, lay off the Shakespeare for a while."
She presses her lips together in an explosive clench and gives a shuddering nod.
The next day, Sally has the dazed look of someone who has just crawled out of a car wreck. She is shivering, not as one who is cold might shiver, but with a bristling inner quake of her being. And she is talking, or rather pushing words from her mouth the way a shopkeeper pushes dust out the door of her shop with a broom. People are waiting for her, she says, people who depend on her, at the Sunshine Café, holy place of light, she can't disappoint them, she must go to them now…
She makes a run at the door.