She's gone. In a blaze of independence and exhaust, her dirty little navy blue Ford Focus, smelling of In-n-Out Burger, smoked Marlboros and something else without name but so evocative of youth and the spirit that powers it, Cory pulled away from the curb this afternoon to drive back to S.F.
We just got back from Pennsylvania yesterday morning - the Thanksgiving visit was a disjointed affair, as I was staying with Mom and Cory stayed with Sis and her family. (Cory braved it out the first night and the last night on the couch in Mom's studio, the only sleeping arrangement at her house available. Mom's male pug, Inky, has doused the thing so repeatedly he has earned the moniker and tagline: "The Urinator - I'll Be Back"; luckily Cory is not a martyr and chose instead to stay at Peg's for most of the time.
On the plane ride out, Cory and I discussed nine million things; she'd come home several days prior to our heading off to PA, but she'd been visiting with friends most of that time. She's anguishing, well, sort of, over her major. She's not afraid of much, this kid, but she is concerned that she not end up like some of her friends who find themselves seniors after having revised their major two, three, four times and still not feelin' it. The work I've done in these last eight years enables me to lay a bit of "go with it" spirituality on her. Go with it, trust yourself, don't stress, know that you've got a path, listen to the still small voice, if you don't hear it, trust you will at some point, you're right where you should be, you're learning to fly, it takes practice, sometimes you gotta hit the ground a few times.
Of course, this is the moment her eyes light up. I think, ahh! I got through to her! What a wonderful thing it is to be a mother and to actually hit it right once in a while!
But, no. Her eyes are dancing as a result of my stupid, stupid, stupid metaphor about learning to fly.
"Oh, did I tell you, Mom? I'm going skydiving next semester!"
My mouth goes completely devoid of saliva.
It isn't bad enough she's going to Thailand next summer to "Shoot down rapids on a bamboo raft! Scale sheer limestone cliffs! Kayak on incoming tides through completely pitch-black caves! Explore jungles and come face to face with tigers!"
Now she has to leap out of a plane with nothing but a piece of fabric to stand between her and certain death.
"That's ... nice, Peep." I manage, as I fight my eyes rolling back in my head, and wipe flecks of froth from the corners of my mouth, "Just remember, you're my only child. Okay?"
"Oh God, Mom. It's totally fine. You'll see."
We got off that subject and onto one of the other nine million, but of course, I pencilled in three AM for future worry about skydiving. I also resolved to look up statistics once I got Internet connectivity.
Soon, I would wonder if that was necessary. My mom and her boyfriend Nick, both on the brink of eighty, picked Cory and me up from the airport and, with Nick at the wheel of his Buick Le Sabre, Cory and I both exchanged many meaningful "If this is how it has to end, I want you to know I love you" looks.
"Wait a minute - THAT way Nick!"
(SWERVE ACROSS FOUR LANES TO THE RIGHT.)
"But - no, no, Alice - that's DELAWARE!!"
(SWERVE ACROSS FOUR LANES TO THE LEFT.)
Lather, and, as they say, rinse and repeat. About five times before we actually pulled into Mom's driveway. It was a nippy 38 degrees, but my bangs were plastered to my forehead. 'Nuff said.
Then, there was Thanksgiving night. At the table, we all talked about what we were thankful for, and then dug into a meal that was surprisingly good, given Thanksgiving's nasty reputation for debacle. She had threatened to try cooking the bird from midnight the night before, but had decided against it. Something else to be thankful for. We laughed about our new Thanksgiving tradition, which was the fact that I only watch "Survivor" once a year - with Cory on Thanksgiving night.
And then, just after dinner, after Peggy and Desi and Cory and I cleaned up the mess, Mom lightly mentions that we are expected to go visit Nick's brother Jimmy. That night. In Upper Darby. Which is about 45 minutes away. All plans for watching Survivor are expected to be scrubbed in favor of this new plan. Thing is, if I mention that I have this prior commitment with my daughter, WWIII can, and most likely will, erupt. As much as I love her, I still - inexplicably - seem to have the power to set Mom off.
My sister, seeing my lamentable state, basically falls on the grenade. "I'll go with you. But let's take my car so we can leave when we want," she sensibly decrees, "You go get directions."
But it's not that simple. Nick, nice guy that he is, points out that he's afraid we might get lost no matter how intricately he may direct us. Sitting at his side, my mother nods knowingly. Peggy comes up the stairs; ever the solution seeker, she suggests that we then follow their car.
"Oh we don't want you wasting all that gas! It would be better if we all go in one car," puts in my mother, with a nod of agreement from her boyfriend. Well, it looks like we're going to go visit this poor fellow who's been left all alone on Thanksgiving, and we won't have the opportunity to gossip in the car on the way there and back.
Cory and Desi, my fifteen year old niece, stay behind, wise children that they are. How they got off the hook, I'm not sure. All I know is, Peggy and I are on the hook, and we're both so miserable, sitting in the front seat of Peg's car, with Mom and Nick in the back, we can't even make convincing small talk. So we ride in silence.
We finally got to our destination. Nick was right; if you'd held a gun to my head and asked how to get there, I would be a dead woman. Actually, though, I would be a happy dead woman, because I wouldn't have had to listen to a stuffed cartoon character that plays "Grandpa Got Run Over By A Reindeer" over and over and over for a solid hour because the lonely man we were visiting had a houseful of relatives, one of which was an obnoxious three-year-old who couldn't stop pushing the button on this diabolical toy. I literally exchanged three sentences with the man who up 'til then had been known only as Jimmy, the poor abandoned soul. (He incidentally seemed to be one of the happiest people on Earth. But I guess that's just because he was so glad I had finally come to visit him.)
Anyway, Cory and I got home yesterday and within an hour of our return, she was out the door to go see friends. She came back around noon to stuff clothes and books and random shit into her dufflebag and then pile herself, along with a bag of snacks and sandwiches I packed for her, into her car and hit the road.
The house is quiet now. And I find myself thinking about that skydiving thing, again. But I have to hold my own feet to the fire on this one. The truth is, when I was younger, I always talked about skydiving. I was the first one in my family to leave home - move 3000 miles away and make a life far from the family. And there were lots of things I did that scared the bejesus out of my mother. Truth be told, I got a certain kick out of freaking her out. Guess it was payback for all the times, as I listened to her and my father engage in guerilla warfare, that I felt my own world endangered. One of my thrillrides was going to be skydiving. But I didn't get around to it and one day, I realized it was no longer an option. Because I had Cory. You make sacrifices for others, whether it's not jumping out of an airplane because it might orphan your kid. Or staying in a crummy marriage in the '70s when divorce really was anathema. Or you volunteer to go somewhere for the sake of your sister's sanity (Thanks, Peg).
I never did plummet through the air to what might have been my last moments on Earth.
Still, I did raise my daughter to live her life. To live it to the fullest extent possible. She's out there on the road tonight. Driving from here to San Francisco. To where she lives now. And I'm so proud of her, I could burst. She's an amazing young woman who hasn't yet figured out what or who she's going to be. But in the meantime, she's learning to fly.