“So, what’s new with Anna?” asked my neighbor Frank, after our human comet had fizzed back to college following fall break.
“She was around just long enough to put her foot through the garage ceiling,” I deadpanned.
“Oh, my Lord,” said Frank. Of Irish extraction, he may have wondered if I’d caught the blarney bug. But it was true. While Anna was home, once more availing herself of Tara’s hearth, I had the notion she might be open to a new experience: retrieving her overnight bag from our eyrie herself instead of dispatching moi for it.
“We have an attic?” queried the scholar, a resident of this house for nearly eight years, before ascending the pull-down ladder. Standing below, I watched her disappear into the dark space, using her iPhone as a flashlight. Seconds later there was a crash and a shower of drywall as one of Anna’s legs appeared through the ceiling: She’d stepped off the planking. “Omigod!” she yelped. “My life just passed before me!”
As, indeed, had mine, I thought later while sweeping up shards of plaster. The incident had passed in the blink of an eye, with no one injured and little chance of Anna falling between the studs. Yet I’d felt a tremor and now, an aftershock of cold fear pass through me. The very brevity of the moment had intensified it.
I remembered a teenager I’d lived next to as a kid plummeting seventy feet from a ledge in a park while horsing around with friends. He’d survived, but, in the days before Velcro casts, had spent the ensuing summer sitting on a chaise in his yard encased in plaster like an albino mummy.
“It’s the unexpected crap that gets you,” I reflected.
Not that I suddenly felt panicky about Anna’s safety in the big wide world. That would be rich, given that I’ve always encouraged her to pilot by her own astrolabe. Even Marsha, with her Sikorsky tendencies, has learned to hover at a higher altitude now that her onetime “baby girlfriend” is beyond the radius of her chopper blades. (Though, as Anna will quickly attest, Marsha’s tendency to creep on her via smartphone could use additional extirpation.)
Nevertheless, I did feel that something had changed in me toward Anna. Being apart from her had created perspective. I’d become more solicitous toward her now that she was away.
Despite the raft of cherished moments we three experienced during Anna’s last two years of high school, we were constantly at odds, she exhibiting normal teen desire to spread her wings and Marsha and I both wanting and dreading it. At one point actual fisticuffs broke out between mother and daughter in the kitchen, an event I still look upon “with a wild surmise” in memory. Not that it amounted to anything: Appropriately, neither party “connected.”
Those days are over, thankfully, though the transition was a different kind of hell at first. (Rumor has it that Anna’s giant stuffed penguin made its way into my bed her first week away, and only my half-nelson prevented Marsha from becoming one of those parents who send care packages every week or drive four hours to campus to confront a troublesome roommate.) Frayed stalemates have been replaced by concern unsullied by the daily drag of, say, unheeded requests to do household chores.
Interestingly, aggravations like that have become somewhat endearing on Anna’s brief sojourns home. It’s good to know that part of her still needs direction. Conversely, they also keep Marsha and me from sliding into sentimentality and wanting the “Asian Sensation” to stick around longer.
We can afford only so many garage ceiling repairs.