There have been 10 summer goodbyes since that first Briar Haven drop off.
The last nine didn’t matter much.
This one: It’s a syrupy July night — morning, technically, close to 2 a.m.. It’s just Mary and me, driving along in the 2009 Rav4 that makes concerning sounds when I brake; a thumpda-dump-dump beat that’s actually kind of catchy.
And if I attempt to turn the wheel at speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour the car lets out a sort of SQUEEEEEEEYA kind of thing that really can’t be so bad or it would have killed us by now.
Also there’s the backseat passenger window glass. It’s missing. Because I smashed it with a hammer. To save a kitten. Swear to God.
In all, I did do a decent job taping a bag over the open window, but after a couple of hundred miles it’s battering around like a Weather Channel newscaster’s raincoat. Thus, the overall effect is sort of an exciting, folksy trio. Ffffft-ffft-fft! goes the plastic; thumpda-dump,dump goes the brakes; SQUEEEEEEEYA goes the suspension.
“How are you going to manage this summer?” Mary blurts.
Most of life, it seems to me, is revealed in the blurts. The last-question-of-the-meeting reveals; the one-last-thing we think of that we realize was everything all along.
“If you hadn’t spent this much money on me, the other two could have gone to camp.”
The other two — her thirteen- and ten-year-old sisters — are waiting for me at my brother’s, where we have been staying for two weeks already.
“I don’t think it’s right for me to leave when there’s no plan,” she says.
There is a plan. The plan is that it is going to suck. Her sisters and I are going to spend the summer broke and bored and hoping for better things to come.
I pull to the curbside check-in, start grabbing handles and tossing bags.
A favorite memory: the pre-dawn drop-off for Mary’s seventh grade D.C. trip. All the other girls wheeling gigantic matched luggage sets to be stacked like teetering bricks in the belly of the charter bus.
Mary watching in perplexed fascination, a single backpack hanging from her slouched shoulders.
A really small backpack. Like, toothbrush-and-underpants kind of situation.
Tonight, she is next to a pyramid of luggage, all her own, looking small and perplexed again.
It’s a little refreshing. She is, after all, sixteen, and has spent the last few years telling me how the world works.
“Well,” I say.
“What?” she says.
“Have a good summer.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“That’s your airline,” I gesture. “Just, take all this crap over there and hand them your passport and your boarding pass.”
“This is a joke.”
“It’s 2 a.m.. It’s Logan-freaking-airport.”
“I am feeling increasing confidence in your situational awareness.”
She cannot know how much I love her face. It bears the echoes of all the Marys of our past — the milksweet newborn, the perpetually-consternated toddler, the adolescent, the dancer, the debater, the crier, the yeller. The one who still gets the giggles at bedtime.
This Mary — beautiful and outraged, her purse slung awkwardly cross-body, an unfortunate smattering of acne on her chin — this one, I am saying goodbye to.
God willing, my daughter will come home to me. But it will be a new Mary.
This one is leaving forever.
I kiss her cheek, like I did the night we met. I inhale against her skin, my cells and blood and bone calling to hers.
“I need you to go,” I tell her. “I need you to get to be a kid again.”
And a real, full adult, with a life of her own.
She squeaks, kind of like she did the night we met.
Back in the car, I ugly-cry. Making the trio a quartet: “Ffffft-ffft-fft!; thumpa-dump,dump; SQUEEEEEEEYAAAA!!! —- HEEEEEEEEEEWAAAAAAAH.”
2:32 a.m. text
Mary: One of my bags weighs too much.
Me: Hm. What’s the plan?
Mary: I’m gonna move stuff around.
Mary: (Dunks coffee cup)
Me: Tap back thumbs up.
Mary: I am so fucking bored.
Me: I was so fucking asleep.
Mary: You can stay awake, it’s your fault I’m here alone.
Mary: Wheels up.
Me: Hey, I know you’re probably pretty distracted moving around, could you just drop me a line as soon as you can, so I don’t freak out?
Me: You should have WiFi on the plane? Right?
Me: Heeeey … looks like it’s about 2:15 p.m. your time. You should have landed in Tokyo an hour ago. How’s it going?
Me: Sweet Jesus, Mary please answer me.
Mary: Don’t fret, mother. I didn’t buy WiFi on the plane, it was too expensive. I’m not in Tokyo, I’m on the train from Osaka. I should be in Kyoto by dinner.
Me: Darling. Love. When traveling overseas, it is wildly important to check in with one’s mother.
“I’m currently very lost in the woods but on the bright side I found a hidden samurai graveyard! How cool is that?!”
Mary Schwarzer, summit of Mt. Fuji. August 12, 2019
Dad got her first.
Ren and Eden and I spent a long and listless summer, broke and bored in an AirBnb in Hancock, Mass.
Dad and Gran brought us out to Colorado Springs in August. Mary, coming from the reverse direction across the globe, beat us there by two days. She introduced him and Gran to Ben & Jerrys Half Baked ice cream; they introduced her to chardonnay with M&M cookies.
Mary’s Mama-San had gifted her with a Yukata — a summer kimono — black, with a gorgeous autumn blossom pattern. This woman I had never met — had only exchanged a few emails with — my daughter’s Japanese Mommy, had selected and purchased this for her, along with the fiery red and orange obi wrapped snugly at Mary’s waist.
“I ironed it under a towel,” Gran said. “I think I got it right,” she pulled at the hem, straightened the obi.
Mary’s face, pretty and glowing, a spray of red silk and gold beads dangling from the ornament in her hair.
Later, Dad and I sat on our bench beneath the sky ride at the Cheyenne Mountain zoo.
We are not an affectionate people. Nor demonstrative. We’re of the stiff-upper-lip variety.
So when I say, “It’s really good to see you,” and my voice breaks, he knows. How many nights was he in the hospital? How many times did I wait for the call that this procedure or that procedure had worked… or hadn’t? How many times had I delicately said to Mary she should call Granddad tonight, because he has gotten sicker? And….
The breathing of him next to me, the faithful pumping of his heart inside his chest just as it has for every day of my life.
“She’s ready to go,” I say.
“Yup. You did a good job with her.”
“Do you know, Dad, that this class, the class of 2020 — they’re the 9/11 babies?”
“Wow,” he said, like he had no idea what I meant by that.
“9/11,” I say. “It felt like the world was going to end. Today we know it was a single day, one event. But at the time, it seemed like the beginning of a protracted and terrible fight. The beginning of the end, maybe.”
Dad nods. He doesn’t say, So, naturally, you and your husband decided to have unprotected sex, because what else would you do? — but he’s thinking it and I scowl and roll my eyes and he snickers.
Mary’s father was an active duty Marine on 9/11. In a matter of hours, our world became despair. Every atom of me wanted to cower in caution.
And so we had a child, Mary. In defiance and joy, and a promise for the future.
“There ya go,” I say, with a firm click of the “return” button. “Congratulations.”
I have just paid her deposit for college.
“Am I even going to go?” she asks.
“Go? You mean, like, physically? I have no idea,” I say. “There’s just no way to know anything right now. Certainly, the school will hold classes, you just might be taking them from here.”
“So. No prom. No graduation. No senior year. And I am going to be homeschooled in college.”
Her prom dress is gorgeous — red with beaded appliques — like her Yukata, American-ed. She’s never going to wear it.
“Do you think I can go to school by December?”
“No way to know, my love.”
Her present time of life is traditionally the time of certitude — you know what’s coming, and how great it’s going to be. It’s a nice few years.
She’s going to be denied it.
I wonder how this will impact her, how this will impact them all.