An Evening Drive
She’s 14 now, a turbulent age. Everyone had warned us. There will be times when she’s still your little girl, they said. And there will be other times when she lashes out with such fury, you will wonder where everything had gone wrong. Everyone warned us, and we believed them. We had planning sessions about the future, talks about patience and openness and firmness when needed.
We were ready.
We weren’t ready.
Athletes will tell you that in their first professional game, everything moves impossibly fast, there is no possible way to prepare for the speed and fury and violence of it all.
We were ready.
We weren’t ready.
She walks into the car. It is night time, and I’m picking her up from an activity, and she is happy. She used to always be happy. Now it's a 50-50 proposition. She shows me a picture she wants to post on Instagram of her and a friend. She asks if it’s OK. I tell her it’s OK. I don’t know if it’s OK; I’m trying hard to keep up with the rules. She is happy.
We sit in the car, and we are stuck at a red light because of the indecision of the car in front of us. I growl at this car. She laughs and growls too. I remember when she was a baby, she would make these funny growling sounds. We once took her to a spring training baseball game in Florida, and it was unseasonably cold, and we had her bundled up in this baby blanket. Every now and again, from the blanket, there would be a loud, “Rahhhhrrrrrrr,” and people in the few rows in front of us would look back to see who or what was making that sound.
The light turns green. We talk about nothing. It is pleasing for a moment not to be asking her about school or homework or friends and pleasing for her for a moment not to be talking about any of it. The air is cool, perfect, and the windows are cracked and “Video Kills the Radio Star” plays on the radio. “I like this song,” she said. I tell her that years ago I did lists with friends Tommy and Chuck of our favorite hundred songs, and this was on it.
“Would it be now?” she asks.
She’s in a curious mood. She used to be curious all the time. "Tell me a story of when you were a little boy," she would say. She does not say that much now. Curiosity for a teenager is a sign of vulnerability, a too-eager admission that there are things she doesn’t know. I remember that feeling. She yells sometimes, “I don’t need your help!” I remember that. She yells, “Get away from me! You don’t understand!” I remember that. She yells, "It doesn't matter, I'm going to fail anyway." I remember that most of all.
She has little interest in remembering. For her, the clock moves forward, and she wants to look forward -- so much out there. In a year, she will be in high school. In two years she will be able to drive. In three years she will start looking hard at colleges. In four years she will be a senior in high school. Forward. Always forward.
And I look back. Always back. I am carrying her, her tiny head on my shoulder, and I'm singing “Here Comes the Sun,” trying to get her to fall asleep. I am walking with her through the gift shop at Harry Potter World as she hopelessly goes back and forth between wanting a stuffed owl or a Gryffindor bag. I am helping her with math back when the math was easy enough I could figure the answers in my head. I am watching, “Princess Bride” with her the first time, and in her squeaky voice I hear her tweet, “Have fun storming the castle!”
“Hey Dad,” she says, “Can I have your phone? Can I play some music?”
“Sure,” I say, and I give her the phone. She punches a few buttons easily -- this technology comes second nature to her generation. They don’t need instructions. They just know.
The song begins and immediately I know. It’s her favorite song.
I once knew a girl
In the years of my youth
With eyes like the summer
All beauty and truth
In the morning I fled
Left a note and it read
Someday. You will. Be Loved.
I introduced her to this song a while ago. "What kind of music would I like?" she had asked. "Why don't we try some Death Cab for Cutie?" I said. She was smitten. She is smitten now. She sings along to every word. I do too.
You may feel alone when you’re falling asleep
And every time tears roll down your cheeks
But I know your heart, belongs to someone you’ve yet to meet.
Someday. You will. Be loved.
She looks up at me and smiles. Her teeth are straight; the braces are gone. She leans closer to me and says, “Don’t you love this song Daddy?” I hear her say "Daddy," and think back to a time when she raced over to me at the airport after I returned and hugged and wouldn't let go. She's 14 now, a turbulent age. Tomorrow, she may look right through me. But now, in the coolness of the evening, she smiles at me, and holds my hand, and we sing with Death Cab for Cutie. We are off key. We are off key together.