January 26, 2012 —
Some people experience emotion more deeply than others. When our daughter was four, she would often collapse in a fit of discomfort because her socks didn’t “feel right.” I’m happy to report that, as a college senior, she has the sock issue under control. But a slant word of criticism from an older brother can still send her reeling with self-doubt.
On the eve of her last semester of college, we sat together in the living-room and she shared her thoughts with me. She was excited about her classes; having finished her major, she had only an honors thesis paper to complete. That left her free to take some music courses and a humanities course on “The Sixties” with a favorite professor. Listening to her talk, it was easy to feel good about giving this child a college education.
But she also expressed her sadness leaving home “for the last time,” as she put it. She meant, I know, that this would be the last time as a dependent child. To me, it sounded strange. “This will always be your home,” I reminded her. But I knew what she meant. She wants to reward our support with independence, but the world is very big and our family life has been cozy for a long time.
We talked for a while before it was time to get going. I worried, as I always do, about her safety driving back to school. I cleaned her windshield and put a bottle of Windex beside her on the floor of the Subaru. The used car we bought to replace the old minivan was to be her graduation present. On the way home for this break, it had blown its head gasket. We replaced the engine to the tune of a good down payment on a new car. But I had forgotten to get the wiper blades replaced at the same time, and I worried about the slush kicking up from the trucks on the thruway. After a dry December, snow had appeared the night before she left.
I’ve never been a good authoritarian as a parent. I’m too indulgent, too understanding. I make suggestions but I rarely lay down the law. Sometimes, after my sound advice has been ignored, I declare myself “Cassandra”—the Greek whose dire predictions went unheeded.
I had suggested that she get on the road a day early to beat the snow but she had people to see, things to do. As it was, I insisted she wait until the snow stopped falling before she left. My husband and I, on our way upstate for a much-needed retreat without family, left the city at the same time. We took the same route as our daughter and stopped for gas at the same station. We got to say good-bye again and she gave me the keys she had forgotten to leave behind. I hugged her tight and didn’t chide her for her choice of road-snack. (“Too indulgent.”)
On the Palisades Parkway, traffic slowed ahead of her. She moved into the passing lane and suddenly felt the wheel move under her hands. Within seconds that felt like minutes, the car spun around and hit the guardrail on the right, spun back into the Parkway and came to rest on the opposite guardrail facing into traffic.
When we arrived at the scene minutes later, she was standing next to her car, so tall and strong and beautiful. I gasped at the sight of her, knowing well it could have been otherwise, so grateful to see her again.