Photograph by guest arts editor, Peter Ahn.
You can read about the art selection process for this piece here.
My daughter texts me.
She is in love, a deep and sharp love she has nurtured for three-and-a-half years. It is a love I imagine adorns her library of journals, the older ones bursting with the marks of a high school girl: felt-tip word art, genital-red lips clipped from magazines and strategically placed, angst-riddled poetry, youthful infatuation with adulthood, the secrets of this love’s emergence.
Standing in her abandoned room, I suspect her new journals are filled with the musings of a lyrical college student, bold declarations of fickle intent, brilliant moments of insight, the spatter of salty sorrow. But the old ones, they are everywhere. Packed into shopping bags, buried in the closet under piles of gotta-have-now-yet-only-once-worn clothes. They fill yard-sale valises hidden under the bed amid erstwhile treasures. They are secreted behind rows of Shel Silverstein, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, Louise Rennison, Francesca Lia Block, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Augustin Burroughs, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho—the latter books, recommended by the object of my daughter’s love.
He is the high school teacher who had thrilled her with his attentions, who’d touched her heart and her mind. He touched her like she had never been touched before and sent her spirit soaring into an epiphany of self, a miracle of validation. This high school teacher then touched my daughter’s hand, the small of her back, her soul.
My daughter is in love, a deep and sharp love she has nurtured for three-and-a-half years, a love she feared I could not understand—how she felt, how she feels, how he makes her feel. How she has experienced things for which she has not yet learned the words, this love she has harbored, never shared with me. Until now.
Now, she wants me to be joyful for her, with her, to celebrate the consummation of three-and-a-half years of longing, a longing finally fulfilled. She wants me to accept this love, this love I thought was forsaken.
She says if I love her, I won’t judge her. If I love her, I’ll honor her choice. If I love her, I will love him. The married high school teacher who once touched my daughter and lost his job. Who lied to his wife about an insanely obsessed student. Who, found out by a missent text, has stepped up to proclaim his eternal love for my daughter.
What is a mother to do? Be joyful? Celebrate the coupling of my daughter and this man? How can she ask?
But why wouldn’t she? We adore one another. We curl together through favorite films, scooping Nutella with a shared spoon, recounting stories saved especially for each other, contemplating a more equitable future and laughing at our savored moments until we cry. She texts me when a hot TA winks at her dark beauty, when she first gets high, when a professor acknowledges her brilliance, when she receives a bad grade or a good one, when a friend needs guidance, when she manages to turn her rich brown spirals straight, when she sees the sorrow or the hilarity or the wisdom or the delight in life, when she wants me to help her see it. Why wouldn’t I do for her now what I’ve always done before?
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” she whispers, tracing his name in her arm.
And if I love her, I won’t judge her. If I love her, I’ll honor her choice. If I love her, I will love him.
“I want to come home,” she texts. “And I want to bring him.”
She wants me to love him, and I want him to be trapped by a wide truck in a narrow alley, splattering his parts across the shit-smeared walls, flinging his flattened phallus into the stinking bowels of a dumpster. He deserves it. He deserves the horrors of Bosch’s Hell for his grotesque violation of my daughter, for the conflict that fills her heart as it threatens to quarter her. He owes me my anger, my foul-mouthed rage.
But this I cannot say to my daughter, who wants me close, who wants me to understand what I don’t. She cannot grasp the schisms this love has bred, the impossibility of her request. She cannot grasp that I can’t love the monster. I want to wrap myself around her, help her see the irreconcilability of her happiness and her wounds.
But this is no good either, because she already sees. She sees her dripping guilt. She needs no reminder. She just needs me, without critique and conditions. She needs to survive this love that is slowly draining her, to survive this man who now sits in my living room, this intruder who has defiled her with his liquid black eyes, his graceful fingers, the ancient line of his profile, the Trickster.
Yes, he sits in my living room, my daughter across the coffee table, and I, in the wing chair. We are a scalene triangle. He sits on the edge of the loveseat, hugging throw-pillow armor, reading nonjudgmental book titles instead of my face, reciting his electronic apology delivered to my inbox just days before. He trembles through his litany of sins, his plea for atonement, his abject surrender.
Surrender to what? My benevolence, my compassion, my rage?
No, to his hope of embrace, his fear of solitude, his assumption of maternal grace.
The recital done, he sits in my living room, asking the book bindings what I have heard lately about healthcare reform, about real antiques and fakes, about climate change, about anti-abortion obstructionism, about the day’s weather.
Because he believes he loves my daughter, he sits in my living room, scrutinized by family portraits, his stomach roiling and shrieking in pain, unable to look at me, unable to look at my daughter.
And when he has expended his distractions, he sits in my living room, silently begging for acceptance—on political grounds, because he has managed to face me, on the basis of his desperate quest to please, to find some common ground we can safely tread together, because of the nice weather. He succumbs to the anguished lust for approval that renders him flaccid and sucks his gonads inward and squeezes his misery to the brims of his eyes.
I feel for him. I feel for him as I watch my daughter watch me, noting every hint of my contempt. No matter that I allowed him into my home, she wants proof that he is truly welcome, that he is forgiven, that she can let go the fear of condemnation and find peace between us. She wants me to answer his plea as I would were it hers. But while I feel for him, I hate him. I hate him, while I escape to the kitchen and make a cup of chamomile tea to settle his tummy, while I return to the living room and explain the challenges to healthcare reform, while I deride reproductive justice deniers, while I talk with him about the weather.
I do this, because I love my daughter. Because I love her, I will honor her choice. Because I love her, I will try to love him. Because I love her, I will do anything, anything to insinuate myself between my daughter and her penance.
And I succeed. I think I do. I help them move in together, have them over for dinner, accept his Facebook friendship, buy him shirts and socks at the holidays, encourage his career choices, feed his visiting father, never tell my daughter how this feels, and we talk about the weather.
We survive, the probability of a storm always on our lips, but we survive.
And then one night, he dismisses her with a text.
With a fucking text.
* * *
Now, some years later, my daughter and I curl together with a favorite film, scooping Nutella with a shared spoon, recounting stories saved especially for each other, contemplating a more equitable future, laughing at our savored moments until we cry. We rub aloe into scars, long healed, while we giggle about the new recipient of her love, and she writes in her journal of the sweetly silly gift he gave her the other day, the clever way he said a certain mundane thing.