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In Fidelityby M. J. Rose
My daughter stood beyond the fieldstone fence that separated the house from the beach. From the kitchen window, Lilly's slight form was silhouetted against the sunset and the sea. In that wide-open vista she seemed vulnerable and small. Even from a distance, I could see that she was shivering.
Grabbing a jacket for her, I threw one around my own shoulders and walked out, down the sloping lawn that was not yet green because spring had not quite arrived, and out to the edge of the property. It was the last weekend of March and the harsh winds blew against my face. Waves broke wildly against the shore. The sea air smelled briny: seaweed and shells, crabs and mussels.
Climbing down a half-dozen stone steps, I reached Lilly's side and handed her the jacket. "It's cold out here."
When my seventeen-year-old daughter turned to me, her features were distorted by sadness and her eyes, the green-blue of the sea beyond us, were filled with unshed tears.
"Why does being in love have to hurt so much?" she asked.
I wanted to wrap my arms around her and offer sympathy, but I knew the object of her affection was the only one who could comfort her completely.
When you are young, you fall in love with love itself and do not want anything from anyone but your beloved. Later on, it takes great courage and a little bit of stupidity to fall in love and then you need all the help you can get from everyone around you.
But saying anything like that to Lilly would not give her solace. This was her first venture into that madman's paradise of emotion.
Love is a tricky disease to cure. Any therapist who predominately treats women, like I do, knows that. While men can fall hard and feel its sting, women are love's victims in a more profound way. Frankly, I was a bit tired of love. Of its vicissitudes and masks. Of its early bloom and all too easy decay. Of its fickleness and its mysteries. If I could have invented an antidote, I would have been the first one to take it. Having fallen out of love years ago, I did not plan on falling in love again. I trusted other things: the solidity of friends, the loyalty of family, each season's beauty, and the ocean's constancy.
I did not encourage or discourage my patients when it came to romance. That was not my job. But in the process of helping them put broken hearts back together, I'd lost my own faith in that elusive emotion that has inspired poets, songwriters, and painters for centuries.
"Come inside, Lilly. I'll make some coffee — no, that green tea you like so much — and we can sit by the fire."
And maybe you'll tell me what's wrong, I thought.
Lilly shrugged and the bulky lumber jacket I had thrown around her shoulders fell off. I bent to pick it up and offered it back to her. Carrying the jacket, she began to walk back to the house, and I followed her, thinking of what I might say to her.
In the kitchen I put on the kettle and shook tea leaves into a fine silver teapot that my grandmother had used as a young bride when tea parties were still popular and well-off women wore white gloves and hats and spent the afternoons, not in the office, but in each other's company. My grandmother had never made green tea in that pot. She had served English breakfast tea with lemon and cream and homemade scones or madeleines. She cared more about her family than herself, went to church each Sunday, prayed every night, and tried to teach her prayers to me, but her rituals never became my own. She knew I said the words only to appease her, and it pained her that I never shared her deep, abiding faith in the goodness of either man or God. But what proof could my grandmother offer that prayers helped — especially after my father was killed?
A long sigh of steam hissed from the logs burning in the five-foot-high fireplace as I entered the living room. Lilly was sitting on the floor. Her back was to me, and in the firelight, garnet highlights shone in her long, dark, and wild hair.
"You're too close to the fireplace. A spark could fly out," I warned her. "Remember Grandma Minnie." There was an oft-repeated family legend that when she was a young girl, my great-grandmother's hair had caught fire because she'd sat too close to the hearth. Although it was certainly a fable, I had often reminded Lilly of it, just as my mother had reminded me and her mother had reminded her.
"I'm not too close," Lilly answered without looking at me.
I put the tray of tea things and a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies down on the coffee table and poured the tea into my grandmother's fine, Limoges teacups: bone china decorated with a pattern of violets and ivy.
"Do you put lemon or sugar in green tea?" I asked.
Lilly turned and gave me a patronizing smile. "No, Mom. You don't put anything in green tea." Her tone had been more mocking than her words, as if she were saying, Don't you know anything? She was annoyed by my ignorance of a subject so important to her. I was momentarily relieved — anything to replace the forlorn expression of sadness etched on her face.
Handing her a cup and saucer, I tried not to show any solicitude. But she saw past my benign expression.
"Don't look at me like that, Mom. It's okay that I'm upset. It means that I'm alive."
"I don't want a Zen lecture, Lilly. I want to know what's the matter. Why are you upset?"
Reluctantly she started to speak, then stopped. She took a sip of tea and started again. "Why bother? Anything I say about Cooper will be held against him."
Since meeting Cooper Davis, who was immersed in the philosophy and study of Zen Buddhism, Lilly often spouted aphorisms intended to confound me. Interest in religion is healthy, but obsession is not: especially for impressionable teenagers who don't have the intellectual tools to protect themselves from dogma and cultism.
"At least Grandma understands what I'm talking about," Lilly would throw back at me when I objected to her Zen absorption. It didn't help my arguments that my own mother was involved in a myriad of Eastern philosophies and New Age disciplines and had been since my father's death.
My mother was notoriously eccentric and off-center. Although I didn't want her to influence Lilly too much, neither did I want to interfere in their relationship. I wanted Lilly to have that same kinship with her grandmother that I'd had with mine.
"It's my fault your mother is so much better at taking than giving," my grandmother had once said to me. "Being the last child and the only girl, I let everyone spoil her and now she's very selfish, isn't she?"
But she wasn't selfish with Lilly. And watching them together or hearing snatches of their long-distance conversations, I was beginning to like my mother more. As much she had not been there for me when I was an adolescent, she was now there for Lilly.
More steam escaped from the burning logs, and I leaned back, sinking into the chintz-covered couch, gazing around the cluttered room that my grandmother had decorated over sixty years ago. It took some effort, but I did not pressure Lilly to tell me what was wrong; instead I waited patiently, focusing on the china cachepot on the coffee table. My grandmother had always kept lilies of the valley in it this time of year. Forced flowers brought in from the conservatory. Even though the pot was empty, I could recall the fragrance of those fragile bell-shaped flowers. Shutting my eyes for a moment, I saw my grandmother: finely dressed, pearls encircling her neck, a stack of diamond-and-platinum wedding bands glittering on her ring finger.
She wore five thin bands, each different. One was a simple channel-set band made of square-cut diamonds, which had been her wedding band and I had chosen to be my wedding band when Robert and I got married. Each of the other four were to celebrate the birth of my grandmother's children. Some held round diamonds, others baguettes; altogether they stacked one on top of the other as a testament to my grandmother's sentimentality. I had never seen her without them, until finally old age and arthritis forced her to take them off and she had given them all to me. And because they were hers, when Robert and I separated, I chose not to take them off. In my mind, they ceased to be connected to my marriage and became my grandmother's bequest.
In my life, whenever I had been confused or distraught, I had returned to my grandmother in her hundred-year-old house, perched on a tiny peninsula of land jutting out into the Long Island Sound on the Connecticut side, and found instant comfort with her among the familiar furniture and smells — it was coming home.
My grandmother was as solid and constant as her house and I still missed her.
There were others I missed too: my father, who had died when I was nineteen; the man my estranged husband had been before he betrayed me; and my mother, who — though still alive — had always been just beyond the reach of my arms.
"You don't even make an effort to like Cooper," Lilly finally said, bringing me back to the present.
"That's not true, sweetheart. I just worry that he has so much influence over you that you are losing yourself in him."
"That is not at all what's happening. I'm still who I was before I met him; I'm just in love now."
It wouldn't do any good to remind Lilly of the male friends she had forsaken because Cooper was jealous of them, or the extracurricular activities she had abandoned since they'd met.
My knowledge of psychology had never helped when it came to raising my own daughter. Only my grandmother's sage advice had guided me through the minefields of motherhood. But she was gone — dying only weeks after my mother had moved her to San Francisco. I had fought to keep her in her own home, suggesting we hire nurses to help her navigate the maze of senility that was confusing her mind, but my mother and her second husband had moved her out west to be near them.
It had killed the little that was left of my grandmother to be away from her gardens, her beach, and her chintz-covered couches. How could she have been comfortable in a house that was a stark reflection of the Oriental culture my mother had embraced since moving out to California?
Lilly poured herself more tea and rearranged her legs beneath her. She was restless in the one place I never was. When snow covered the ground and dusted the evergreens that sheltered the house from the winter winds coming off the sound, I found solace there. Lighting fires in the great stone fireplace, making spiced cider, and reading mysteries was as satisfying an escape as basking in the summer sun on the small private beach or getting dirty working in the extensive English cottage gardens.
In the winter, the house smelled of pine and burning wood. In the spring the scent of lilacs filled every room until the roses took over in June. It was a house for all seasons. But Lilly, who was a junior in a private high school in New York City, had not been here for months. When Cooper was in the city, she stayed there to be with him, and on the weekends Cooper remained at school, Lilly preferred to be with her father and work with him in his darkroom.
That late March weekend, since it was my birthday, Lilly had acquiesced to come to Connecticut with me.
As a child of separated parents, Lilly's life had been less complicated than most, since her father and I still lived under the same roof, just on different floors. Robert and I owned a brownstone in Greenwich Village on West Ninth Street, and when we split up, he just moved upstairs to his studio, while Lilly and I continued living on the second floor. The office where I practice psychotherapy occupies the first floor.
Even though Robert and I had been apart for five years, neither of us had remarried, so Lilly had not yet felt the full tragedy the dissolution of a union can cause a child. Where he and I slept had less of an effect on her than a divorce would have. At least that was what I hoped.
It had taken years for our separation to cease having an effect on me, but I was over it finally. Cured, healed, and pain free, I had finally called a divorce lawyer to schedule a meeting and begin proceedings.
The grandfather clock chimed the hour, and in the gleam of the fire, I saw a fresh silvery tear mar Lilly's unblemished skin. I longed to take my daughter in my arms and let her cry on my shoulder the way she had when she was younger. As much as I ached for her, I would have welcomed the opportunity to offer her solace. There was not much else she needed me for any longer.
But I would have been the only one comforted by Lilly's tears wetting my neck.
"Lilly, please tell me what's wrong. I'm imagining all kinds of horrible things. Is Cooper in some kind of trouble?" I asked.
She hiccuped a sob, a laugh, and a breath all at once. "But you don't have a problem with him?" she said sarcastically. "Why do you just assume he's in trouble? It's just that he can't come to the city next weekend because he's been assigned some monster project for his design class. That means I won't see him for three weeks." The thought of it caused another sob.
While Cooper tried to come into the city to see Lilly at least every other weekend, it wasn't always possible. The architecture program at Yale was rigorous and demanding. If your average fell below a C you were kicked out, and since Cooper was on scholarship, he was under even more scrutiny.
Lilly complained that I — and Robert, since he backed me up on this — were too strict because we rarely let her go up to Yale for weekends. She had her own schoolwork to do, we had argued. She would be applying for college soon and needed to keep her own grade-average high.
But even more disturbing was knowing that when she went up to visit him, they spent the night together. She was only a junior in high school and the idea of her being sexually active was an anathema to me.
But as much as I worried about her involvement with Cooper, I couldn't bear watching Lilly suffer.
In the shadows of the room, the past hung like cobwebs never brushed away. I watched myself, barely two years older than Lilly, sitting on this same couch, overcome with grief because of my father's sudden death. The emotion was still so strong it reached out and touched me across the span of almost twenty years. Having endured both pain and loss in my life, I foolishly thought I could protect my daughter from those same experiences.
And so, because I hated to see her cry and because I wanted to feel her arms around me for just a moment, I reached out the only way I could.
"Would you like me to drive you up to Yale for the weekend?" I asked.
"You mean I could stay over?"
I nodded, yes.
Of course, I didn't want her to go. I wanted her to be at my birthday dinner along with my brother, his family, my closest friend, and her husband. But I also wanted her to be happy.
Wouldn't her pleasure rebound and give me pleasure, too?
Lilly's eyes, normally round, grew rounder. The green shone brighter despite the tears, and in the depths of the color I saw both my own eyes and my husband's.
My daughter's favorite bedtime story had been how, in the midst of the tragedy of my father's death, I had met Robert, stared into his face, and seen that our eyes were the exact same green-blue color
"And you recognized yourself in Daddy's eyes?" Lilly would ask.
"And he saw himself in your eyes?"
"And you fell in love with each other and now we all have the same eyes."
Summing up that happy ending, she'd always smiled.
Now she was smiling the same way in anticipation of seeing Cooper.
"Come on, baby, get your stuff packed and let's get on the road."
"Oh, Mom!" All traces of tears were gone and happiness flooded her face. She threw her arms around me and I held her as tightly as I could. As soon as I let go, Lilly jumped up and ran halfway up the stairs. Then, with one hand poised on the polished oak banister, she stopped, and turned around.
"But what about your birthday?" she asked, suddenly remembering.
"It's okay." I waved my hand, dismissing her question. If I was going to let her go, it would be without guilt.
"But being here this weekend was supposed to be my present to you." Her hand began creeping up the railing. She wanted to go, but she knew she should stay.
I shrugged. "It's only dinner, Lilly. I keep telling you, after thirty, birthdays don't matter anymore. It's fine."
That slight assurance was all she needed. She raced up the rest of the stairs and disappeared into her room, and I was left, staring into the fire again.
If Lilly had been receptive, I would have warned her to go slowly and hold some part of herself back. Not to be so completely open to the emotions and excitement she was feeling. Or to the man who was stirring them.
But my child, like both her parents, was not one for half measures.
Instead of worrying, I should have been grateful that Lilly had survived three years of high school without having a serious relationship. Still, I wished it had taken even longer; that she'd had a few more years of innocence, pain-free and lighthearted, before she'd found her first love.
Freud postulated that when you fall in love, you rediscover the love you felt as an infant. If Robert and I had done decent jobs as parents, Lilly would have the stamina and resources to deal with what lay ahead of her. But what lessons had we taught her without knowing it? Had we inadvertently shown her too much of our strife?
It is the actions we don't want our child to see, the nightmares we do not dare speak aloud, the whispered words we do not think they overhear, that impact them the most.
While Lilly was still upstairs packing, the doorbell rang. Passing the window on my way to answer it, I saw the local florist's van parked in the driveway.
Carrying the oblong white box to the kitchen, I put it down on the counter and set aside the card. I didn't need to read it, I knew who the flowers were from.
Each year on my birthday, even after we had separated, Robert had sent me calla lilies. But after I untied the ribbon and laid back the tissue, I was startled to see — not the white lilies — but a dozen long-stem roses. Instantly sickened by the sight and smell of them, I pushed the flowers away from me. The box tipped backwards and the dark red flowers spilled into the white porcelain sink. I was catapulted back in time to the day my father had been shot.
Bullets flew. A bowl of red roses on the countertop had fallen — the glass had shattered, the roses had scattered — one lay at his feet, the color of the petals no different than the color of his blood.
"Mom?" Lilly stood in the doorway. "Are those from Dad?"
"Yes...I guess...but...I'm not sure." I was confused. Robert never would have sent me red roses.
"Isn't there a card?"
Reaching for the small envelope, I opened it and read it. "Yes...they're from your father..."
Lilly stared into the sink. "They're not lilies this time; isn't that great?" My daughter clutched at every change her father or I exhibited, collecting them as proof that metamorphosis was possible, certain that when we each had changed enough, we might get back together.
Lilly was as good at reading my face as her father was. One look at me was enough for her to know something was very wrong.
"Mom? What is it?"
"It's nothing." I began to pick up the roses, carefully avoiding the thorns.
"I think you're being very ungrateful."
"Oh, Lilly, I'm not being ungrateful." I hadn't wanted to tell her what was wrong and burden her with my memories, but the alternative was worse. "There were red roses in the shop the day your grandfather was killed. Somehow they were knocked over and wound up — " I didn't want to explain any more. "I just don't understand how your father could have sent me roses."
Before I could stop her, Lilly picked up the phone, called Robert, and told him what had happened. Her face relaxed as she listened to him. "I knew it," she said to him, and then handed me the phone. "He wants to talk to you."
"Jordan, I'm sorry about those flowers, but you know I'd never send you red roses, don't you?"
"Well, I didn't think you would have, but the card — " My voice trailed off.
"The florist must have mixed my order up with someone else's. Except I don't know how. I ordered them in person from that florist on Sixth Avenue."
"I should be over this by now. I can't keep breaking down every time I see some reminder of that day."
"You know better than anyone how easy that is to say and how impossible it is to do. You'll never stop loving your father, will you?"
"No, of course not."
"Then how can you expect to stop being horrified by the way he died?" Robert's voice was warm and familiar.
For the first time in years, we were having a conversation that wasn't about Lilly, and yet I couldn't answer him directly. "I'm sorry. Of course it was a mistake." For Lilly's sake, and his, I made an attempt to sound as if I were fine, but I couldn't stop thinking that of all the flowers they could have sent by mistake, why had it been those?
"Any other mix-up would have been all right, but not red roses, especially not on your birthday." So, after all this time, he still could read my mind. "Jordan, listen to me, as soon as we get off the phone, I want you to take the roses and throw them out, okay?"
"That's not necessary, I can — "
"Yes, it is. I want you to take them and put them in the garbage bin outside the house. Will you promise me you'll do that or should I ask Lilly?"
"Yes, I'll do it, Robert." And as soon as I said it, I felt surprisingly better.
How curious that in spite of everything that had happened — his unfaithfulness, my withdrawal, and our separation — some intimacy between us had endured. And how ironic that if not for those red roses, I might not have known it.
The roses had spurred one set of memories; the lilies would have stimulated very different ones.
One night, not long after we had first moved in together, Robert had come home from work, holding out an oblong florist's box, tied with a white satin ribbon. Inside, nestled in tissue, was a slender stalk. A single calla lily. I put it in water, and after dinner, Robert asked me to pose for him with the flower.
Although he'd photographed me several times before, each time I stood in front of his lens, I shed more inhibitions and became increasingly comfortable under his scrutiny. With his cold metal camera, Robert was exploring my secrets and my soul.
"Will you get undressed for me?" he asked. "Just down to your underwear," he reassured.
I was still shy about posing completely nude, but I had let him photograph me in my bra and underpants before; so while Robert set up the lights, I undressed slowly, knowing that even though he was busy arranging the shot, he was aware of every move I made.
The camera had not yet become an intrusion in our life; it was still a revered object revealing the depths and talent of the man I lived with. Robert looked at the world through the viewfinder and saw it in a very special way. And in his photographs, I saw all his passions, but they did not make me afraid. I still believed the promises Robert had made: to be faithful and never leave. Blissfully unaware that all love leads to loss, I never thought he would disappoint me.
My father's death had been the exception, I had thought all those years ago — some loves did last.
With my back to Robert, I took off my blouse and my jeans and then my bra but left on my white lace panties. I sat on the bed, against the pillows, as he adjusted the light meter. He looked up for a moment and his eyes focused on my bare breasts. My nipples hardened. He smiled and went back to setting up the shot.
When Robert had the lights the way he wanted them, he brought me to the window and positioned me the way he wanted me. His fingers felt hot on my skin. He didn't speak. And then he handed me the lily. "It will make you feel less naked," he'd said.
He was right.
I held the lily so that the flower brushed against my skin, the point touching my breast. The stalk lay flat on my belly.
"Yeah, that's good. Lower your head; lift up your eyes. Look at me, Jordan. Do you feel how soft the flower is against your skin? Move it, just a little; let it tickle you."
Wings fluttered in the deepest part of my stomach. I stared at Robert's hands holding the camera, and listened to the clicks of the shutter. Playfully I moved the flower, positioning it so that now the white blossom was between my legs. And then without him asking me to, I took off the lace panties and put the flower back so that it covered me in a modest but provocative way.
He was murmuring encouragement now.
I rubbed the lily against my skin. "It's you, Robert, this flower is you..." I whispered.
When I offered the lily out to him, Robert took it and used the thick stem to tease my legs apart. For a long time, he alternated titillating me with the flower and bringing me just to the edge of an orgasm and then backing off to take another shot.
Finally he put the camera down so he could get naked too.
"You're hard," I whispered.
"I've been hard for the last half hour."
"Is it torture to do that, to be hard for that long and not do anything about it?"
"No, it's pure pleasure," he said as he buried his face where the flower had been.
"You smell like lilies. Oh, Jordan," he moaned.
Standing in front of Robert's camera after that, I was brave and brazen. A woman I have never been with another man before or since. I had allowed him to see right into my very soul and held nothing back.
But it's not always best to let a man see you that naked inside and out. To offer up everything including your privacy.
One of the photographs he took on that day was so provocative it set him apart from dozens of other aspiring photographers, landed him his first perfume account, and got him industry notice.
Not only was a career born that night, a child was conceived.
The sound of Lilly's running footsteps and her overnight bag banging against the banister startled me. But what was more jarring was realizing I'd been remembering Robert as my lover.
It had been years since I'd allowed those memories to surface.
"I'm ready, Mom," Lilly called out.
Fifteen minutes later Lilly and I were in my black Jeep driving up I-95 headed toward New Haven. The traffic was light and we were making good time. I almost wished for some delay, so that I could be with her a little longer. It was a thought I'd had too often since the night, two months ago, when she'd woken me up at twelve-thirty to tell me about the boy she'd just met.
"Oh, Mom, he's so wonderful," she had said.
I didn't need to turn on the bedside lamp to see her face. I knew she was smiling and her eyes were shining.
My daughter had crossed the line. On one side was her childhood and on the other was the beginning of her life as a woman. I could hear it in her rapid speech, in her breathlessness, in her need to tell me about her evening and make it real again.
"He's majoring in architecture at Yale and knows all about Japanese gardens and really wants to see my photographs and he's different than anyone else I've ever met."
"I'm so happy for you, Lilly."
"And he looks right too. Exactly how I always imagined he'd look. He's tall, like Daddy, but he has black hair, and he asked me for my phone number. He's invited me to the Cloisters tomorrow. It's like he knows exactly what I'm thinking without me having to say a word. We are so on the same plane..."
"Lilly, I'm sure he's terrific, but don't you need time to really get to know him before — "
"Don't do that, Mom. I'm not six years old. I don't believe in fairy tales. I didn't say we're gonna wind up together. I'm just excited, okay?"
"You're right. I'm sorry." I started to reach out to take her hand, but she'd already stood up and was walking towards the door.
Lying back on my pillows, I'd tried to be happy for Lilly and think about the dreams she would have that night, instead of being anxious for her, except I knew there were no guarantees. Sometimes love worked out, but more often it failed.
While Lilly was growing up, I'd avoided reading her the prince-and-princess kind of fairy tales, so of course, every time we went to a bookstore or a video store, all Lilly wanted was Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I found less romanticized tales and more realistic adventures for Lilly, determined to prevent my daughter from being seduced by the happy endings that had warped my thinking and the thinking of generations of women before me.
Men did not kiss women, make them princesses, and take them to live in towering castles. Most people did not stay in love forever. Endings were brutal.
I hoped Lilly would see men as equals and enjoy them, but not idolize them. I wanted her to be self-reliant and not invest her identity in her relationships.
When she was seven, Lilly finally saw Disney's Cinderella at a friend's house. For days it was all she talked about, repeating the story over and over. For weeks she wouldn't answer to her own name, insisting on being called Cinderella. And even though it was a month away, she'd incessantly begged for a Cinderella costume for Halloween.
"It even comes with glass slippers, Mommy," she'd said, and her eyes sparkled imagining such a thing.
I tried to entice her with a Catwoman costume, or an astronaut's outfit, but she wouldn't budge.
One night, over dinner, I lost my patience. "Lilly. Why do you want to be someone who isn't real? Cinderella isn't real, she's just a dream."
"She has to be real," Lilly insisted. "Or else how can she live happily ever after?" She had flailed her arms and kicked her feet on the chair rail. Flinging her plate to the floor, she ran out of the kitchen. Peas rolled in every direction. Ketchup splattered on the tiles. Our dog, Good, scampered to get the scattered pieces of chicken. It took me hours to calm Lily down.
But ten years later, sitting beside my breathless daughter, who was counting the miles to New Haven, I knew all my efforts had been for nothing. Lilly was enraptured by Cooper: he was her dream come true, and nothing I could say would deter her. My interference would only drive her further from me.
Lilly had found something she wanted and that meant she now had something to lose — something that could and probably would cause her pain. I wished that, like my grandmother, I were religious, so I could pray that my daughter would survive her first foray into love, that she would not give more than she got, and that no man would ever shatter her heart the way her father had shattered mine.
During the whole ride up to Yale, Lilly talked about Cooper's ideas and why he was going to be a great architect one day. I listened to what she said, not hearing the individual words as much as the tone and the tenor of her chatter. Lilly was infatuated, and no one could compete with the man who was arousing such intense emotions in her.
"I brought some of Dad's shots of me to show Cooper," Lilly said, patting the knapsack that lay on the floor beneath her feet. Peeking out of it was the battered aluminum Nikon that had once belonged to Robert and that Lilly now carried everywhere.
Before I could respond, my cellular phone rang.
I heard slow, evenly paced, mechanical ticking.
"Hello?" I repeated.
When I didn't hear an answer, I snapped the phone shut. In the last two weeks I'd been getting hang-ups at least once a day. No one ever said anything, but I always heard the same monotonous ticking noise. Pressing my foot on the accelerator, I sped up.
"Does your father know you took those contact sheets out of his studio?" I asked Lilly.
"Dad gave them to me. He's letting me help him choose a shot for a new montage. It's a huge cliff and in the crevices will be my face."
"But that doesn't mean he wants you to show them to Cooper. You know how private your father is about his work. Iago Witherspoon doesn't even see his unfinished work and she owns the gallery where he shows."
"I'm not showing Cooper unfinished photographs. Just a contact sheet. That's different."
I didn't think it was, but kept silent.
Lilly examined the rows of tiny images of herself. "I really like modeling for Dad, but I don't think I'd want to do it for anyone else."
I, too, had enjoyed being one of Robert's models, but it had been almost six years since I had posed for him. At the time, I didn't realize why I had stopped allowing him to photograph me. I'd only known I had not wanted to be part of Robert's landscapes anymore.
But in retrospect, it was obvious: subconsciously I knew something was wrong — I had stopped posing at about the same time Robert had started having affairs.
"Cooper doesn't understand why I'm not bashful in front of Dad."
"What did you tell him?"
She shrugged. "That Dad's always taken pictures of me and it would be weird if he stopped just because I was grown up. It's not like the photographs are sexy or anything."
Even when Lilly entered puberty and became shy around boys, she was never embarrassed in front of the camera.
Although Robert had garnered a reputation for commercial and artistic photography that was on the edge of the erotic, his compositions of our daughter were always in marked contrast to the rest of his work: They were infused only with love. At first he'd melded her soft baby features with rolling hills and cloud-filled skies, and as she grew older, the landscapes changed to reflect her emerging personality.
"Listen, why don't you leave that contact sheet with me," I suggested. "Wait till you can show Cooper the finished collages — he'll understand them better when they're completed."
In response, Lilly pulled her camera out of her knapsack, held it up to her eye, and focused on the road. I heard the click of the shutter closing and the sound of the film advancing. It was the same way Robert avoided subjects he didn't wish to discuss.
Although Lilly's looks mirror mine — with the same dark wavy hair, oval face, small bones but long limbs — her personality is more similar to Robert's. Intuitive and gentle, they also share a love of photography and a dislike of confrontations.
"I'm serious about this, Lilly; it's one thing for you to share what is yours with Cooper, but it's not okay to share something that is your father's. I don't want you to take those photographs with you."
But Lilly had aimed her camera at the changing landscape and was no longer listening. It infuriated me as much when she withdrew with the camera as it had when Robert had done it. I looked at her profile out of the corner of my eye, the high forehead, the full lips, and the stubborn pointed chin.
There was a time, when I was married to Robert, that I began to resent his cameras and devotion to them. No wonder I would have the same reaction to Lilly when she used her camera to distance herself from me.
Having raised this child, and knowing how she would respond, I chose not to pursue the conversation. It was no use. Once she disappeared into "the land of the camera," as I called it, there was no way to reach her.
My cellular phone rang again. Hesitantly, I answered it.
"Yes?" I didn't recognize the woman's voice on the other end.
"Its Adrienne Blessing."
Adrienne was a new patient I'd been seeing for a month and a half. This was the first time she had called over a weekend.
"I'm still waking up every night at three and can't get back to sleep. I've tried all the techniques we discussed. Nothing works. Can you prescribe something? Anything? I'm nonfunctional here."
"Adrienne, I'm sorry, but you know I can't prescribe drugs. We can talk about you seeing a psychopharmacologist in session, but in the meantime, when you wake up, do something: read, watch a movie, work, just don't lie there."
"I've tried all that."
"I know how frustrating it is. But we can solve this; we just have to work towards understanding the stress that's causing the insomnia."
"Are you sure it's stress related?" she asked.
"From what we've talked about in session, it certainly sounds that way. Falling asleep easily but consistently waking up around three in the morning fits the pattern. Are you still falling asleep easily?"
"Yeah, no problem there. It's just from three on I'm a zombie. Isn't there anything I can take?"
"You can try Tylenol PM or Benadryl allergy pills."
I glanced at Lilly, then back at the road. I would have preferred not to talk to a patient with my daughter in the car.
Suddenly there was a loud horn and the sound of tires screeching. Ahead of me a blue BMW had cut me off. As my right arm shot out to protect Lilly, I looked in the rearview mirror to make sure the driver behind me wasn't coming up too fast. Within seconds, I knew we were okay, but my heart was racing faster than the car.
In maneuvering to avoid an accident, I'd dropped the phone, but Lilly had picked it up and handed it back to me. "I think she's still on, Mom."
"Adrienne, I know how difficult insomnia can be to deal with. Let's focus on this in your next session on Monday, all right?"
"You're never judgmental of your patients, you know that?" Lilly commented after I'd snapped the phone shut.
"I wouldn't be doing my job if I was."
She thought about that for a moment. "Have you ever noticed that Grandma is never judgmental?"
We had reached New Haven. I drove down the exit ramp and stopped too suddenly at a red light. It was my turn not to answer Lilly — I wasn't ready for the lessons my daughter wanted to teach me. Instead, I looked up. In the sky, a first star was visible. Such bright light emanating from something that had died such a long time ago.
The basic precepts of therapy are based on how your past affects your present. Lilly liked to say we should live in the moment. But she spoke out of idealism, out of theory. Her past had no ghosts living in it yet.
A few minutes later I sat in my car in front of Cooper's dorm and watched my daughter walk away.
The luckiest of us learn to use our histories as a ladder to climb to the future. That was what I hoped my daughter would be able to do one day. What I tried to help patients to do — was helping Adrienne Blessing to do. But who was going to help me climb out of my past?
Copyright © 2000 by M.J. Rose
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