I kept reassuring myself. A part of me wanted to say, “Please,” while
another part wanted to insist, “Oh, this is silly!” and stalk out to the car.
Before I could do either, before I could win my father over, he turned
away from me, gazing out the large glass windows at his car parked in its
familiar spot beside the office. The hot southern sun splashed diamonds
of light onto the polished metal; the vacant lot beyond was trimmed and
mowed. He paused as if weighing his thoughts or perhaps considering
my words, but when he turned back, his face looked strained.
“I really want—” I began, then hesitated, and the air was suddenly
tense, sharp with silence.
Neither of us moved. Only time jumped forward. I watched a nurse
pass his door, a shiny medical tray in her hands. Someone in one of the
treatment rooms cried out in pain, Aaggghhh, then quieted. The round
clock on his wall ticked loudly.
“Daddy,” I began again.
He held up a hand. “What you say may be well and good for Los
Angeles.” His voice was low and, to my surprise, oddly quiet. Though he
didn’t step closer, I felt his nearness. “But—” he looked directly at me,
“this is Alabama.” Then he stepped back, his gaze holding mine. “And
don’t come home until you can do something important.”
It was a sentence I hadn’t expected.
A sentence that scalded the air.
There’s someone in the bathroom at night who tries to stop me
from getting in.
Within three hours, I was on a plane to Los Angeles, my life split in two.
I’d arrived in Alabama a daughter, but as I stepped off the plane in LA,
I’d metamorphosed into a woman whose instincts and self-interest were
absurdly, indignantly, at war. My instincts had always been defined by
loyalty to family, to a sense of us—our history, our jokes, our ambitions,
worries, and needs—but now self-preservation demanded an unmooring. I thought, Maybe I’ll stay away for twenty years!
But where does self-preservation come from?
In my youth, I naively thought self-preservation depended on courage or self-confidence or a grand intelligence. I believed it emerged from
a solid grounding, but now I sensed it came from something deeper, a
secret undergrowth of loneliness and despair, a vital, selfish conviction
that you matter. It’s this mattering that becomes your identity. Then