These things are hard to say. I'm not sure what's true and what isn't. My experiences don't even make sense to me, so I can't imagine they'll make sense to anyone else. What I can promise is that I'll be sincere.
Here's what I know:
On May 24, 2004, my daughter, Cheryl, locked her bedroom door and blasted the angriest, most frantic hardcore she owned. She changed out of her little pink and green bikini into a pair of black cutoff cargoes and a t-shirt she'd worn so hard that the fabric had begun to disintegrate and the Tori Amos tour dates on the back had hardened and flaked into a ruin of crusty nubs. Then she stuffed a pair of jeans, two more ratty t-shirts, a red hooded sweatshirt, a bra and a handful of panties into her backpack. She zipped her Discman—that embarrassing outdated device which we'd refused to upgrade to an iPod—into the pack's front pocket, grabbed a case of CDs off the dresser and scanned the room, wondering what else she'd regret leaving behind.
If she'd glanced out the window, she would have seen me, still in my bathing suit, sitting in the Adirondack chair on the deck Robert had built around the pool. The glass of Crystal Light was still cradled in my lap, but I hadn't sipped from it since she'd run inside. My eyes were closed to help me concentrate. If she'd bothered to look, she would have seen that I'd managed to remain calm despite her tantrum.
She didn't look, though. She fished a half-empty bottle of spring water out from under her bed, dropped her cell phone in the pocket of her shorts and balled the cord into her backpack, then laced up the Doc Martens she'd spent so many hours defacing with Wite-Out and silver paint. She pounded the off button on the clock radio, grabbed the Camel Lights she thought I didn't know about and left.
On her way down the hall, she ducked into the bathroom to grab a handful of tampons. Then, pausing in the kitchen, she stood like a ghost at the sliding door, one hand lightly pressed against the fluttering screen, her fingers curling slowly in on themselves.
What she was doing was cursing my existence.
When I opened my eyes and peeked toward the house, I saw her in the living room walking away from me. Her shoulders were hunched, her pack covered in graffiti and safety-pin starbursts. The fuzzy scruff of her hair glowed white as the glass door hissed shut behind her.
"Where you off to?" I called. "Cheryl?"
By the time I'd made it to the front yard behind her, she was clomping down the middle of the street, nearing the corner where Jonquil Court opens onto Jonquil Way, angling south, headed toward East Fish Lake Road. She wasn't running. She wasn't even walking all that quickly.
"Wait a sec, Cheryl. When will you be home?"
As she hit the far curb, she picked up her pace.
My weight is a problem. I walk slow. I get tired. But I tried to follow as best I could.
Our neighborhood only has so many streets and all of them loop around to Hemlock Lane, the road no one lives on, the one that links our cell to the rest of Plymouth and connects us to the highways and superstores. Pausing there to catch my breath, I leaned on a tree, barely more than a sapling, held upright by wooden rods and wires. It gave slightly under me but didn't fall.
"As your mother, I'm saying stop. Now, stop. I can't go any further."
And she did. She stopped. She turned and glared at me. "Then quit following me, Mom. Jesus!"
A gray sedan, its headlights on despite the sun, slowed and turned the corner. The driver was a woman I knew from the neighborhood. Mrs. Konrad. She dressed her dachshund in stupid little sweaters and when she was out walking with it in the morning, she'd peer around haughtily, making sure everyone saw her from their windows and understood what an exemplary citizen she was. We avoided each other. She wasn't my people.
"You know?" Cheryl said, once the car was gone. She held an emptiness between her open palms, and when I didn't answer, she shoved it toward me like I was supposed to know how to catch it. Then she turned her back on me.
All I could do was watch her recede, running now, her backpack bouncing against her shoulder, her shorts slipping in increments down her hips. She was pulling away, willing herself toward a place—any place—where I'd no longer be able to infect her. She dipped into the ditch along the edge of the road and all I could see was her shoulders, her head. Then she was up again, crunching through gravel, running with traffic, pacing herself to veer and lunge through it. Across six lanes and she was still running, slower now, jogging. She landed wrong on her heel, almost collapsed. Her knee buckled, and then snapped back into place, but she shook it off, kept going, ran toward the highway, raced across intersection after intersection, not looking, not caring if she got hit. At the cloverleaf she turned down under the entrance ramp and disappeared into the shadows below I-169.
From there she forged through the waist-high crabgrass and leapt into the dry culvert where her skater friends hung out, followed it, not really sure where she was going, away from me, further away from me. Names had been sprayed across the culvert's rough surface, crude hearts and curses and dripping phalluses. She took a swig of water and slowed her pace.
First standing, then leaning against the green power box jammed into the edge of the block, I waited on the corner and gazed off at the place she no longer was, past this place, trying, still, struggling to keep up.
She walked through the trash, through bleached chip bags and ziplocks and faded beer cans, hunks of pink deteriorating Styrofoam, shards of glass and scraps of colorful plastic, twisted rags, broken mops, petrified children's briefs. She walked through tunnels that took her under access roads, then up, eventually, miles from home. She followed a chain-link fence past loading docks, past the whitewashed backsides of unfriendly box stores, Family Dollar, Kmart, Menards, Staples, an AMC 16 Multiplex. And when Plymouth finally bled into New Hope and the fence veered north, she pulled herself over it and dropped the twelve feet to the other side. She needed to hew east. Away from the sun.
Padding through the New Hope Village Green Golf Course, she nabbed a ball she found submerged in the rough. A lawn mower had sliced a smile in its casing. Taking a running start, she whipped it sidearm at the clubhouse up the hill in hopes of breaking a window. The ball didn't even make it to the next hole. She found another one and tried again. Then, laughing, she gave up. There'd be things to break later.
Back on the corner, I continued my vigil. I lowered myself to the ground and sat, my legs out straight in front of me on the grass. I waited.
Rush hour had finally trickled out to us. I could just imagine what my neighbors streaming past must have been thinking: That freaky fat woman's on the loose again and this time she's wearing a swimsuit.
It probably pleased them to see me like this, confirmed their beliefs, gave them more evidence against me. One of the cars would eventually be Robert, and when it was, he'd stop and he'd take me home. I'd have to come up with something to tell him then. Right now, though, he was still at the office, working late—or more likely, staying late, trolling Westlaw for reasons to stay later. I couldn't rely on him for a thing.
As the sun set and the shadows compounded, I kept thinking I saw her coming back to me. But no. Each time, it was a squirrel, a crow, a shift in the darkness brought on by a turning car. It was always something else, never her.
Around ten thirty, the temperature dropped and I started to shiver and my bones began to bounce. There was nothing else I could do. I hobbled home.
And Cheryl kept moving. Every step she took was one more away from me, but however far she walked, she couldn't escape. I lived inside her, just as she lives inside me. In the distance, she could make out downtown Minneapolis: skyscrapers, looming pink; the silence of city lights. As good a place as any to try to become lost.
Plus, she already sort of knew her way around.
Copyright © 2007 by Joshua Furst. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.