Indy has her first boyfriend. I met him last night. At Mike’s house. He is eighteen. He has a car. And a winning smile. She looks at him with doe eyes. I hope she makes a better fist of it than I did.
Because I see in her today all of the tremors of my own faltering, all racked up and ready to go. The incessant contest of obstinate gravity and an ingrained desire to fly. Of a need to believe versus the good sense to know better.
For years I fought it. Thought I’d won.
Now that I can see my own daughter starting out on that very same path – pretty boy in tow – I can sense that she possesses the same absurdly out of place optimism that drove me to all of my disasters. The thing that just won’t die. The last give out.
Even now I struggle on its hook – urged by raw, thrashing instinct to resist the inevitable. No matter what.
Perhaps that’s the nub of life: carrying on the struggle against death.
The folly of it is wonderful – as is the sight of my daughter’s besotted smile and the memory I cherish of yours.
Speaking of madness.
I can picture it – that knowing grin of yours – the one that always made me smile in return -.and I can almost smell you. As though faint whispers of you still surrounded me – clung to my stubborn, pointless longing.
Yet this is not what vexes me. It is the thought that comes next that shakes me. Am I poised – right now – on the precipice of sexual redundancy? Is this where love becomes memory? Ardour a ghost?
I had not previously given such questions serious consideration. Until last night. That’s when I saw it before my eyes. The generations. The crown jewels now ceded Indy. She is the great prize now. I have placed in the leftovers pile. I have become my mother. It is history that beckons me now.
A faded memorial haze of outer suburban boys. The horny sons of migrants. Grown up sunburnt and salty. Their eyes all over me. But I was too good for them. Didn’t want to be like Mum. Breeding young.
And then a slew of city boys. The even hornier princes of power and privilege. Grown up rebellious, righteous and almost certainly rotten. Putting their hot ideas inside me. Except I wasn’t quite good enough for them. Not to love. Just to fuck.
A walking vagina. Source of power – and of weakness.
Indy, I’m sensing, will find this out very soon.
Back when I was her age I was still a million miles from sex. Frightened off by the primordial leering of my brothers’ friends – and rightly cautioned by the sight of so many baby bumps on so many high school bellies – I retreated into a kind of cloistral wariness. It seemed that the world of desire was a world of people gone mad. Of boys being vile. Of girls being vicious.
But sooner or later I too was bound to fall.
He was home for the summer from University – and even though I had known him since my brothers first befriended him years earlier – he was different this time. Or I was. Either way, I imagined him like I thought of no other. I spoke to him in my daydreams and there he loved me back. There I felt the silky press of his soft mouth.
Whereas in reality I simply pined dumbly in his handsome shadow until the summer fizzled out and he went back to Uni – but at least I knew what I was pining for.
And I started to see it everywhere – and gut deep, hormonal cravings came to bed with me every night. Where boys filled my thoughts and a little finger learnt a thing or two about feeding a plain girl’s hunger. It seemed that I did not require a man after all – let alone a boy or three.
It wasn’t until I crashed into the fenced off world of the tertiary study – a world where no one knew me – where Grace could just as easy be Liberty – that I let it all happen. Surrendered to the hot gravity of it. Gave my various permissions. Allowed those hands to wander.
And then, before long, I had learned to use it as a lure – a honey trap – and it soon became my principal weapon in the war I was fighting against how bad I thought things were for girls.
I had something than men wanted more than their own sound judgement. More than the rules they made up. Or the fear of scandal. I think I was more excited by the power of it than anything else.
A strange thing happened earlier. The new boyfriend offered to drive me home from Mike’s. I sat in the back while Indy played at being queen up front. She was all bubbles and bust for him, and yet she subtly bossed him around, made it his job to include me in the conversation. She was far too cool for Mum now.
But I was too far gone for insult. I was already back riding in the rambunctious, square jawed car of the very first man I ever loved.
And it was that particular time. On our way back from me getting the scholarship. Him so proud of me. His smile like I’d never seen it before. That was when I knew for sure that I was loved. It was beautiful. It made me want to stand up straighter. I was as good as anyone.
It was the last time I was ever alone with him.
Maybe my mother and brothers knew – but I never saw it coming. Dad’s departure – just a few days later – was inexplicable to me. It seemed like the triumph of everything stupid over everything good.
Yet, occurring as it did, on the cusp of my late blooming sexuality, my father’s decision to leave the family and live with his new lover left an indelible stain on my virgin hunger. The smear of cruelty. The cold, arbitrariness of attraction. As though to love someone was to give up on everything else. Or at least be prepared to.
Love reminds us that we are beasts. Primal and wanting. This is why it scares us so.
In the back of her boyfriend’s car, watching them both, I wondered if either Indy or her strapling beau were even dimly aware of the high stakes game they were entering into. I rather doubt it.
Indeed, if I am honest, I did not make my own final peace with the implacable, chemical brutality of desire until New York. That was when the decades of denial finally bowed to the power. Watching over you. Praying for you to love me. Doing everything I could to make a spark take hold.
There – abruptly – and with a calm, forgiving clarity – I could see that what I wanted most of all in the world – above every other friendship and alliance – the thing that I would risk everything else for – was the undiluted and unbreakable love of a man.
This was an extraordinary conclusion for a lifelong feminist to come to. I think I nearly choked on it. But I can say it to you now – because you are far enough away and the danger of your kiss has now passed.
There is a stunning and freeing simplicity to this arrangement.
Now that I am living with her once more – back at the old house – it has become obvious and undeniable to me. My mother’s regrets became my fears – and her losses my tears. She never wanted me to be a woman because of what it had cost her. In her mind, sex was the road to ruin. To slavery.
And yet she still takes time to remind me that I never gave her a fairytale wedding. This is one of the most poignant ironies of living under her roof.
Of writing about you.
Because it is love that has finally united my mother and I.
In fact I feel that we may no longer be at war. Because we are on the same side now.
All I could think to say to Indy when she asked was “Don’t give away your soul.”
A stupid point to make. Of course she will. That is how she will work things out.
“I won’t Mum,” she said, with much less sarcasm than she might have.
“I know I’ve not exactly been a great example,” I confessed. “But maybe take it as fair warning. Love can change you completely. It can force you be who you truly are. And that can be difficult for others.”
I was still very young – long before the boat – when I first realised that certain things about me were not well received. As though little bits of me were bad – and were definitely not allowed in public. These were the things that sometimes made people mad. Or forced them to lie. Or be defensive.
Yet they were the bits that seemed the truest to me. The purest.
I realise that I am not alone in this experience.
So I did what most of us would. I covered up. Showed the bits that people liked. Kept the best bits hidden. Spoke the tongue of playing along. Passed muster.
Yet all the while another light inside me – refusing not to shine.
I know that you too have lived your life with such a fire. For I have seen it in your eyes. Felt it in the quality of your kiss. Known it in the core of your sorrow. It is the most sublime and humbling connection I have ever known. Like children being let out of their cages. Their laughter a song.
For we are not simply beings of thought. That is merely a layer imposed. A film of jetsam on a deep and pulsing sea. We are all creatures of feeling.
Only when I yielded to this fact did the long tied knots of self-punishment and loathing loose themselves enough to let my true love flourish. As though it had been untethered. Like I was up there in the
sky with you all along.
Making beautiful circles.