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Garvin Livingston

Here and Now

     If his tears were real, it would have changed everything.  But Amanda had no way of knowing.   

     In the upper left-hand corner of the wooden rectangular structure, a warm light shone from the room where Amanda laid in bed reading the script of the play where she would have a major role debuting in mid-June and closing Fourth of July weekend.  The bugs on the window screens still scared her.  Ever since she was little, she was afraid they could someone find their way inside.  They frightened her more than the sounds of what she knew to be either wolves or coyotes.  She could not differentiate between their howls but her father claimed that he knew the difference.  

     It looked completely black outside but she chose to walk out to the overgrown lawn and sit by the lake in one of the faded Adirondack chairs.  She discovered that there was still a faint daylight that disappeared in those Minnesota summer nights for just a few hours right before midnight and then gradually reappeared while almost everyone was still sleeping.  She had forgotten that darkness could be deceiving at the lake.  Had the dock been out, she would have preferred to sit out there with a hand in the water.  Her brothers would put the dock in when they got there in a few days.  Dense memories hung in the night sky packed together with small cracks between them.  

     The homes on either side of Dr. Rybold’s house were empty, void of light  The nearest sign of life came from across the lake where spotlights illuminated the wide expanse of the Carlson’s massive yard.  The rhythmic sounds of the night were something she could not describe especially after having been away so long.  But they were real.  They soothed her and allowed her to think, to feel.  Because of the new moon, she had to use her flashlight to navigate her way back to the cabin.  Her mother had always wanted to put lights along the path but her father resisted.  

     Amanda’s first job when she got to her family’s cottage that afternoon had been to air the place out and remove the yellowed white sheets that covered the living room furniture.  She had driven up from St. Paul that Wednesday afternoon in May to spare her mother the chores involved in opening up the musty cabin that had sat vacant since last October.   She hated how too much of her mother’s life had been reduced to domestic chores.  Amanda had images of summer in her mind but she was facing the reality of crocus and daffodils dusted with wet spring snow.  

     No one would be at the cottage when she got there but they were coming soon.  The drive conjured up that numbing dread she knew from her long history of arriving to a house full of family.  She was never sure how she would be received.  Sometimes everyone was warm and friendly and other times difficult subjects surfaced.  People would probe previous incidents.  There could be interrogation, subtle expressions of discontent.  Those drives used to take her closer with each mile to family angst especially when she would bring Celeste with her.  

     She started Thursday morning with the task of clearing the bats out of the detached garage.  It was something she had done since she was a kid so it did not bother her.  She left the garage door wide open to give them an escape route, then started by shining a flash light on them to wake them up.  After that, she took her broom and swatted them until they flew left, right, up, down and finally out.  

     The first time Celeste accompanied Amanda to the lake, she explained that it was a place that brought her a lot of happiness. 

     “You must have lots of fond family memories,” Celeste said.

     “That’s not it.  There’s something nostalgic about the rituals and routine of being there year after year.  That’s what brings me happiness.”   That and the objects that brought her familiarity.  Now, too many of those things were gone.  Since it had been four years since her last visit, her parents had gotten rid of too many of her possessions without asking her permission.  She called it their death cleaning.  Her water ski was gone along with the bedspread that her grandmother had knit for her. Her bedside reading lamp and the pot holder she made in sixth grade were nowhere to be found.  

     These missing items were reminders that she was alone at that particular point in her life.  So much that had been familiar to her was now gone.  She had accepted that her relationship with Celeste had ended.  Amanda told herself that the laws of probability almost guaranteed that she would eventually bump into someone who would end her time alone.  Objects in space and on earth often collide if you give them enough time to find each other. Until then, she was happy to remain in motion alone.  

     Her plan after the play closed was to go to New York or Los Angeles.  She had been an acting major at Carlton College and assumed that it was a point of contention between her and her father.  It really was not, though.  He did not care what her major was.  She needed just one more science class and three more foreign language credits to complete her BA.  She considered it ransom against her father but it was not.  She thought those last pending credits would irritate him and cause him to cajole her into finishing but he was more or less indifferent about whether she graduated or not.  Getting negative attention from him was better than no attention at all.  

     She had not planned on seeing him on that trip.  Her mother told her that he had something important to do in his practice which Amanda knew was not true since her brother was now more or less running that by himself.  He would be arriving Sunday but Amanda had to be back in St. Paul Saturday for rehearsal.  She needed to escape weightlessness and reenter the atmosphere.  The vastness of space was making her uncomfortable with no familiarity anywhere.  She needed to breathe oxygen again and feel atmospheric pressure.  

     That first morning at the lake was the more common of the two kinds of summer mornings she knew.  It started out overcast threatening to be pure gloom all day and then like someone was turning a dial, the day grew brighter and warmer.  The other kind of summer morning was more common starting in mid-July and ending in mid-August. That type of day begins the minute the sun comes up; an explosion of intense sunshine that continues until early evening.  It was too early in the season for those kinds of days.  Amanda’s father claimed that he could tell what month it was just by the weather.  He claimed that he could differentiate between June and July weather just as easily as he could tell the difference between August and September.  Amanda doubted him without ever saying a word.  He claimed that there were subtle differences in the shadows and the sounds of the birds, 

     After she had chased the last of the bats from the garage, she went to lie down on her bed and stare at the tall pines from her window.  Her father said that if those trees ,well over a hundred years old ,ever died before he did, he would sell the cottage.  Amanda lived with a nagging fear that her father would choose to die sooner than necessary just so that his daughter would have the inheritance she needed to survive.  She thought he had no confidence in her ability to make a living from acting and she thought he felt that no woman would be able to financially provide for his daughter.  Despite being surrounded by female doctors, he carried a mental block that only men could be big wage earners.  

      Amanda asked herself if she was choosing a career that was conducive to poverty just so that she could cultivate a death wish in her father.  The first and only time he visited her studio apartment, he commented that the place was so small that she could sit anywhere in that room and within arm’s reach find any article of clothing in her closet or any utensil in the kitchen.  She explained that she liked her place because it was  familiar to her and had become very comfortable.  He replied, “Prisoners would tell you the same thing.”  

     She had overheard him once ask her mother about Celeste.  “What are they doing?” he  asked when he saw his daughter close the bedroom door behind her during Celeste’s first visit to the cabin.  

     “What do you mean?” her mother replied.

     “I think they’re testing the limits of the anatomical world,” he said.  Amanda convinced herself that her father had no need for a daughter who would not give him grandchildren which was a case of her imagination working against her. 

     Lying on her back, she stared at the mosaic pattern on her ceiling created by the silhouette of the  window’s grillwork and the ivy that had crept onto the glass from the brick wall.   She heard a speed boat on the lake.  Despite its loud sound, she knew it to be far away.  Sound carried in that isolated world.   From a great distance, rubber tires on the gravel road gave Amanda plenty of notice that her mother was approaching.  

       She helped unload bag after bag of groceries from the SUV.  Amanda had brought just the utmost necessities which she had purchased a few miles away at Curt’s Corner:  eggs, bread, milk and a two pound bag of dark, roasted coffee beans.  It was enough to get her through that first morning.  Now her mother had provisions to get them through the arrival of Amanda’s dad and two brothers who would be showing up over the next few days and staying long after Amanda would head back to St. Paul.    

     Her mother looked at the simple black flat on Amanda’s left foot and asked, “Did you lose a shoe?”

     “No, I found one.”  It was the only remnant from whatever expedition took away all of her other possessions which she thought would forever remain an integral part of her lake life.  It was hidden in the dark corner of her empty closet and she pounced on it.  

    “Find your other shoe and we’ll go for a walk.”

    “There is no other shoe”

There was a richer tone in her mother’s voice since the last time she had seen her, a few months earlier.  It matched the deeper color of the wooden cabinets in the kitchen that were not as light as Amanda remembered.  

     They were about eight weeks away from blueberry season so cutting through the Kirchner’s yard and foraging in that no man’s land that bordered those blueberry bushes was out of the question.  They would have to eat plain pancakes the next morning and their walk would have to be with no specific purpose other than to talk.  Amanda traded the single black flat for the pair of Ahnu hiking boots she had brought with her and the two women took off down the packed dirt path that led out to the gravel road.  They walked side-by-side unaware of the cotton candy clouds overhead.  

     “You got the bats?” her mother asked.


     “And you aired the place out yesterday?”


     “How about flowers?  Did you plant any?

      “I didn’t bring any but I see that you did.”  There were four flats of dahlias and dianthus still in the back of the SUV. 

      “My little procrastinator.  We can do that together this afternoon.”

      “The nice thing about being a procrastinator, we never have to start a new to-do list.  We just take the old one and start at the top.”  They walked past the corn fields.  Amanda would have loved to be picking corn with her mom at the Kitzmuhler’s farm but it was also too early for that.  

    “Kent and Kristen are driving from Sioux City late Friday so you won’t see them until Saturday morning.  We’ll have to see when Stewart can get free.”

     “I have to go back Saturday.”  Her mom stopped and turned her head towards Amanda.  “I have rehearsal.”

     “I want to hear all about it.  I didn’t know you were rehearsing so soon.  What’s the play called.”

     “Here and Now.  It’s about the life of Albert Einstein.”

     “Oh.  Who do you play?”

     “Betty Neuman.”

     “Is that his daughter?”

     “No, she was one of his secretaries when he was living in Berlin.  They apparently had an affair while he was married to his second wife. It started right after he won the Nobel Prize.  It seems he was quite the ladies’ man.  He had a long string of affairs that continued after his wife died.”

     “Do you really have to hurry back on Saturday?  Your Dad comes Sunday.  He very much wants to see you.”

     “That’s your interpretation.”    Her mother stopped and looked at Amanda.  

     “Your father is next in line to die.”

     “What are you talking about?”

     “When you get to be our age, you look at the history of your life. You see how it was nothing but a series of inevitable events.  At some point, it was our turn to drive, our turn to go to college, our turn to be married, our turn to be parents, our turn to retire.  All those things at some point seemed so far off.  I remember never imagining myself ever being a senior in high school.  Now, what’s next?  What’s left?  We all know the answer to that question.  It’s not morbid.  It’s our turn to die.  And since statistics show that men generally go before their wives, it’s your dad’s turn.  That’s what’s next. He’s in the on deck circle.”    

     “C’mon Dr. Rybold.  You’re up,”  Amanda announced to the wilderness in a raised voice.  They tip-toed through a patch of Virginia creeper along the side of the road.  “Well he despises my modest lifestyle.  Maybe that will help him along.”  Amanda thought that if her father felt desperate enough to help his young daughter, he might check out long before he exhausts her inheritance.

     “What are you talking about?  And he is totally accepting of your lifestyle.”

     “Being poor or being gay?”

     “Both.  But you’re not poor.”  

     “Why doesn’t he just retire?”  Amanda asked after just hearing her mother say that first comes retirement and then death.

     “That’s why Stewart came into the practice.  Now your dad spends time greeting patients.  You know he loves that.  If Stewart never became an ophthalmologist, your Dad would have retired by now which means he might not be alive anymore.  So let’s let him have the attention.  It keeps him around.”  

     Robert Rybold thrived on attention.  He was the founder of a successful practice and for as long as Amanda could remember, he threw parties at the lake.  Attendees included neighbors from their home in Linden Hills,  neighbors from the lake including those who sat on the town council, his attorney, his accountant, his financial advisor and some of his closest patients.  

      “I’m glad he keeps moving.  It’s the natural state of things.”   

      The play about Einstein had motivated her to try and learn about the man.  She discovered that developing even the most rudimentary understanding of his theories made it hard for her to ever look at any aspect of life the same……..ever again.  

     “It’s no wonder that Einstein had such a carefree attitude about enjoying life.  It was more marvelous to him because of his awareness of how different the universe is than what we see and how our place in it is so profound.”

     Amanda had learned from Einstein that inertia contradicts nature.  Animals keep moving, planets never stop, any object that leaves our atmosphere travels indefinitely in space.  An object in motion stays in motion.  

     “I’m going to assume that you don’t remember this but when I was about three years old, Dad misplaced his gold wedding band.  He thought that I had taken it and thrown it in the trash.  I have a vivid memory of him rummaging through the trash can in our driveway opening each plastic bag and sifting through coffee grounds and pork bones.  I had no idea what he was even asking me when he wanted to know if I had been playing with it.  I don’t know where he found it but it certainly had not been in the trash and I had absolutely nothing to do with its disappearance.”

     “What are you trying to say?” her mother asked.  

     “When Grandpa died, I was in seventh grade.  I was twelve years old.  Stewart came and woke me up Saturday morning to tell me the news.  I came downstairs in my pajamas.  You were in the kitchen.  Dad was sitting alone on the sofa staring out into the backyard at my swing set.  I sat down next to him and saw his sad face.  It was probably the wrong thing to say but I only wanted to comfort him.  I said, ‘It’s ok” and he barked at me, ‘That’s my father!’  Do you know how that made me feel?”

     “Your father loves you”

     “You can say that again and again whenever I have an unkind thing to say about him but it does not change anything.  And here is one of the most bizarre experiences.  And you were in on this one.  I’m too embarrassed to ever tell this story to anyone about how you robbed me of my Christmas that year.”  Her mother knew the story but she let Amanda continue.  “How old was I?  Maybe six?”  Amanda had the flu a little more than a week before Christmas.  “Do you know how exciting it is for a kid to count down the days to Christmas?”  

      “Your father and I wanted you to get well.  We didn’t want you worrying about being sick on Christmas.”  They had sent her to stay with her grandparents so that she would not see their house being decorated.  And they lied when she would ask how many days until Christmas.  

     “So you misled me about when Christmas was.  Do you know what it feels like to wake up on Christmas morning thinking that it’s just another day because your family misled you.”  That Christmas Day, Amanda woke up feeling much better.  Her mom and dad came Christmas morning along with her brothers to pick her up at her grandparent’s house.  That’s when Stewart told her that it was Christmas.  She had missed the magical experience of knowing the night before that she would come down the stairs the next morning to see mounds of presents under the glowing tree that Santa had erected with love.  The disbelief and deceit she felt at that moment was a feeling she never forgot.  When she turned to her parents to confirm, they smiled and nodded their heads in unison.  She had been robbed.  Her parents had denied her of a pleasure that no other joy had quite equalled at that point in her life.  Opening gifts at home that afternoon bore no resemblance to the few other Christmas Days she had known.  

   Her mother shook her head back and forth in slight movements the same way a pitcher might shake off the signals of his catcher.  She did not want to hear anymore.  

They both heard rustling in the brush no more than fifty feet away.  They smelled it before they saw its black furry haunches scurrying out of sight.  Once he reached full gallup, he became a blurry blob disappearing into the woods.    

     “You would think bears have better instincts than that.  He’s looking for blueberries even before bud break.  I thought they had better internal clocks.”   

     By the time they got back to the cottage, white clouds were still visible against the sky that was turning a darker blue.  They followed the uneven stepping stones that led to the front door.  Her mother wanted to have them leveled but her father refused.  He liked the rustic feel.  

     Amanda showered and then found her mother in the kitchen biting off the ends of green beans and tossing them into a bowl, later to be sautéed with butter and sliced almonds.  

     “We could do a little planting,” her mother said.  “There’s still enough daylight.”  They knelt side-by-side in the dirt each with a spade in hand.  “So where does the title of your play come from?” her mother asked.  Amanda acknowledged to herself that she only vaguely understood the relative nature of time based on his theories.   

     “The concept of here and now is all relative to where you are,” she started to explain not fully aware of where she was going with that comment.  “The title captures the connection of space and time.  They have to be understood together.  They are not separate things.”  Amanda looked up to see a mermaid cloud; lying on her back, a pale body with protruding breasts and the dark clouds making up her hair that extended in waves down to where her human form transitioned into fish scales.  

     Both of them knew that the flowers they were planting would be somewhat neglected throughout the summer since often no one would be there to water them, untangle them, remove the dead, fertilize them and give them the loving attention they need.  Amanda knew that the flowers would wait with patience.  She wished she could do the same.  She believed that if she had faith, someone would someday come take care of her and give her what she needed.  

     “I don’t think we’re going to get all of these planted.  I have to check on dinner.”  Amanda walked down to the lake by herself.  A few times a year, sea gulls would come down from Lake Superior and roost on the Carlson’s broad lakefront lawn.  She watched one of them plunge into the water and emerge with a silver smelt squirming in its talons as it glimmered in the sunlight.  The gull flew around in a random pattern to give the fish time to die.  Amanda thought about how strange and terrifying this new world must be to the fish that looked down on its home, seeing it for the first time from the outside and slowly suffocating.  

     Amanda and her mother sat talking together after dinner. 

     “It’s just a case of sunset sadness,” her mother replied.  Amanda had said,  

     “I have nothing but fond memories of this place but whenever the sun went down after a long day of sailing, fishing and swimming there was something I felt which was almost like an impending doom once it turned dark.”  Then Amanda would get over that sadness and the excitement would return once everyone would go star-gazing and after they started the campfire with all the ingredients for s’mores sitting close by.

     “There’s no way I can convince you to stay until Sunday?” her mother asked.  

     “I can’t miss rehearsal.”

     “Well then will you come back for your father’s party?”

     “Why do you call it his party?  He has those all the time.  It’s not for any particular reason.  It’s no one’s birthday or retirement or anything like that.  It’s just another time for him to be the center of attention.”

     “Think about it.  It would mean a lot to him.”

     “I’ve watched him parachute into these things before.”  This is how Amanda perceived any grand entrance her father ever made into any of his parties.  His dramatic appearance was accompanied by lots of hand-shakes, smiles and pats on many backs.  

     “So what if he shows up out of the blue and makes a big splash?” her mother commented.  

     “So what?!?” Why does he need that?  Why can’t his family be enough for him?”

     “Everyone needs friends.”

     “Are they friends?  He needs lots of people around him.  He feeds off of that.  It’s nice to socialize and mingle with people even if it’s all just superficial small talk.  That’s fun.  I like that too.  But it’s like an addiction for him.  He neglects a lot to have that.  It’s way too high of a priority.”

     “Some of these people feel very indebted to your father.”

     “Why?”   Amanda did not understand.  “For what?  He’s an ophthalmologist for Christ’s sake.  He didn’t save any lives, did he?”

     “Do you know how many people he has prevented from becoming blind?  Do you know how many of them were at their wit’s end because they thought they were losing their sight?  He helped them through that with compassion.  And you wonder why he’s friends with them?”

     The sounds around Amanda were all familiar but the only one she could identify at that moment was the wood thrush.  The earth was resonating at a certain frequency and it soothed her and allowed her to think.  But she did not know exactly what that rhythm was.  For her, it was just that feeling she got at the lake.   

      “Can’t you make it back in two weeks for his party?  It’s just for one day.  He would love to show you off to everyone.”

     “You know how we always talk about the intersection of Ft. Couch Road and Westbrook Lane?  It’s sometimes tough to see that light so someone is always running it.  Every time I was going that way, you or Stewart or Kent would always tell me to be sure and look both ways before pulling out after the light turns green.  But do you know I never heard Dad say that to me once.”

     “Your father cares as much as any of us.”

     “Whatever happened to the 23 yard sprint?”  There were two trees on the gravel road exactly 23 yards apart.  When Amanda was in fifth grade, her father decided to time everyone with a stop watch and record their times in a black moleskin notebook.  After entering the times for all three kids and their mom, he would hand the stopwatch to Amanda and have her time him.  This continued for the next twelve years even when Stewart was in medical school and Kent had married and moved to Sioux City with Kristen.  They made it to the lake every year and they did the 23 yard sprint.  Their times are recorded in the books.  But Amanda had missed the past four years.

     “We still do that.  We still record times.  The boys haven’t slowed down much but your dad and I sure have.”

     “And my times?”  Amanda asked.

     “You haven’t been here.”

     “What did Dad teach me during my twenty four years on this planet?  I can think of one thing.  Do you want to know what’s the one thing I remember?  One thing.  That’s all I have.”  Her mother waited to hear. “He taught me to take just one shoe off if I ever get sleepy driving at night.  That’s it.  He said it confuses the body and keeps you awake. That’s my father’s legacy to me.”

     “I remember how scared I was on my wedding day,” her mother recounted.  “I don’t know why.  I was absolutely sure that I wanted to be married and I was certain that your father was the one.  I couldn’t sleep that night.  There was a miniature trampoline in the garage at grandma”s.  I bounced all night.  It was easy and fun being married to your dad at the beginning.  We gradually turned an empty apartment near where he was doing his residency into a home.  He threw out his roommate to make room for me.  He apparently never thought much about how it would be.  I guess I didn’t either.  We knew that I would move into his place and then we’d look for a bigger place together.  The rent on my place wasn’t up for a few weeks so I only took one suitcase to his place.  After a few days, I brought more stuff.  He had a full dresser and closet with all his stuff.  I asked him to make some room for me and he said, ‘How about if we just get you a big box?’  That hurt.  But we eventually moved into a bigger place together and we each took everything we owned and put it all together.  It was fun buying furniture over time as we could afford it and then we bought our first house and then you guys came along.  Our marriage was all about raising you three and making life fun with vacations and holidays and Sunday dinners with your aunts and uncles and grandparents. And then eventually this place.”  

     His Sunday arrival was supposed to take place long after Amanda was gone.  But he surprised Amanda and her mother by showing up that evening after the two of them had loaded the dishwasher and had just plopped themselves down on the floral sofa.  Amanda was looking forward to experiencing the sound of the night.  There was an underlying rhythm, raw and primitive that she found nowhere other than the lake.  She could not identify exactly that extra part that sounded like an overlay of a sweet chorus of violins.   Maybe it was the wind or insects or memories colliding.  

     All of that was interrupted by the rubber tires on the gravel announcing her father’s forrest green Range Rover, three days sooner than expected.   But even before the car pulled onto the driveway, before she heard the sound of the tires on the gravel, Amanda felt his arrival.  

     His hug was out of character but not out of the question considering that she had not seen him for nearly a year.  But she guessed it to be perhaps only the third or fourth hug since dropping her off at college on freshman move-in day.  As she pulled his duffle bag off the passenger seat,  he said “I miss you” with about the same enthusiasm he used for his friends, neighbors, co-workers and patients.  His hair seemed less gray to Amanda and more white; and wispier.  He looked shorter and thinner to her and a little hunched over.  His voice was softer. 

     She did not see her father very much when she was a little girl, because he worked very long hours.  For that reason, when he was in front of her after a long time apart, she often viewed him as she would a celebrity comparing his real-life features with the image she had of him in her head.  

    Amanda listened to the whispers coming from her parents bedroom that night.  She could not hear what they were saying but that did not matter.  She liked the implication behind the whispers; two people close enough to have secrets, to trust one another.  She wanted to find that kind of intimacy with someone.  

     Stewart arrived Friday morning when his mother was the only one awake.  He was glad to have the chance to give her an update on his father’s condition.  

     “A couple weeks ago, we went to a conference and he insisted on driving.  We were driving directly into the sun on our way back and he kept turning on his windshield wipers.  I’m convinced that he thought he could wipe away the glare from the sun just as easily as clearing off rain.  He seemed frustrated when the glare was still there and kept trying it again until he said something about it just not doing the job.”  His mother was not surprised.  She had watched him over the past year grow into the habit of yelling obscenities at inanimate objects: a dropped spoon, an empty toothpaste tube, a leaf that blew through the open front door.  

     “But he has mellowed,” Stewart explained.  “He takes more time with his patients now.  He used to be kind of short with most of them and made a lot of hurried diagnoses.  And he used to get defensive when they would maybe question his treatment.  Now he listens.  He’ll allow silence in the examining room now.  He never did that before.  Now he gives his patients time to formulate their thoughts.”   

     At lunchtime, Dr. Reybold, had gotten into the habit of walking four blocks everyday away from the office to a small park where he would sit on a bench, open his brown bag and take out a sandwich that he had made at home that morning.  This was something he started doing only after Stewart joined the practice.  Before that, he would eat a delivered lunch at his desk while reviewing charts or making phone calls.  

     Amanda walked into the kitchen after eavesdropping from the hallway.  

     “Even if he’s slipping, please tell him not to die.” Her face was expressionless.

     “What are you talking about?” Stewart said with a look of disdain.

     “Tell him I can take care of myself.  I don’t need his inheritance.”     

     Before dinner that night, Amanda sat fifteen feet away from her dad in the living room.  He had deposited himself in the soft leather chair with his feet propped up on the matching ottoman.  Amanda looked at the tall glass of vodka next to him filled with oversized ice cubes that looked more pristine than the alcohol they were chilling.  The condensation on the glass and the small puddle underneath it reminded her of her childhood curiosity about how the water got out of the glass.  His face was hidden behind his newspaper; impeccable creases both horizontally and vertically to fit the article so that he could focus on just one story at a time.  Folding a newspaper like that was a lost art mastered only by adults.  

     During Amanda’s childhood, an adult was an adult whether they were thirty or seventy.  She did not understand why adults paid attention to the numbers associated with their ages and some people hid them or lied about them.  As a child, she was proud of herself whenever she could acquire any knowledge that was not for kids.  Long before she was old enough to drive, she delighted in telling her friends that you only had to push the gas pedal down a tiny bit in order to get the car to move.  

     There was a lot of awkward silence between the four of them during dinner. Amanda struggled to distinguish between the corn kernels and lemon seeds on her plate.  The sound of the dishwasher was the punctuation mark designating the end of what could prove to be one of their last family dinners.  

     Amanda was not the only one noting the absence of blueberries in the pancakes the next morning but everyone except perhaps Kristin understood that it was too early in the season.   Her mom was stationed by the stove pouring batter into the skillet whenever someone new showed up half-asleep reaching for the coffee carafe.  

     Amanda and Kent ate together in the breakfast nook that had room for only four people.  When she was little, her father would sometimes move Amanda from the breakfast nook into the living room and put her on the floor and let her eat at the coffee table.  That freed up space for her mom and dad to eat with her two brothers.  She liked the barricade of cereal boxes around her and sitting with her legs tucked underneath her on the carpet felt good.  But she missed the breakfast nook and its three walls of glass.  From there she could watch the deer, the birds and squirrels. 

     Kent and Kristen had arrived in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping.  Before marrying Kristen and moving to her family’s horse ranch in Sioux City, Kent had bounced around for many years after college.  He hiked a big section of the Appalachian Trail over a period of about nine months.  He moved home twice during those nine months but found himself so addicted to the trail that he suffered withdrawal symptoms and had to go back both times after a few days away.  As much as Amanda admired him for his adventurous determination, she could not imagine her father ever seeing that as less irresponsible than her pursuit of an acting career.   She thought, if financial reward is the goal according to her father, walking in the woods would not lead anywhere.

     Kent and Kristen had two beautiful kids at home who did not make the trip because of school.  Those two precious grandchildren made Amanda’s dad so proud of Kent. She knew that she was not likely to ever give her dad the gift of more grandchildren.  

     Kristen showed up with disheveled hair and eased in next to Kent.  

     “Someone has dysania,” her father shouted from a distance.  Amanda looked at Kristen and thought that just her mouth alone could define her whole adorable self.   If that mouth would be all people ever saw——if they never saw her eyes, hair or body———they would call her pretty and know something about her personality that was somehow revealed by just that gorgeous mouth.    

     “I’ll say goodbye here,” Amanda said to the room.  She was standing by the door.  Everyone got up from their respective spots in the living area and hugged and kissed her one-by-one including her dad .  She stepped outside with her overstuffed tote bag in one hand and the pillow she had brought in the other one.  She turned around to see her father walking towards her.  

     He mustered up the courage to ask, “Can I convince you to come back for the party?”  

     “It’s a long drive and I have the play.”

     “I understand.  Then and Again.”

     “Here and Now,” she corrected him, opened her car door and slid inside.  Through the windshield she heard him call her name.

     “Amanda.”  He kept talking but she only heard his muffled voice, unable to distinguish any of the words.  He was saying, “It’s such a blur.  I have tons of memories.  They’re just all mashed together.  I just don’t know the sequence.  I don’t know what happened and when.  I don’t know what I’ve forgotten, what I’ve missed, what I overlooked.”  

     There was an unfamiliar gentleness on his face and a certain anguish.  She could have lowered the window and told him that she was not hearing any of his words.  But she did not do that.  She was not sure if the tear she saw in his eye was real or if she imagined it.  Since she had never seen him cry, her rational self told her that it was a case of mistaken identity.   A tear would be evidence.  People can suppress sadness but the tear reveals the truth.  She needed the tear to be the messenger, the link that could connect them and allow them to start understanding one another.  But she did not know for sure what she saw.    

     Her mother could tell that her husband was not himself when he came back inside.  He walked past everyone and went to his room.  She followed him.  

     “I just want to go back and make sense of it all,” he said.  “It’s all just one big Meritage.  I want to go back and hear her squeaky little voice again.  Do you remember when we were in Hawaii on our honeymoon and went to the beach near Kona?  We watched that girl pull up in her van.  She opened the back door and we could see that everything she owned was in there including her narrow mattress.  She put on her wetsuit, grabbed her surf board and paddled out.  All I was thinking at that time was whether or not being a doctor was the right choice.  When I was a freshman at Bowdoin, my student advisor in my dorm was a junior named Tom Newcomb.  A year later, he and I were sitting on a bench on the quad.  He was a few weeks away from graduating.  That place was already driving me crazy since it was so small and I was tired of looking at the same faces.  I enviously asked him if he was ready to get out of there.  His replay was, ‘Yes, if I could start back in the fall as a freshman.’  I hated that reply.  Today though, if you asked me, I would love nothing more than to start med school again, marry you, have those three wonderful kids and do it all over again.”  

     “Do you remember the mountain goats in Hawaii?” he continued.  We saw them in the lava fields and on the mountain slopes.  They fight with each other but then they stick with each other.  They move around together.  They have a need for each other and a disdain for each other.  Who knows why they do battle?  To see who’s in charge?”

     Amanda saw the escape route that was in front of her at that point of her life.  She knew that unhealthy relationships give us maybe one or two escape routes to get out before they get worse.  She told herself that missing those opportunities can keep us stuck indefinitely.  If the tear were real, she would not choose the escape route in front of her.  She would go back and work at healing whatever possibility she and her father might have.  She wanted to believe that every word ever spoken between them was still out there orbiting.  Spoken words are sound waves and sound waves are preserved forever in space.  An object in motion stays in motion.  None of the words between Amanda and her father ever dissipated.  They still existed, likely to come around again in her lifetime and perhaps in his lifetime as well.  If Einstein was right and time dilation and length contraction are real, then time and distance have little significance.  

     Amanda envisioned how the party might go if she decided to go back.  She had an image of the two of them out on the lawn, each navigating their way on separate courses stopping to say hello to people.  The whole time, Amanda and her father would be looking at each other, smiling, both knowing that their paths would find each other and he would put his arm around her and tell people how proud he was of her performance in the new play.  

     But she did not go back for the party.  Most of her life, her father did not even know where she was.  But she thought that maybe at that moment, they were both dots on the same celestial map and for her, that was a start. 

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