Better Life

When the Idiot Is You

When The Idiot Is You

“Kate wants to move into Annie’s room.” Your wife doesn’t look up from her laptop. “Once Annie goes to college.”
“So,” she continues, “waddya think?”
“About what? Oh, switching rooms…fine, sure. I guess. We’ll…deal with that when the time comes.”

She takes a sip of wine, squints, looks at you funny. This is a ridiculous conversation, you think. Annie’s still a kid. She’s not going to college any time soon. You wonder if another espresso will be one too many.

Annie bounds down the stairs. “I need to go to work.”
“Shit. Alright, let me get some shoes. I’ll drive you.”
She laughs. “I can drive myself.”

That’s right. She can. Huh. You close the book you’re reading.

You knew it was happening, but somehow, at the same time, you didn’t see it coming. Your oldest daughter is leaving home. She’s going to college. You’re old.

But how is that possible? You just got a tattoo last week. A cool one. You still listen to hardcore records. You still shred on a skateboard. Well, not shred exactly; stand, roll, glide by. You do moan quite a lot about your ailments. Back, knees, ribs, shoulders, ankles, hamstring. Old people do that. But you don’t have an oxygen tank or a subscription to AARP Magazine. You’re not old old.

Your oldest daughter is leaving home. She’s going to college. You’re old.

What happened? You remember teaching Annie to hit a baseball, catch a football, play soccer. You taught her to play rugby and coached her team. You taught her to box, wrestle, use a hammer and screwdriver. You remember when she stopped liking pink, and princesses, and mermaids. You taught her to ride a bike and failed, twice, to teach her how to swim. You also failed to help with her math homework. You assisted, with great pleasure, when she ripped up her boy band posters. You listened in shock and horror as she screamed, told you off, slammed the door.

You stood, disappointed, wearing your soccer kit, when she said no, she didn’t want you to play in the father-daughter game. You didn’t cry, because you’re a man, but you did take a bottle of rye into the laundry room, curl up on the floor, and make strange noises for a few hours. You taught her to be independent, to take a stand, to piss off her father. You can recall doing the same thing at her age.

You took her to shows at the 9:30 Club, a venerable music venue, and taught her that buying a t-shirt was okay but wearing it that night was verboten. There are unspoken rules, you said, even in dank filthy nightclubs. You taught her to drive and came out unscathed. Physically, if not emotionally. You guided her through the SATs.

I guess a few of these were pretty clear signs she was getting older and college would soon be sneaking up, in mud-covered sneakers that it refused to take off. But repression and self-delusion are powerful forces. You feel like a complete idiot. You think about losing your daughter. You think about the tuition bills. You’re terrified, yes, but you’re also filled with creative, fun, workable ideas.

You taught her to be independent, to take a stand, to piss off her father.

Maybe she doesn’t have to move out? There’s a great junior college right down the street. She could live at home. She could work for a year or two—no more than a decade. She wants to be a photographer, right? Well, you don’t need college for that. There are other jobs, too. Work from home! Earn lots of $$$. No experience needed! Annie could stay home forever. You could join a coed rugby team together, like you did in Brooklyn.

“Dad? The keys?” Annie is standing in front of you.
“Sorry, here you go. Hey, by the way, are you sure you want to go away to college? I mean, you could put it off…? More time to fill out those applications…more time to enjoy your last year of high school…?”
“What? Are you drunk? Mom?”
“She’s not taking a year off,” your wife tells you, with a sharp look. Her eyes are punching you in the gut.
“Daddy, are you drunk?” Grace, your youngest, is sitting cross-legged in the hallway, reading a book upside-down. She won’t be going to college any time soon.
“No, honey. Feels like it, though.”
“I’m out of here.” Annie walks out.

You hear the car start, which makes you wince—teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to drive. You turn to your wife, “Is there any more of that wine?”