Soon we will be leaving the emerald hills and spring-soft skies of the Bay Area to visit faraway New England colleges, icy sirens that entice my baby away from home. She is seduced by the notion of seasons and separation by three time zones. I fear that she will be dashed to pieces on the rocky shores of urban transit systems, excessive slush, and homesickness. But I book the flights and map out an itinerary from one ivy-covered campus to another. I feign enthusiasm, but really I know we will not survive the trip, we will be killed amid all those crazy Boston drivers. At least we will die together.
I have taught her nothing to help her survive apart. She is unacquainted with the mysteries of laundry. No roommate will tolerate her sodden towels heaped in the corner, her piles of shredded Kleenex. She’ll forget her keys. Locked outside in the cold after midnight, her shivering vulnerability will attract predators as a drop of blood draws sharks.
If she had any sense, she’d be too petrified to go. But she has no idea what it means to be 3,000 miles away, with no one to keep the porch light burning. How will she evade seedy muggers lurking in the subway and suave upperclassmen who will break her heart? It’s a dangerous world out there, and she doesn’t even know it. But I will stay vigilant round the clock, my sleepless terror an invisible shield emanating across the vast space between us, keeping her safe.
I worry that my anxiety will stunt her just as tar and nicotine cross the placental barrier to inhibit a baby’s growth. Perhaps I want to stunt her, to keep her safe. Or perhaps she has fed upon my confidence and courage, sucking me dry so she can grow big and brazen while I shrivel up with worry. All I know is that the world I once viewed as mine for the taking is now hers. I watch her go, blissful, blind, while I am left with nothing but my heart in my throat and a too-bright smile plastered on my face.
How did my mother bear it when I boarded a Greyhound bus with a few sandwiches and naïve confidence, leaving her behind for the opposite coast? She must have worried that I had no job, no apartment, no clue of what I was getting into, no idea of when I’d come home again. I broke her heart, and I didn’t even know it. Or care.
She was adult enough not to tell me. I hope that I am adult enough, too.