Every day after work, you fall onto your bed, clothes and shoes still on. You hear your nine-year-old daughter’s TV show in the front room. You feel guilty for not making her dinner. Even to cry over your recent divorce requires too much effort.
You are desperate to escape into sleep. Yet you force yourself up from the bed and into the kitchen. Stuck on the stove is a familiar yellow Post-it note, written in the careful penmanship of your daughter. You notice that she still prefers not to capitalize letters.
will we have dinner?
Although this is not her first note ending with please answer, you are startled. Why does she say this? Do you not answer her?
Her father is relentlessly extricating himself from all parental responsibility. He is starting a new life as an acolyte to a spiritual guru. He lives in an ashram and has been told to avoid the negative energy generated by your daughter moving back and forth between his home and yours. If he cannot have her full-time, then he will not have her at all. He seems oblivious to the “negative energy” he has now created for her. There is no shared custody. There are no weekend visits. There is no child support. At bedtime, your weepy daughter asks, “Why don’t I ever see Daddy anymore? I miss him.” You have no easy answer and no guru.
You had been living in a charming bungalow in Marin County. Now you are in a small apartment in the fog belt of San Francisco. You start a new job near chronically foggy Lands End. You go to work in the fog. You come home in the fog.
You don’t remember when you last reminded your daughter to bathe, until the school sends home a notice that she has lice in her hair. She may not return until the lice are gone. Overwhelmed, you buy the special comb and shampoo. You pick nits. You launder everything that isn’t tied down. You are both miserable. The lice are gone. You promise each other, “That will never happen again.”
One night you come home from work and you do not immediately collapse onto the bed. You go straight to the kitchen to make dinner. You ask your daughter if she has homework. She replies, “I always do it before you come home.” Should you have known that?
You take a day off work just to clean your daughter’s bedroom, strewn with stuffed animals, clean and dirty clothes, books, Post-its, school work, Barbie dolls, and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches, no surface free from clutter. Arriving home after school, your daughter is surprised and giddy with pleasure. She dances around her room and jumps on the bed.
Soon you move to another apartment in the Haight, on the cusp between fog and sun. Your daughter brings home a flyer about an after-school choral program in the city.
“Please, can I be in this chorus? I want to sing.” She auditions. You fill out the forms for a scholarship. You find her a carpool. She starts to sing.
You rejoin the dance troupe you had quit because of the divorce and the move and the new job. Your daughter comes along to the evening rehearsals and studies her music while you dance.
One morning your daughter asks for five dollars.
“You can’t ask why—I want to surprise you.”
You give her the money. When you come home from work, dinner is ready. She has shopped at the corner market and made macaroni and cheese out of a box and a fruit salad of bananas and strawberries.
“Are you surprised? Do you like it?”
Hopping from one foot to the other, she is bursting with pride. You don’t know if she sees the tear on your cheek as the two of you sit down together at the table, carefully set for two. The rays of the late afternoon sun brighten the kitchen as you eat.
You say, “You haven’t left me any Post-it notes lately.”
She says, “I haven’t needed to.”