Chapter 5: Arrogant Self-Reliance
Sandy opens the door to her house Sunday morning at 4 a.m. after a long Saturday night at the bar. Isadora is almost asleep on the couch watching the Spencer Tracey’s version of the movie “Father of the Bride”. Saturday night, when Sandy called from work to see what Isadora was doing, she was watching the Steve Martin’s version. Next week is the last week of class and Monday Isadora has a paper due. She has procrastinated until the last possible moment and is having to work through the week-end to complete her assignment. Isadora has complained and whined and cursed the history instructor who the week before she thought was the best teacher she ever had. Sandy just shrugged and told her that we all do what we must. Sandy knows this is simply a teenage rite of passage. We all have to learn the lessons of procrastination and consequences. Wasn’t a bad assignment really. Watch an original and remade movie and compare and contrast. How did the original and remake differ based on the time in which they were made? Two page paper. “Suck it up, daughter” had been Sandy’s parental guidance. The possible reasons why Isadora might have selected this choice of movies causes Sandy fear and sadness. Father’s Day is only a couple of weeks away.
Isadora is an unusual young woman at the age of 15. She is mature, wise, confident, and an independent thinker. Yet she could easily break into silent tears and appear years younger at the strangest and most unexpected of times. Sandy knew even when pregnant that it would always be just the two of them. She made some parenting decisions early. She had never talk to Isadora as if she was a child, had never read her fairy tales or had imaginary tea parties with her. There was no Santa Clause or tooth fairy. The things that Sandy had been provided by her parents, comforts of privilege and constant supervision by a nanny, were things Sandy could not provide. Very early, far earlier than normal, Isadora had been taught independent self-care skills, stranger danger, emergency procedures, cooking, laundry, changing a lightbulb. While Sandy had child-care support from Juanita and Juanita’s mother, Isadora was going to too often be left alone to not be confident in her ability to survive and problem solve. The things Sandy’s parents had withheld from her she gave Isadora in abundance; all the time she could spare, laughter, hugs, kisses, long conversations and lots of playtime. At the age of 13 when their neighbor had a stroke while walking up the stairs from the community laundry room and Isadora had found her, she had called 911, stayed by the woman, remembered to get her key from her purse when the paramedics came so she could go into the condominium, find her phone, called the neighbor’s daughter and had gone back to the laundry room to take the woman’s clothes out of the dryer. Amazingly calm is how the neighbor’s daughter had described her to Sandy. A week later Isadora called Sandy in tears and Sandy had left work to come home when Isadora found a dead pigeon on the balcony and didn’t know what to do. Just leave it for now, it’s only a pigeon, I’ll take care of it when I get home, but Isadora repeated over and over crying, but its dead. In the last year Isadora had taken on a protective air with Sandy. Sometimes Sandy would come home to find a flower and a note on her bed. At other times Isadora would be sleeping in Sandy’s bed, said she had a nightmare and got scared, felt better in her mother’s bed.
Last year on Father’s Day, Isadora asked for more details about her father. For the first time in her life, Isadora’s mother, Sandy, lied to her. Isadora knows her mother has lied to her but isn’t sure what specifically was true and what was false. Sandy does not know that Isadora knows she was lying, but fears the day when Isadora will press for more details.
Sandy had told Isadora that she and her father had a five year relationship, that they had loved one another and that he had simply been unprepared for the responsibility of fatherhood. Now she worries about when to tell her daughter the truth. How could she explain that he had never claimed to love her and she does not believe she loved him? How could she tell her daughter that her father was married to another woman and had never offered to leave his wife? Would Isadora want to meet her half-siblings? Could she ever tell her daughter that, when she told her father she was pregnant, he had only offered to pay for the abortion? Yet all of that is not the worse. How could she explain to her daughter that her and her father did have a five year relationship, but she became pregnant a little over a year into the relationship and didn’t stop seeing him until Isadora was three. In the last few months of the pregnancy they had stopped seeing each other, but had picked up again once Sandy returned to work. In the three years after Isadora was born, her father showed no interest in knowing her and never asked about her. Yet, Sandy continued to fuck him. Sandy was so obsessed with how he felt, how he looked, how his voice sounded that, when she did finally give him up, it took all she had to find some resolve and she had to move across country to keep herself from going back to him. If, at any time, he had tracked Sandy down, she was sure she would have surrendered back to her obsession of him. What would it do to a young girl’s psyche to know the truth about her conception and her father’s lack of caring? Sometimes Sandy thinks Isadora deserves the truth and that not telling her is proof that Sandy is a coward. Sandy is a caring mother. She does care about how the truth would impact her daughter. She is just as concerned as what knowing the truth would mean to the mother/daughter relationship. How can she ever expect her daughter to respect her again? How can she ever give her daughter advice on love or life when she herself had been such a whore?
Then, there is Mike. After years of abstinence, a younger, handsome man wanted to take her in his arms. The first time he grabbed her ass with both hands she knew she was going to use and be used by him. Eventually she will have to decide to break it off or introduce him to Isadora, but truly, nothing there but sex and he is younger. What kind of role model is she for her teenage daughter? She doesn’t want anything more from Mike but sex. Is that the lesson to teach her young daughter?
Why did Isadora choose to write a paper about “Father of the Bride” and so close to father’s day? Sandy looks at her daughter falling asleep on the couch while trying to watch the movie. Isadora looks a little like Sandy did at that age. She is going to be tall like her mother. In fact she is only an inch or two now from her mother’s height. She looks as if her arms and legs had grown faster than the rest of her and she often doesn’t know what to do with them. Sandy remembers that awkward stage. Sandy’s hair had been that stand-out red color. Isadora has her father’s beautiful black hair. Sandy kisses Isadora on the forehead, tells her to try and nap for a couple of hours before she works on her paper.
Most Sunday’s when Sandy gets home from work, she stays awake. Sunday is her day off. Isadora would get up around seven and mother and daughter would go for a bike ride, stopping for breakfast somewhere along the way. It is Sandy’s favorite time of the week: Sunday morning, mother/daughter bonding bike rides. She always feels a little like a kid again when she rides her bike and her daughter is beautiful with her long legs on the bike. Isadora has inherited her mother’s athleticism. She will be taking Flamenco dance lessons this summer. Sandy can’t wait to see her dance at the end of the summer in the recital.
Sandy sees Isadora’s poetry textbook and picks it up to read. It has been two weeks since she wrote her poem. She skims through it and randomly stops at the section on Robert Browning. Sandy reads, stops, frowns, returns to the beginning of the section and reads again from the beginning. These are not the poems she was expecting. These “love” poems are compelling. They make her stop, think, and occasionally blush. These poems remind her a bit of her own life not quite about romantic love, but about things love-like, but out of kilter. “My Last Duchess” seems to be about his wife’s infidelity. The Duke seems a bore and she is glad that the Duchess had managed to keep her life interesting. Who cares about a 900 year old name? Would that make your toes curl? It is “Porphyria’s Lover” which when she reads she finds herself laughing aloud: “I found a thing to do and all her hair in one yellow string I wound three times her little throat around, and strangled her.” She has to read it again to be sure she really understands. Yes, it is a poem about a man strangling a woman with her own hair and it isn’t intended to be a scary poem. It is a love poem. She tries to read the boring critical analysis at the end of the section. The thought is the man strangled her to keep her from committing sin. Oh, hell, no, she thinks, he was just a freak! She takes her own long strawberry-blonde hair and thinks it is long enough to strangle her, but would not wrap three times around. No, this is definitely not the love poetry she expected. It is a line from another poem that makes her think of the things Juanita said to her the other night. It is a line in “Paracelsus” that she thinks sounds the most like her. “Perchance, I perished in an arrogant self-reliance ages ago.” This is how she is going to die, she realizes, in an arrogant self-reliance. It sounds like a horrible way to perish, but that is what her friend, Juanita, was warning her about. The stanza of the poem, it turns out, is really about reincarnation. This man who had perished in an arrogant self-reliance sent up a prayer “so earnest so” that it was answered with another chance in another life. Sandy thinks to herself that she might be even more arrogantly self-reliant than this man. She can’t imagine sending up that prayer at that minute of death, because how pathetic would it be if there is no one there to hear it. It would be too much of a failure to offer up a prayer at death and then not have it answered. It is braver and better, she thinks, to go out the way you lived your life. Go out self-reliant and damn proud of it.
Maybe poetry really isn’t her thing, after all. It doesn’t seem like she is reacting to it the way she thinks the poet intended or in the way the critical analysis tells her she should be reacting to it. Is she supposed to laugh at strangulation, congratulate the wife on finding a way to enjoy life despite the Duke, or swear to herself no earnest prayer will escape her lips upon death? No, these are not the reactions poetry is supposed to inspire. Sandy realizes the conversation with Juanita has gotten to her a little. The book still on her lap open, she forgets about it as she ponders her reasons for being so self-reliant.
Was it growing up an only child with a work obsessed father and a mother who always had some function to go to? She had been raised really by a string of nannies. Was it her fire red hair that made her seem so different from everyone she knew? Now her normal color is strawberry blonde. It turns out fire red hair often goes blonde with age. Sandy thinks it is a little pathetic to blame her faults and life decisions on her hair color, but she knows the experience of being so teased and so different had scarred her a little. Great grandmother was a red head who had been from Salem, Massachusetts. She still remembers the nanny who told her that red heads were all witches. Her great grandmother was not one of the Salem witches. Great grandmother was an Episcopalian from a wealthy family. The nanny hadn’t lasted long. Still, there was no one else in the private school she attended who had her brand of hair, maybe light red, but not the fire hair which her mother had insisted be kept long. Sandy never really wanted friends, though. She liked solitude. Is it her nature, her upbringing, circumstances that has caused her to be so independent; so odd in how she approaches life? Is it that her parents always made her think love was something that needed to be earned and she was never quite good enough?
Sandy thinks about the last time she had seen her parents. She went home three months pregnant. She told them she needed to talk to them and on Friday when she arrived they had sat formally in the living room as Sandy told them the news, the whole news, that she was pregnant and the father was married. There had been no recriminations, scene, or questions. She was not, she said, having an abortion. Would she consider marrying someone else, her father asked, as if that could be so easily arranged. There was a young man he knew. No, she did not want to marry anyone else. She was hoping they would help her with money, she said, that’s what she needed. Her father said they would need a day to think about it. Somehow they managed, within the same house, not to see each other until Sunday afternoon. Her father in simple narrative and declarative sentences made it clear that she was on her own. A week later her mother came alone to the city. She had organized the things Sandy would need from them: her birth certificate, vaccination records, legal papers and one heirloom, her great grandmother’s bible. Her mother’s eyes were red and puffy. This time there were recriminations on both sides. Sandy begged her mother in a way she never had before. ’Please, please…I don’t know if I can do this alone.” Her mother blames Sandy for her pain. Did Sandy realize how much it hurt her to have to do this? It wasn’t her choice. It wasn’t easy for a mother to walk away. Why then, Sandy asks, why? It is your father’s decision. Will then stand up to him. Tell him you can’t just walk away from me and your grandchild. Please. Her mother snapped at her, shaken and distressed, that’s not possible. “I wouldn’t survive without your father. Women get married and men take care of them. In exchange they do what their husbands tell them. It is the way of things. Decent women get married and do what their husbands tell them to do.” “No matter what the cost”, Sandy screamed, “shouldn’t your child come first?” Sandy’s mother lived a privileged life-style and was from a different age. It gave her pain, but she couldn’t survive without Sandy’s father. Decent women get married and do what their husbands tell them. No matter the cost.
The book, falling from Sandy’s lap, brings her back into the present time. Sandy thinks again that if she is to die a death of arrogant self-reliance, she would. She wouldn’t risk sending up a prayer if there might not be a God to answer