E.R. Visit

Doubtlessly, I talk too much with my teenager, as if I can fortress a wall comprised of vowel and consonant around her. Yesterday took an unexpected curve when she had a knuckle stitched up in Morrisville’s ER. Dark thread; alabaster skin.

In hours of waiting, just once I asked her to look at her gauze-wrapped knuckle. I asked, Do you see what my words mean?

This girl pushing-hard-toward-womanhood said one word: Yes.

Yes. A word overspilling with meaning, used in manifold humdrum ways (is it raining yet? do you want more kale? would you wash that laundry?) and then, in that afternoon, between the two of us – mother and daughter –that word arched between us in the clearest possible manner, resonating with all our 17 years together.

Do you see what I mean? Yes.

That yes acknowledged the misery of the present ER, the unwieldy bulk of the past, and yet that yes joined us, mother and daughter. Yes to my love for her, and yes in her acceptance of my love.

Parenting books are chock-full of advice, both decent and downright dumb. Seeing my daughter’s hand x-rayed, with her long elegant bones, ethereal in beauty, hidden beneath the bloody tear of her flesh, pulled me down into that near wordless place where only a few things matter.

Rain began falling as I drove home around Elmore Lake too cold for swimming this late in the season, and the autumn leaves golden and crimson on the familiar mountain. My brother, home with the 11-year-olds, holding up the pieces of my domestic life, had texted a request for paper towels and beer. My daughter and I stopped at the small Elmore store, where years ago this girl had eaten her first grape popsicle. My friend had carefully split that frozen treat in two equal halves for two 2-year-olds. She had used a plastic toy saw as a tool.

Going that final stretch home, I drove slowly, the two of us eating chocolate chip cookies and talking.

Where you stumble and fall, there you will find gold.

– Joseph Campbell

Summer of 17, Greensboro, Vermont