“Sorry!” I say to the young woman at the coffee drive-up window. It’s taken me ages to roll down and up both back windows before lowering my own window to speak and pay and I can see cars lining up behind me as I fumble with levers and knobs. “I’m discombobulated,” I go on as if she really needs to know. “I’m borrowing my partner’s car.”
As I drive away with an iced mocha and a kid-sized mango smoothie, my daughter asks, “Mami, what does ‘partner’ mean?” Seriously??? How many times has she heard this word in her eight years of life? No – better yet – how often has she USED it?
“Just now, I meant your Mama. My life partner, domestic partner. But it’s also a word for business partner, work partner, performance partner. You probably do work at school in partners, too.”
“We do.” I take a sip of my mocha, and continue following my partner in the Penske truck to my stepdaughter’s new one-bedroom apartment. Words, words, words. All these names for the relationships in our family. Daughter, Stepdaughter, Mami, Mama, LOVE – words we use to describe for the outside world what it is that makes us wake at 7 a.m. on vacation and carry cabinets and couches upstairs to a small room overlooking an alley one block from a lake, three of us two and a half hours from home. “Do you think she knew what you meant?”
“No. Probably not. But I didn’t feel like explaining.”
“What’s discombobulated?” She asks, pronouncing the word perfectly.
“Mixed up. Confused. Not smooth.”
* * * * *
“Look, Mom! It’s a river,” she says to me five minutes later in the pouring rain. A small rivulet of rain water is growing on the blacktop behind our truck, strategically parked behind the new apartment hours before we are allowed to move things in.
“It is!” I exclaim.
I remember my first solo apartment, full of promise and excitement, nerves and this delicious sense of freedom which is impossible to express.
The river branches off in many directions, gathering drops as it flows along the blacktop cracks.
“It is!” I affirm the river and raise my head to the lake, imagining the shady tree under which our eldest will do homework and write letters or notes to the people she loves.
We are told the rain will lift by noon.
* * * * *
By the time we leave town, my stepdaughter has her couch, desk, dresser, bookcase, and trash bins settled into semi-permanent spots, last night’s pizza in her fridge, and boxes upon boxes marking a path from her front door straight to the bed.
And I have this image:
Our girls holding hands, both wearing blue and grey, sunlight behind them as they walk back to us from the hardware store – one eight, draped in her sister’s shirt for warmth, looking up with unmitigated love and admiration; the other twenty-one, her face turned, listening, full-to-bursting with love. And admiration.
We are lucky, belonging to each other as we do. We’re tired and our backs are sore, but we’re lucky, all of us, belonging to each other (and to others, too). It is. Exactly as it should be.