So, Zoe calls from Brooklyn, not that the place she is calling from is cogent; when Zoe calls sometimes my bowels clench, and maybe the closer she is the clenchier I get. Brooklyn is only 350 miles from me. Don't get me wrong, she's a great kid, well, she's a great 35 year old person who is blood-related. What does blood-related imply? For a father is implies a lot. I feel the burden of parenthood and am not sure just how to shoulder it. What are a father's responsibilites? Ah, this is what I cannot quite fathom. It must vary from dad to dad. I fear to do too little, but I also fear to be asked to do too much. As Zoe said at one point: this is all your responsibility, dad, you made me. I think to myself: At the time it was just another roll in the hay - unintended consequences abound.
Her life is an adventure, for all of us. To explain her just a bit is to mention that she is headstrong, bulldogedly obstinate, implacably of her own opinions, but changes her mind frequently about some things. Feeling that one of the great deficits of a man's world lies in women who haven't enough power, who become greedily clingy, and then vengefully powerful in all the unspoken ways of those who feel wronged, I wanted to raise a daughter who was independent and capable. I tried. She reminds me of the time she was 8 years old and sick and I made her call the doctor's office and get her own appointment. I really did try. Clumsy with the best of intentions.
When she was 17 I threw her out of the house, not for repeatedly sneaking out her window at night and going off to San Francisco, not for the drugs and alcohol, but for the lying. Being lied to puts me on edge. I can take so much of it, hoping for better, and then I snap. Her mother found an old friend living in Hawaii with whom Zoe could go live. While appalled that I was tossing out our daughter she didn't demand Zoe come live with her. Interestingly enough Zoe remembers going to Hawaii on vacation at 17 and simply never coming home.
Since Hawaii Zoe has lived several places, each of which finally caused her to long for another. We all get 'the grass is greener' thing; I don't count that against her. What I do have trouble with, and maybe count against her just a bit is her unwillingness to work steadily for a living. She has had many jobs, and one lasted for over a year. Another ended when the jet she was in crash-landed in Los Angeles; she injured her back leaping from the plane through the hole where there had been a wing, and she was afraid to fly again for a few years. Insurance settlements have been good to her. She has traveled the world over on these funds. I sometimes liken her to the visiting guest in Victorian novels; the one who goes from estate to estate staying 3 months here and a few there. Friends from all over the world have Zoe come and stay with them. Friends with the airlines give her free passes to fly to these places. For Zoe travel is the reason to live. But she has yet to find a way to make a steady living traveling.
I don't know how many years Zoe has been headed for New York. I have been actively trying to head her off from that destination for at least 5 years. Since we moved to Maine our house has become a springboard for her to attack the Big Apple, and then a refuge to fall back on. The City is a bone breaker. I have listened to her countless tales of the near-impossibility of getting a place to live, and without that how can a job be held? It is one of those vicious circles where there is always something you must have to get the other things, but without the other things you can't get that first thing. A mind-numbing complexity of pitfalls. Not only do I not go there, I don't even like to think about it.
It was in the Spring that she found a shared-rental in Brooklyn. I took a load of stuff down in the big pickup. Our garage had been full to the brim with Zoe-belongings for over a year, since they had arrived in a container from Hawaii. The place in Brooklyn was nice enough. The roomate a bland young woman from the midwest. I really didn't want to go down there. I hate big cities. But I went, and I got all her stuff inside, and I spent a couple days, and I got safely back to Maine. My duty was fulfilled and I breathed easier. One thing I had liked: we were in a little cafe and asked where a Home Depot was, and everyone in the cafe gave advice. There were no strangers if you needed help.
For the last few weeks word has slowly come North that she had to be out of the Brooklyn place by July. I had been waiting for weeks when the phone call came. The fact that she had looked at literally hundreds of apartments in the area, bounced back from the panic attacks and setbacks, was all grist for the mill. When Zoe struggles I stand back. She fights battles that Don Quixote would have envied. Her determination is incredible. My counsel is usually to do something other than whatever she is attempting. I am not the glibly encouraging sort; she has others who will do this for her, the chicken-soup people. So, I just get out of the way and wait for the bodies to fall so I can see where to go when there is finally something I can help with.
Five days to be out of Brooklyn and she calls to tell me she has an apartment in Spanish Harlem and needs to move NOW. Could I come right away? I gasp and mutter. I tell her I will call her back the next day. It is Tuesday and all has to be done by Saturday midnight. Steeling myself I decide that I must go. What are my choices? Do I play the Old card? Girl, I'm 60 and fading fast; I can't do it. No, save that one for the next decade. Do I play the Hurt card? I have this rum foot; I fell last week and can just barely walk... Naw, that's a weak excuse, even if true. Do I play the Scared-shitless card? Can't do it. Sure the idea of going the N.Y.C. scares the hell out of me; it is like going to the edge and gazing into the maw of hell, at least from my point of view. There really isn't any card to play but the dad-card. I call and tell her will be there Wednesday night.
My directions are more certain this time, and I don't end up in New Jersey, as I did when going to Brooklyn. I go across the George Washington Bridge and take the last N.Y. exit and call to tell Zoe that I have arrived, and where the hell am I? She doesn't know. Maybe I am on the wrong side of Manhattan. I drive up and down streets telling her the names and she tells me to go some other way, and then to go back again, and we fight on the phone as I wander.
It works out. I am driving down a street and see a tall blond on a cell phone standing in traffic - it's Zoe! I double park and we start schlepping stuff up to here new apartment. Up to that point I had never really paid much attention to the meaning of the term 'walk up'. She is on the third floor. I make seven trips taking things up, and I collapse. I take my shoe off and my bad ankle looks like a softball. I want to sit down. There is no furniture. We drink beer in an echo chamber. The intersection below is 116th and 1st Ave. It is loud. The loudness is continuous. It is hot. The heat abates only a little at night. Zoe has borrowed a two-part inflatable bed. We collapse on it with cold beers and lie there with the fan on us. It is almost bearable. I ask her what she has for a blanket if I get cold later. She looks around and hands me a bath towel. Peachy, I say.
The apartment really isn't bad. Entry hall, kitchen, nice big living room with 3 windows, a bed room, and the tiniest bath in the world. I have to say that I have never seen the likes of this bath. The toilet is even minature. If you think your bowels might unclench then you must sit so far forward on the seat that your 'equipment' hangs down the front of the toilet and your right knee is crushed in the plumbing on the six inch square sink. She wanted to get a towel hook for the door. I warned her that if anyone closed the bathroom door while you were in there a towel hook would impale you.
The linoleum in the kitchen is curled up all around the edges. My main job is to be put in a new floor. I have a box of self-stick 12" tiles to lay. Pulling the little stove out of one corner I begin to rip up the lino. Under it is a glued layer of tar paper, and beneath that is a glued layer of heavy old vinyl tiles. The sub floor isn't bad. I scrape, pry and hammer my way down the room and lay tiles behind me as I go. It is a two day job but looks great when done. Bathroom shelves and a closet shelf and I have done my contractor-dad-duty.
I really like the neighborhood she is in. One person in a hundred is anglo, and Spanish is heard everywhere. There are a few blacks and even fewer Asians. Every other building is a shop on the street level, mostly cafes. The bottom of her building is an upscale little bar and sidewalk cafe, not quite like anything else in the neighborhood. Zoe says that rumor has it the Mafia own the building and the bar is their hangout. I see some thick-necked, gold chained, cigar smoking guys in Cadillacs around the place and believe her.
Of an evening the sidewalks are full of families. People sitting everywhere with their kids. I see a large grandmother-type in a plastic wading pool with little kids. I like it here. Not as scary as I thought it would be, but so densely crowded that I cannot wait to leave. Lots of guys out walking their pitbulls, and quite a few mongrels as well. Life is oddly condensed on these strips of cement.
Saturday comes and Zoe has spent the night in Brooklyn getting all her stuff packed; I sat in a window in Harlem drinking rum and waiting for a breeze to come by. She has found a 14' truck, at the last moment, and four hispanic guys. They all arrive about noon and I go down to the street to be the truck-guard. Zoe stays upstairs to manage that end. I spend 3 hours in a box truck unloading it for the guys. It is like one of those sweat boxes prisons have where they send the really recalcitrant miscreants to learn a thing or two. What I learn is that these 4 guys she has hired are indomnitable. Up and down they go, dozens of trips, dripping with sweat, suffering; I can't believe that I ever had this sort of will or endurance. The oldest, in his forties, is diabetic; I find this out when I give them some money to get cokes. I start giving him the lightest boxes. End of the afternoon and Zoe owes each guy a hundred bucks, 5 hours at $20 each, and she doesn't have it. I hit the ATM and we all settle. One of the guys speaks English and leaves his phone number in case there is more work. I would hire them in a second.
Zoe wants to go eat. She has had a 14' truck double parked for hours and needs to move it. The truck needs to be back in Brooklyn in 2 hours; she is dazed and turning in circles trying to decide what to do. It is all done, I tell her. Take the truck back. I am going to get the car, load up my tools and go to Maine. I feel like she wants me to stay, but I have found the line in the sand. All the work is done, all the moving done, I have been away from home for 4 days, and I am leaving. That's all there is to it.
We part on the sidewalk and I head north. She calls me on the cell phone as I near Connecticut to tell me she has gone over an $8 bridge she didn't mean to and they have taken her license as she is broke. Later I find she has gone on to an ATM and taken out money to go and get her license back, but they want an extra $8. She tells them she is parking there until the police come to get her and not paying any more. The toll taker relents and lets her go to Brooklyn. I am home in Maine by 2200 and in my own bed a few hours later. I hope she never moves again.