Maybe it was the champagne. She normally didn't drink any alcohol before speaking. Even if she knew the talk cold, even in the most casual setting, she always wanted to be as mentally sharp as possible, especially for the question and answer session at the end, which could be confrontational and full of rich, unscripted debate. But she didn't wanted to offend anyone, and she drank a little more than she probably should have when she became trapped again in passive aggressive conversation with Josh.
Maybe it was jet lag. As her mind scoured its corners for the word and a rational reason as to why she lost it, her heart pounded and her face grew hot. She'd never lost a word in front of an audience before. But she'd also never panicked in front of an audience either, and she'd stood before many far larger and more intimidating than this. She told herself to breath, forget about it, and move on.
She replaced the still blocked word with a vague and inappropriate 'thing,' abandoned whatever point she'd been in the middle of making, and continued on to the next slide. The pause had seemed like an obvious and awkward eternity to her, but as she checked the faces in the audience to see if anyone had noticed her mental hiccup, no one appeared alarmed, embarrassed, or ruffled in any way. Then, she saw Josh whispering to the woman next to him, his eyebrows furrowed and a slight smile on his face.
She was on the plane, descending into LAX, when it finally came to her.
Lydia had been living in Los Angeles for three years now. If she'd gone to college right after high school, she would've graduated this past spring. Alice would've been so proud. Lydia was probably smarter than both of her older siblings, and they had gone to college. And law school. And medical school.
Instead of college, Lydia first went to Europe. Alice had hoped she'd come home with a clearer sense of what she wanted to study and what kind of school she wanted to go to. Instead, upon her return, she told her parents that she'd done a little acting while in Dublin and had fallen in love. She was moving to Los Angeles immediately.
Alice nearly lost her mind. Much to her own maddening frustration, she recognized her own contribution to this problem. Because Lydia was the youngest of three, the daughter of parents who worked a lot and traveled regularly, and had always been a good student, Alice and John ignored her to a large extent. They granted her a lot of room to run in her world, free to think for herself and from the kind of micromanagement placed on a lot of children her age. Her parents' professional lives served as shining examples of what could be gained from setting lofty and individually unique goals and pursuing them with passion and hard work. Lydia understood her mother's advice about the importance of getting a college education, but she had the confidence and audacity to reject it.
Plus, she didn't stand entirely alone. The most explosive fight Alice ever had with John followed his two cents on the subject-- I think it's wonderful, she can always go to college later, if she decides she even wants to.
Alice checked her Blackberry for the address, rang the doorbell to apartment number seven, and waited. She was just about to press it again when Lydia opened the door.
"Mom, you're early," said Lydia.
Alice checked her watch.
"I'm right on time."
"You said your flight was coming in at eight."
"I said five."
"I have eight o'clock written down in my book."
"Lydia, it's 5:45, I'm here."
Lydia looked indecisive and panicky, like a squirrel caught facing an oncoming car in the road.
"Sorry, come in."
They each hesitated before they hugged, as if they were about to practice a newly learned dance and weren't quite confident of the first step or who should lead. Or it was an old dance, but they hadn't performed it together in so long that they each felt unsure of the choreography.
Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Lisa Genova
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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