My daughter stood beyond the fieldstone fence that separated the house from the beach. From the kitchen window, Lilly's slight form was silhouetted against the sunset and the sea. In that wide-open vista she seemed vulnerable and small. Even from a distance, I could see that she was shivering.
Grabbing a jacket for her, I threw one around my own shoulders and walked out, down the sloping lawn that was not yet green because spring had not quite arrived, and out to the edge of the property. It was the last weekend of March and the harsh winds blew against my face. Waves broke wildly against the shore. The sea air smelled briny: seaweed and shells, crabs and mussels.
Climbing down a half-dozen stone steps, I reached Lilly's side and handed her the jacket. "It's cold out here."
When my seventeen-year-old daughter turned to me, her features were distorted by sadness and her eyes, the green-blue of the sea beyond us, were filled with unshed tears.
"Why does being in love have to hurt so much?" she asked.
I wanted to wrap my arms around her and offer sympathy, but I knew the object of her affection was the only one who could comfort her completely.
When you are young, you fall in love with love itself and do not want anything from anyone but your beloved. Later on, it takes great courage and a little bit of stupidity to fall in love and then you need all the help you can get from everyone around you.
But saying anything like that to Lilly would not give her solace. This was her first venture into that madman's paradise of emotion.
Love is a tricky disease to cure. Any therapist who predominately treats women, like I do, knows that. While men can fall hard and feel its sting, women are love's victims in a more profound way. Frankly, I was a bit tired of love. Of its vicissitudes and masks. Of its early bloom and all too easy decay. Of its fickleness and its mysteries. If I could have invented an antidote, I would have been the first one to take it. Having fallen out of love years ago, I did not plan on falling in love again. I trusted other things: the solidity of friends, the loyalty of family, each season's beauty, and the ocean's constancy.
I did not encourage or discourage my patients when it came to romance. That was not my job. But in the process of helping them put broken hearts back together, I'd lost my own faith in that elusive emotion that has inspired poets, songwriters, and painters for centuries.
"Come inside, Lilly. I'll make some coffee -- no, that green tea you like so much -- and we can sit by the fire."
And maybe you'll tell me what's wrong, I thought.
Lilly shrugged and the bulky lumber jacket I had thrown around her shoulders fell off. I bent to pick it up and offered it back to her. Carrying the jacket, she began to walk back to the house, and I followed her, thinking of what I might say to her.
In the kitchen I put on the kettle and shook tea leaves into a fine silver teapot that my grandmother had used as a young bride when tea parties were still popular and well-off women wore white gloves and hats and spent the afternoons, not in the office, but in each other's company. My grandmother had never made green tea in that pot. She had served English breakfast tea with lemon and cream and homemade scones or madeleines. She cared more about her family than herself, went to church each Sunday, prayed every night, and tried to teach her prayers to me, but her rituals never became my own. She knew I said the words only to appease her, and it pained her that I never shared her deep, abiding faith in the goodness of either man or God. But what proof could my grandmother offer that prayers helped -- especially after my father was killed?
A long sigh of steam hissed from the logs burning in the five-foot-high fireplace as I entered the living room. Lilly was sitting on the floor. Her back was to me, and in the firelight, garnet highlights shone in her long, dark, and wild hair.
Copyright © 2000 by M.J. Rose. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at http://www.mjrose.com
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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