The grandfather clock chimed the hour, and in the gleam of the fire, I saw a fresh silvery tear mar Lilly's unblemished skin. I longed to take my daughter in my arms and let her cry on my shoulder the way she had when she was younger. As much as I ached for her, I would have welcomed the opportunity to offer her solace. There was not much else she needed me for any longer.
But I would have been the only one comforted by Lilly's tears wetting my neck.
"Lilly, please tell me what's wrong. I'm imagining all kinds of horrible things. Is Cooper in some kind of trouble?" I asked.
She hiccuped a sob, a laugh, and a breath all at once. "But you don't have a problem with him?" she said sarcastically. "Why do you just assume he's in trouble? It's just that he can't come to the city next weekend because he's been assigned some monster project for his design class. That means I won't see him for three weeks." The thought of it caused another sob.
While Cooper tried to come into the city to see Lilly at least every other weekend, it wasn't always possible. The architecture program at Yale was rigorous and demanding. If your average fell below a C you were kicked out, and since Cooper was on scholarship, he was under even more scrutiny.
Lilly complained that I -- and Robert, since he backed me up on this -- were too strict because we rarely let her go up to Yale for weekends. She had her own schoolwork to do, we had argued. She would be applying for college soon and needed to keep her own grade-average high.
But even more disturbing was knowing that when she went up to visit him, they spent the night together. She was only a junior in high school and the idea of her being sexually active was an anathema to me.
But as much as I worried about her involvement with Cooper, I couldn't bear watching Lilly suffer.
In the shadows of the room, the past hung like cobwebs never brushed away. I watched myself, barely two years older than Lilly, sitting on this same couch, overcome with grief because of my father's sudden death. The emotion was still so strong it reached out and touched me across the span of almost twenty years. Having endured both pain and loss in my life, I foolishly thought I could protect my daughter from those same experiences.
And so, because I hated to see her cry and because I wanted to feel her arms around me for just a moment, I reached out the only way I could.
"Would you like me to drive you up to Yale for the weekend?" I asked.
"You mean I could stay over?"
I nodded, yes.
Of course, I didn't want her to go. I wanted her to be at my birthday dinner along with my brother, his family, my closest friend, and her husband. But I also wanted her to be happy.
Wouldn't her pleasure rebound and give me pleasure, too?
Lilly's eyes, normally round, grew rounder. The green shone brighter despite the tears, and in the depths of the color I saw both my own eyes and my husband's.
My daughter's favorite bedtime story had been how, in the midst of the tragedy of my father's death, I had met Robert, stared into his face, and seen that our eyes were the exact same green-blue color
"And you recognized yourself in Daddy's eyes?" Lilly would ask.
"And he saw himself in your eyes?"
"And you fell in love with each other and now we all have the same eyes."
Summing up that happy ending, she'd always smiled.
Now she was smiling the same way in anticipation of seeing Cooper.
"Come on, baby, get your stuff packed and let's get on the road."
"Oh, Mom!" All traces of tears were gone and happiness flooded her face. She threw her arms around me and I held her as tightly as I could. As soon as I let go, Lilly jumped up and ran halfway up the stairs. Then, with one hand poised on the polished oak banister, she stopped, and turned around.
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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