"Lilly, I'm sure he's terrific, but don't you need time to really get to know him before -- "
"Don't do that, Mom. I'm not six years old. I don't believe in fairy tales. I didn't say we're gonna wind up together. I'm just excited, okay?"
"You're right. I'm sorry." I started to reach out to take her hand, but she'd already stood up and was walking towards the door.
Lying back on my pillows, I'd tried to be happy for Lilly and think about the dreams she would have that night, instead of being anxious for her, except I knew there were no guarantees. Sometimes love worked out, but more often it failed.
While Lilly was growing up, I'd avoided reading her the prince-and-princess kind of fairy tales, so of course, every time we went to a bookstore or a video store, all Lilly wanted was Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I found less romanticized tales and more realistic adventures for Lilly, determined to prevent my daughter from being seduced by the happy endings that had warped my thinking and the thinking of generations of women before me.
Men did not kiss women, make them princesses, and take them to live in towering castles. Most people did not stay in love forever. Endings were brutal.
I hoped Lilly would see men as equals and enjoy them, but not idolize them. I wanted her to be self-reliant and not invest her identity in her relationships.
When she was seven, Lilly finally saw Disney's Cinderella at a friend's house. For days it was all she talked about, repeating the story over and over. For weeks she wouldn't answer to her own name, insisting on being called Cinderella. And even though it was a month away, she'd incessantly begged for a Cinderella costume for Halloween.
"It even comes with glass slippers, Mommy," she'd said, and her eyes sparkled imagining such a thing.
I tried to entice her with a Catwoman costume, or an astronaut's outfit, but she wouldn't budge.
One night, over dinner, I lost my patience. "Lilly. Why do you want to be someone who isn't real? Cinderella isn't real, she's just a dream."
"She has to be real," Lilly insisted. "Or else how can she live happily ever after?" She had flailed her arms and kicked her feet on the chair rail. Flinging her plate to the floor, she ran out of the kitchen. Peas rolled in every direction. Ketchup splattered on the tiles. Our dog, Good, scampered to get the scattered pieces of chicken. It took me hours to calm Lily down.
But ten years later, sitting beside my breathless daughter, who was counting the miles to New Haven, I knew all my efforts had been for nothing. Lilly was enraptured by Cooper: he was her dream come true, and nothing I could say would deter her. My interference would only drive her further from me.
Lilly had found something she wanted and that meant she now had something to lose -- something that could and probably would cause her pain. I wished that, like my grandmother, I were religious, so I could pray that my daughter would survive her first foray into love, that she would not give more than she got, and that no man would ever shatter her heart the way her father had shattered mine.
During the whole ride up to Yale, Lilly talked about Cooper's ideas and why he was going to be a great architect one day. I listened to what she said, not hearing the individual words as much as the tone and the tenor of her chatter. Lilly was infatuated, and no one could compete with the man who was arousing such intense emotions in her.
"I brought some of Dad's shots of me to show Cooper," Lilly said, patting the knapsack that lay on the floor beneath her feet. Peeking out of it was the battered aluminum Nikon that had once belonged to Robert and that Lilly now carried everywhere.
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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