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The green dresser
Apr 23rd, 2011 by alexfaye

Green dresser, circa 1944

My daughter Maddy moved out today.  She is 23 now, and moving into her first one-bedroom apartment is an important milestone.  And no roommate.  This is not college, where she is subsidized by savings and scholarships and loans – she went out and found this place, put a deposit down, and now must pay for it, month in and month out.  She has done the math a hundred different ways, and is sure she will be able to handle everything comfortably.  She has a good job in Pomona that looks like it will last for a good while.  Although…it seem as if this company may be acquired soon — the principal owner is eighty years old — and there is certain to be a shake up.  If she continues to demonstrate her worth, she may be spared and integrated into the new organization.  All this is new to her, but this is what I worry about.

But why worry?  That girl has always landed on her feet.  She’s smart, and resourceful.  And I don’t know anything about the company she works for.  I’m making it all up in my head.

I went to go see the apartment yesterday; it’s cute.  It’s on a quiet street, tucked in an older Fullerton neighborhood, within walking distance from the “action” of downtown — corners of Harbor and Commonwealth.  It’s exactly the kind of place a 23-year old girl should live in:  tiny, clean, with families all around, and a big avocado tree outside.  Today, she packed her room, loaded up her car and drove away, with very little fanfare.  She said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  My eyebrows shot up.  “Are you sleeping there tonight?,” I wanted to know. She shrugged.  Maddy has no bed, no fridge, no gas on for the stove, no coffeepot, no couch, no table, no chair.  But she’s all dressed up, and anxious to go find her friends, haul her stuff upstairs, and then drink too much.

I face the emptiness of my house with a mixture of elation and grief.  I am going to miss her, but I don’t think mothers should have a front row seat to their daughters’ 20s.  It’s not a pretty decade.  There are bad decisions, tragic love affairs and ill-fated liaisons; there’s vomit in the driveway and cigarette butts spilling over their ashtrays.  I moved far, far away so my mother’s worries were vague and diaphanous; she couldn’t really put her finger on what troubled her, whereas I see it all, up close.  I’d prefer to see less.  I am banking on Maddy emerging from this decade alive, wiser, and appreciative of what it takes to keep a household together, day after day, month after month, for years following years.  It’s no mean feat.

I have little money to help her, so we are relying on her dad, who has been generous and accommodating.  Today, though — he’s depressed, and not up for shopping with me.  He’s been in a whirlwind of activity all week with his sister and her family down for Easter vacation; he can’t do too much before he falls into his morass of dark emotion.

I called a green dresser back into service — it used to belong to my sister, but it’s been the garage now for at least 25 years — so when I pulled it away from the wall in the garage,  I found black widow spiders, rat poop and mold.  I ran inside to get a mask to go over my nose and mouth, and a scarf to cover my hair, and then I started to methodically clean this piece of furniture that we surely had on Winchester Street.  This dresser dates back to at least the 1960s; Vicki thinks that it might be from the 1940s.  I remember my mother painting it that crazy green color, but which house were we in then?  Spain?  Morocco?  Petunia Court in San Diego?  It has big round white ceramic drawer pulls – very 1970s in appearance.    I dusted it off, killed the spider nests, took a wire brush to every inside surface, vacuumed it, sprayed it with Lysol, wiped it down with Clorox, and left it disassembled to air out.  It was a process, and during my work, I thought of my mother, and moving away from her house many different times.

When I was 23, I was already in the north, flailing around.  My mother was in this house, the one that I live in today.  I had abandoned my Southern California life, and that included her.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, of course, but I am a mother now, and I know now how she experienced my departure.

It’s not that I want Maddy to stay.  In many ways, I am relieved to have my house to myself once again; I suffered one hundred little indignities as Maddy’s roommate.  But my heart is breaking anyway.  My child is grown, and her life belongs to her; I am no longer needed.  Well, I haven’t been needed as a “mom” for a long time, and I suppose she needs to remind me of that simple truth as a declaration of independence.  Providing food, shelter, safety and entertainment is a paltry thing compared with being somebody’s capital-M Mom.  There was a time when she adored me, but now, as she completes her separation, she must articulate all of the ways she does not need me, the ways that she exceeds me, the things that she knows better, the ways that I oppress her with worry or care.  She has to push me to the side, as I pushed my own mother aside.  As I scrub out the green dresser that my mother painted, I regret my part in this stupid cycle.

It’s off to Target for a dish drainer and a broom, a pot holder and a dish towel.  She needs everything.  I try not to think about the San Luis Obispo yard sale I sat at 10 months ago, when everything I had ever given her was up for sale for a song.  She sold it all and hit the road with Hannah for their WWOOF adventure.  Less than a year down the road, she’s a full time quality control chemist, starting a new life, and she needs a broom.  She will be fine.  I will be fine.  Life is not through with us yet.

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