It had been a few weeks since her daughter Elizabeth left for college, and gradually the silence in the house lost its initial sense of hostility. It took awhile, but she was finding ways to distract herself. She started checking off, from her imaginary list, all the things she had always claimed raising children made it impossible for her to do –reading for pleasure, experimenting with old recipes, channeling more energy into her marriage. Knowing Elizabeth was a phone call away allowed the ache in her chest to subside and gave her the reassurance that if there was a real need to worry, she would know.
With Elizabeth’s call that week came her first mention of a boy–one named Zach in her Shakespeare class who would lightly squeeze her hand without warning only to look away innocently without saying a word, and tease her incessantly until she was visibly annoyed, only to shoot her a big smile that made her anger dissipate in a second. The giddiness in her daughter’s voice instantly brought back her own memories of light freckles and a vibrant laugh, along with the fresh sting of a heartbreak that had dulled over the years.
Elizabeth was clearly smitten, and although she never said anything that raised any alarms, the knots in her stomach couldn’t help but tighten–in her eyes, Elizabeth was still the same sensitive, trusting girl who gave anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it. Reminding herself that she had no reason to expect the worst, she listened thoughtfully to details of late nights spent at the library together editing essays for class, conversations on the phone that lasted past midnight, and frequent dinners at a Chinese place close to campus that may or may have not qualified as dates.
The feelings her daughter shared were ones she herself hadn’t felt firsthand in over a decade. There was truly nothing comparable to the excitement of a new developing romance, of trying to figure out whether the person truly felt the same way or if mutual affection was a figment of the imagination–her own experiences in college trying to deconstruct conversations and facial expressions for proof of a boy’s feelingsstayed fresh in her memory.
She mirrored Elizabeth’s excitement in her response, but also made it a point to warn her to be cautious, and make decisions based on reason, not with just her heart. She knew her daughter wasn’t the type to jump into anything headfirst without evaluating every possible outcome, but she also knew from her own experience how easy it was for feelings to make a mess of things. After she finished talking, she could almost hear her daughter rolling her eyes through the phone, but the sincerity of Elizabeth’s reply made it clear to her that she wouldn’t forget the advice.
After hanging up the phone, she wondered how long she would be hearing about this boy–maybe he would still be around her daughter’s junior year, or maybe he wouldn’t last the semester. Trusting enough in Elizabeth’s ability to take care of herself to alleviate most of her initial worry, she finally set aside her phone to plan the rest of her day–but not before texting her daughter quickly to plead for a picture of the two of them together, if she had one.