Home is an empty place

Cameron and I shared a special connection.  Kylie knew.  Most of the time she seemed nonplussed about it.  It only bothered her when Cameron and I tried to pair up in Pictionary.  Even “go with the flow” Kylie drew the line there.

We flaunted our connection only once.  I did it for her, to keep her mind occupied while she was starving.  We were traveling in Utah, it was breakfast time, she was hungry and the service was slow.  Things were getting tense as the four of us waiting for our meals to be delivered.

It was a simple demonstration; a parlor game without the hidden trick. I took all the jellies in the tabletop holder out and told her to turn them face down while creating a pattern.  That’s all she needed to do, consciously create and remember a pattern.  Grape, Grape, Grape, Strawberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Grape etc.  She did it over and over again and I matched her turn for turn.  She’d create the pattern and I’d tell her what she had done.  I don’t recall Tim even commenting but I know Kylie saw. That was the day Kylie learned what Cameron and I already knew.  I really could read her mind.

As she grew, I reminded Cameron that she’d have to find her own voice.  I reminded her that life was a bit too easy for her, knowing that I knew what was wrong even if she couldn’t find the words to describe it.  In my mind, our connectedness wasn’t a realistic model for future friendships or relationships.  She understood but she liked that it was so easy between us.   So did I.

I read her mind about sports and about school.  She had such a tough outer persona that it seemed as though nothing bothered her on the field, on the court or in the classroom.  What she was reluctant to admit, but couldn’t avoid acknowledging since I already knew, was that her persona held her back.  That didn’t make her unique – we all are held back by our sense of who we are.  By our limited definition of what we are.

Cameron didn’t want to ever appear weak so in class so when she didn’t understand, she just pretended she did.  She didn’t want to ask questions and appear not smart.  That was another part of her reputation, the smart kid in all the honors classes.

She had it easier, athletically.  Most of the time, her talent was enough.  She’d grown up subbing in on almost every team of Kylie’s I ever coached and on quite a few where I wasn’t the coach as well.  She might not know the plays but she’d be there giving it her all.  She loved this part of her reputation.  The gifted athlete was a role she enjoyed.  Indeed, on the one occasion she got to work out with the girls practicing “Touch” at St. Hilda’s she was pissed about having been relegated to practicing with the C team.  Mind you, it was a sport she didn’t know and had never seen.  Yet, she gleefully reported to me later that the coach started saying to the other girls, “do it like her, she’s got it going exactly right!”

I think the strength of our connection was one of the reasons she never wanted to stray far from me and somewhat counterintuitively, one of the reasons she was able to go so far away from me on this trip.

During our final five and a half months together we had almost melded into one.  It might be that almost “oneness” that keeps me from going crazy from grief.  It is my saving grace, my salvation, my center, my port of call in this stormy, turbulent time.

Kylie went off to Haverford on Wednesday, August 25th.  We took two cars.  Kylie had lots of stuff and Cameron and I had to head back first for day two of soccer tryouts.  From the moment she and I hopped in the car to head down to practice we knew a new phase of our lives had begun.  No longer would Cameron have her best friend just a few steps away.  No more “breakfast train” partner and, more importantly perhaps, someone to split the morning “job list” with.  Yet, Kylie’s leaving was a loss and a gain.  Cameron and I lost her companionship, her humor, her availability to drive her sister places, her tutoring and quizzing time and her calm, practical demeanor.  Yet, with her gone, Cameron and I had the chance to forge an even stronger bond.

From that day forward, I never missed an episode of Jonas LA, Survivor, The Amazing Race, Glee or the Sing Off.  I followed the Jonas Brothers on Ocean Up and read both daily papers looking for celebrity gossip.  I drove Cameron to school every morning and picked her up every evening.  We ate breakfast and dinner together.  I planned each trip to yoga around her schedule; especially on Sundays when she needed her “Mama-cakes.”  We shopped together, laughed together and studied together.  Oh how she studied.  Now that I have had a chance to learn more about the contrasts between the American and Australian secondary education system, I find myself thinking about all the stress Cameron was under at school.  All the stress her friends continue to experience.

Knowing what I know now I would have encouraged her to do things differently.  So much of her time that wasn’t spent in class or in sports was either spent doing homework or worrying about school.  That’s one of the many gifts her trip to Australia gave us.  She was never more carefree than she was while she was there.  I smile when I think of her post about being “found out” as a genius.  It was so good for her to be there on her own, in a “non-selective” school setting, and away from the bright light of Kylie’s academic aptitude.

Studying formed many of our best and most intimate moments.  I’d always made myself available to both girls if they wanted me to quiz them on school subjects.  We joked about how, since I didn’t really “go” to high school, this was my comeuppance: a second and third chance to do what I hadn’t done before.  Except that what they were called on to do, to memorize, to write, create, and craft was so much harder than what I was asked in the 70’s.  It seemed so daunting, so overwhelming, so onerous.

But quiz we did.

Cameron did her best work for treats.  It was sort of like animal training – rewards were a way to motivate her and to acknowledge hard work.  Usually it was gum or candy but for a number of weeks it was silly bands.  She couldn’t have gotten through her AP US History mid-term without those silly bands.  For another exam it was tiny toy animals.  I’m not sure the “treat” was what mattered.  What mattered was that Mama took the time to make it fun, to break up the monotony, that there were games involved.  I also made quizzes.  Before every test and most quizzes and quests, too.  Matching, short answer, fill in the blank.   The essays were harder.  She didn’t want to take the time to work on the answer and I didn’t know enough about what she was studying to know if she’d done well.

Once the quizzing ended each day, it was usually time to head upstairs for be.  We took turns tucking each other in bed at night.  Or, rather, we didn’t have to count turns, it occurred naturally.  Whoever went to bed first got tucked in by the other.  What we did take turns with were the “kids.”  She got my Teddy one night and Freddy and Getty the next night.  Our rituals kept us connected even while we slept.

My Ted’s with her now.  He holds her tight because I cannot and I still have moments when I think I can read her mind.  Right now, with her classmates still in high school, I find myself able to interject Cameron into their current events.  Because of the synchronicity that existed between us, I believe that the feelings I have about the Ring Dance, the soccer season, tomorrow’s basketball tryouts, and the fall musical are pretty close to what she’d be feeling if she were still physically here.  As the PSAT’s came and went and midterms approach, it’s not hard to imagine what we’d be going through at home. I can say the same thing about the college search process.  We’d already started down that road before she left for Australia.  I know what schools we would have visited and have a fair sense, even, of what she would have found and what she would have liked.

But what happens next?  When her classmates graduate and head out of Brooklandville?  When SPSG is no longer a place where the people who fill the hallways are from our shared experience?  Where the posts from the class of 2013 on Facebook change from high school to what’s beyond? A future that doesn’t include her and me?

I’m grappling now with a quote from Eckard Tolle’s A New Earth:

People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say, dependent on form.  They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe.  It changes constantly.  They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t have or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have.  And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that is always already here, that lies beyond what is happening or not happening, beyond form.

I feel confident that she and I lived in the moment when we were together – as best as a teenager and a busy working mom could.  The challenge now is for me to learn how to continue on that path without her physically by my side.

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