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Nice to Meet You
It has been three weeks since I started watching her. Not in a creepy manner -- I always kept my distance, and I never actually got out of my car. Oh God, I would never leave the safety of my car to follow her. If I did, that would involve her seeing me, and then I'd have to introduce myself to her, and she'd demand that I explain everything from the beginning, and I would probably violate a million contracts in the process.
Long story short, the world would implode if she knew I existed.
Despite all the lawsuits and deaths surrounding Toyota right now, I still have never felt safer than when I am inside my grey Toyota Corolla. The paint was clearly chipping, the rims lacked the silvery sheen they had when I first got them, and neither the radio nor the air conditioning worked, but I loved it. Ten years and not a single accident or traffic ticket. It was a record that I flaunted too often. My car was my church, my playground, my safe haven. I felt more secure in it than in my own house. I found something cathartic about jamming the key in the ignition and simply driving aimlessly on the weekends. Why must driving have a defined beginning and ending point, and why must the destination be the only thing that matters? Why are people so intent on doing other activities while they drive, like talking on the phone or putting on makeup? Why can't driving just be a enlightening activity by itself?
I bothered myself with these ultimately useless questions as I sat in my car, waiting for her. I couldn't help it. I had no desire to actually contemplate what I was doing at this moment, so I busied my mind with thoughts about my car to quell the voices that told me I was crazy. I felt guilty. If I attempted to explain this to anyone, I would undoubtedly sound like a stalker. But I wasn't. Not really...
It was 3:07 -- three minutes until she got out of school. I waited.
There were only three minutes left in French class. I was determined to channel all my energy into focusing on Madame Lafont's endless lecture.
But it wasn't endless. There were 1440 minutes in a day, and Madame Lafont demanded my undivided attention for only 40 of them. That was about 2.8% of my day. It wasn't a great amount of time to give up for a language I was supposed to love. I'd been taking it for at least eight or nine years by now -- it was a reasonable inference that I would have some attachment to it. French was a beautiful language, but I couldn't help feeling detached from it most of the time, never having visited France or any location outside the United States. My mom would never let me.
We were so fundamentally different, my mom and I. It's not like we were related by blood, so that might explain it. I loved her, but we were from totally different universes. Given the chance, I would travel far away and try a million kinds of exotic foods and dance with complete strangers and immerse myself in new cultures. My mom had no desire to venture to the local sushi bar, much less travel to another continent. I guess don't blame her. Watching deaths in the emergency room of Mercy South Hospital everyday was bound to put a damper on her adventurous spirit.
She assured me that being a trauma surgeon was not always sad. Sometimes I believed her. Whenever she brought up work, it was either because she actually had an uplifting patient to tell me about, or she was trying to calm a burst of insecurity regarding my future. My mom was not the type-A doctor that actively forced their child to follow in her footsteps, but she wanted me to be one so badly. Her voice was relatively soft and demure when she brought up work, but her hazel eyes were always revelatory of palpable desire. What was worse was that she knew I wasn't so intent on pursuing medicine. I felt her gaze burn through my skin and pierce my heart. I felt guilty, I really did. I should have wanted to be like her. She jogged two miles almost every morning, ate only the healthiest and most organic foods, and was a complete genius. She had paved the way for me to live the same, excellent lifestyle.
For some reason, excellent just didn't appeal to me. I exhaled a huge sigh of relief as the bell rang, as if my body was a balloon and it had just deflated, releasing all the hot air that had accumulated inside it.
But the fact that I was turning eighteen tomorrow and still had no clue what to do with my life was admittedly bothersome.
She wore a bright yellow halter dress today, with some shoes that appeared to add a few inches of height. We were both vertically challenged, although she was probably taller than me by now. Her chestnut curls framed her small, oval face perfectly. Her smile sported teeth that had obviously been altered by braces, and she had a strange tan that cut off at her upper arms and at her knees. She probably played some kind of sport, maybe soccer?
She walked with a certain awkwardness in her heels -- her feet probably felt fine for the first few hours of school, but by now, she was in agony. I knew the feeling. Heels always look good in the morning, but come nighttime, they feel like a mistake. She didn't talk to many people as she exited school, but she appeared to have a fair number of friends. I started my car as she approached her tiny blue Honda Fit. I only actually watched her for a few minutes each day, from when she left school to when she got in her car. I parked at the entrance of the elementary school building, so others probably assumed I was the parent of a smaller child. Strangely enough, the lane was barren whenever I was there.
Shoot! Did she just turn and look in my direction? No, it couldn't be. We're parked so far apart. There's no way she just turned and saw me... it's impossible to make eye contact from this distance. I'm going insane, maybe this is my cue to drive away.
She could not have seen me. There's no way. And even if she did, there's no way she would know that I'm her biological mother... right?
The grey car was in the parking lot again yesterday. My school is small enough that I could probably tell you what most of the kids in my grade drive, one of the perks of going to an insular, elite school. I'm not sure why I paid so much attention to cars. I probably didn't consciously memorize every one's car make and model. I must have just absorbed the image of the parking lot... I see it everyday, it was bound to happen, I guess.
But this grey Toyota! I've seen it in the parking lot for the past few weeks, right at the end of school. It is parked, straddling the sidewalk and the road (illegally, I might add), where the smaller children get dropped off. The only thing odd about the car is the time at which it is parked. Most parents know when their children get out of school; the high school and junior high school finish at 3:10, while the elementary school kids leave at 2:50.
The car tends to pull out of the school lot fairly soon after I do, but we part ways quickly. I cannot figure out who drives it. I've asked most of my friends, and they don't know either. No one knows. I've contemplated this mystery during the first portion of French class everyday. Maybe it's a parent of a prospective student? Maybe it's the school custodian? It's probably someone completely insignificant to my life, someone I will never cross paths with, but it is all I can think about in the midst of a boring class.
I could just approach her today; I was officially eighteen, I could do what I wanted. Through its dirty windows, I had caught a glance of the driver once. The woman was young and nervous, as if she had never driven before. I could just knock on the window, pretending to want to know more about the car or something, and then ask why the hell she was waiting for a child that had been out of school for 20 minutes. No, that's completely insane, what am I thinking...these strange thoughts are probably my cue to actually pay attention in class.
What can one do when they're eighteen? Vote, buy tobacco products, go to a strip club... none of these activities really appealed to me. The only activity that remotely interested me was being able to find out who my real parents were. According to the adoption contract, my biological mother may or may not have been aware of my whereabouts all this time, but neither party was allowed to initiate contact. I definitely wanted to know who my biological mother was, but it wasn't an urgent matter. I had a mother who loved me at home.
I kept distracting myself from the lecture by further chipping my badly painted nails. I constantly felt like I was trying to catch a runaway train during class -- Madame Lafont was always speaking too fast. I thus proceeded to contemplate how I was going to approach the grey car after class.
She was eighteen today. I could finally make contact with her. I should have been ecstatic on this day; I have been engulfed by guilt for the past eighteen years over what I did. Today could have been the day of my liberation.
But I couldn't get out of the car. My fingers drummed on the steering wheel and my foot nervously tapped the brake and accelerator pedals. With the exception of my feet and hands, I sat paralyzed in my safe haven. I wasn't ready to meet her -- I looked like a complete mess. Born a brunette, I had dyed my hair so many times that it was a strange ash blond color now, pulled into a labored, frizzy bun. I was still wearing my clothes from one of my jobs, and I don't think an Outback Steakhouse waitress uniform is the most flattering outfit in which to meet your long lost daughter.
But the biggest reason that I couldn't meet her today was that I had nothing to say. For all my mental ramblings and torment, I couldn't think of a single thing to tell her about myself that would interest her. Yes, I traveled through Europe a few years back, and I'm successfully juggling three different waitress positions, but her mom is a surgeon. At a hospital. There is no competing with that.
It's not a competition, though. Not anymore. I lost the moment I gave her up to the agency. Her mom is the true winner for raising and allowing her to attend one of the most prestigious private schools in the state.
And it's okay to play a secondary role. I'm not even asking to be an integral part of her life. I just want her to know that I exist. As I tried to think positive, self-affirming thoughts, I felt a burning sensation of tears traveling up my throat. I was a geyser ready to burst.
But my internal strife was interrupted by a rapping on my car window.
I had always been impulsive. There was no way I inherited that trait from my mom. The Toyota was inevitably parked a ways down from my car. The same woman sat inside, poised to drive as she laid her hands on the steering wheel. Yet the car was off.
I knocked on the car window, feeling completely numb and unaware. She rolled it down, only to reveal a tired, pale face that sported dark green eyes. She had a small stud in her nose, as well as a few in each ear. She hadn't been crying, but her hand was covering part of her face, as if she was trying to hide from me.
Something about her was familiar. Was she a friend's parent? A potential teacher? I was about to find out.
"Hi, my name is Farrah, is there something I can help you with?"