Six blocks from the coffee shop

You home? I’m thinking I might come home after this period, I’m having some trouble focusing and having energy and stuff. Just a heads up. I have a key.

I pull over to read the text, and type back: Just left to write at Daz Bog. U need me to pick u up? I’d be there in 7-8 min.

Class ends in 20 mins so I can just walk.

I met Tess when she was seven but swear she came out of the womb self-reliant. I send another text.

You need rest and quiet. Take 2 ibuprofen and drink lots of water. I’ll be home in a few hours.

Tess and Tony were in Seattle last week looking at Cornish College of the Arts, then to Portland for a wedding. She probably picked up the cold on the plane. They flew home two nights ago.

“Feel good to sleep in your own bed?” Tony had asked the next morning.

“No.” She pauses. “I liked the fluffy pillows and all those comforters at the hotel.”

I’m not sure which went up first or raised higher, my eyebrows or my ears. The internal judge can’t let this slide.

She’d rather sleep in a hotel than in her own bed?! She told you about the sheet months ago and you’ve done nothing. Apparently she also hates her pillows. And she’d like a second comforter. She’s freezing to death in that basement. She’s a good kid. The least you could do is buy her bedding. What kind of Mom are you?!

Stop! Enough already! Surely you know the voice I’m talking about—critical, relentlessly judgmental, always petty and, more often than not, downright mean. If you don’t know it, you’ve either attained enlightenment or you’re delusional.

Earlier this fall Tess had casually mentioned that the sheet on her bed was torn. “I don’t know what happened, but there’s this rip in it.”

I suggested flannel sheets for winter. “Yeah, that’d be good,” she said, feigning interest. She’d rather mess with her brother who arrived, unannounced, five minutes before dinner.

I stopped washing the kids’ bedding some years back, not long after we put them in charge of their own laundry and keeping their rooms clean. I dealt with my well-established need for order by avoiding said premises… It seemed the safest, sanest solution for everyone. Not much in this house escapes my attention. I hadn’t seen Tess’s sheets in the laundry room in recent memory. I’d completely forgotten the tear.

October arrives and with it, the winter catalogs, five or six a day. I check covers before tossing them in the recycle bin. The Company Store. Bedding, sheets, a light goes on.

“You like any of these colors?” I’ve opened the book to the flannel sheets.

“Oh yeah,” Tess says. “They’re nice.”

You’d think I was showing her attachments for a vacuum cleaner. I suggest she take the book to her room and see what color goes with her comforter.

“Sure, okay.”

The Company Store sits on the counter for two weeks. Tess and Tony go to Seattle and we get the I-prefer-the-hotel-to-my-own-bed comment the first morning they’re back, triggering the guilt that sends me shopping that afternoon.

I wander the aisles of Bed, Bath & Beyond, second level, scanning the floor-to-ceiling stacks of sheets, duvet covers and comforters, circling bins of pillows, racks of pillow covers and shelves of bedskirts. Rather than head to the nearest exit, I calm myself with simple instructions spoken in an audible whisper: You came for flannel sheets, two fluffy pillows and a duvet cover. That’s all. Ignore the rest of this shit and and find what you need. Then you can leave.

I can’t find the flannel sheets. I track down a sales clerk who climbs down from her ladder and leads me to the flannels like I’m a child who can’t find her mom. It’s a smallish section, with a limited choice of colors. I stand there, picturing the orchid bedroom walls and multi-colored comforter and land on a neutral tan. I retrace my steps to the bins near the elevator and grab two king-size pillows, hoping they meet Tess’s standards for fluffy, and pull a white duvet cover off the shelf. I know before leaving the department that white won’t work, that it’ll be trashed and dirty in a month—this child lives on her bed—but I buy it anyway. I’ve surpassed my tolerance for shopping, no longer able to make a sound decision. I leave the store, knowing I can return it, and do exactly that three days later—before driving home to a sick child.

With The Company Store in hand, I head downstairs and find Tess propped against her fluffy new pillows, the four old, flat ones scattered around her like props for a princess. The laptop sits on her thighs.

“I just started Rain Man. I’ve never watched it. Dad said he thought I’d like it.”

Together we decide that Brick Red goes best with the Anthropologie comforter. We look at the duvet and guess that it’s a full, not a queen. I had snipped the Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law tag months ago.

Even tired and not feeling well, she’s stunning. So young and fresh, made even more appealing by the absence of any need to look beautiful. At home in her own skin, comfortable with her body, she neither flaunts nor talks about her lusciousness. When she was years younger, the two of us watched a neighbor’s toddler look for her mom in a crowded room, grabbing one pair of legs after another.

“I’ll never forgive you for not being in my life when you were two,” I tell her. All she can do is laugh.

The two of us found each other by way of Tess’s father. Nearly ten years later, it’s hard to say who I fell in love with first, the man or his daughter. Those first months of blending remain a blur: two single parents trying to find time for one another and three children scared to death to share the only parent they felt connected to, the one they were most afraid of losing.

This afternoon, while Tess was in school, I took the clothes and books piled on her bed and moved them to her chair, straightened the flannel sheets, fluffed her six pillows and stuffed the duvet into its new cover. I looked at the perfectly made bed, then scanned the rest of the room, resisting the urge to create order out of chaos in this cocoon inhabited by one of my own. I smiled at my longing to make it just right, with everything in its place, out of harm’s way. As if life were that simple.

P.S. Having a hairdresser-dad has its advantages… color to match the duvet cover. WooHoo!

7 thoughts on “Six blocks from the coffee shop”

  1. Oh yea…”as if it were that simple”…no truer words were ever spoken. How you make me laugh and cry all at once is simply a testament to both your soul and your gifted writing. You are my new Anna Quindlen! Keep writing my friend!
    xo Kath

  2. It’s easy to fall in love with both father and daughter as both are remarkable people. Also easy to fall in love with writing that stirs deep emotions, conjures mental images and provides a keyhole to look through that allows us a glimpse of the private love a mother has for her child.


  3. That voice, that voice…ever present to step in where it is not welcome. Hopefully it was tamed by the time the pillows and comforter were in place. If only that is all it would take!

  4. Your voice and observations always always always touch me, and make me think and feel. Thanks you dear.

  5. hehehe.. i’ve had the same feeling of being led like a child in those awful warehouse stores. i also have to keep calm and carry in places like bed bath and beyond, costco and target. they all suck the life right out of me. ez too. tess and you were lucky to find each other – all of you! sending you all lots of love and a happy thanksgiving. maybe we can finally skype! my dad and family will be with us.

  6. To know you guys are connecting in your own way to the story and the writing is everything this writer could ask for.

    Blessings, and thanks for reading, xo

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