I didn’t leave the library until I could see my own reflection in the night-backed window by my desk.
For all my excitement while I worked, my legs felt heavier and heavier as I trudged home. I ran Al-Anon slogans like a tape in my head: “Let Go and Let God,” “Don”t Just Sit There, Do Nothing,” with Kierkegaard and Hamlet singing harmony in the background: “What is really lacking is the power to obey, to submit to the necessary in oneself, to what may be called one’s limit.” “Our indiscretion sometime serves us well,/ When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us/ There’s a divinity shapes our ends.”
I tried to keep that volume up, but the closer I got to the apartment, the softer the tape became. And, by Sixth Street, the idea of a “divinity” sounded ridiculous, even the Kierkegaard sounded like a hokey soft rock song on Christian country radio. What sort of a “divinity” would leave Courtney at her crazy mother’s, even for a week? I wanted to believe it would all work out without my meddling, that Eugene would step up to the plate as I pulled back, that even Courtney herself had a hand in her own future. But no matter how I tried to amp the volume on the 12-step/Hamlet/Kierkegaard tape, I still heard Courtney loud and clear: “I don’t want to go to my mom’s, Dad. Do you understand? ...I need my reading with Grace.”
And I still pictured Eugene, zoning out, stretching his neck, slowly, one way, then the other, in front of the t.v. I tried not to imagine kicking him over. It was all so much work. Maybe too much. By the time I got to the stoop, my thighs were so tired, I could barely lift my legs. I was out of breath, and I had to stop twice while I was climbing the stairs. It felt as if I’d been lifting not just hiking boots with my feet, but boulders.
The kitchen, the whole apartment, was black when I stepped inside, even though it was before ten. There was a stripe of muted light under our bedroom door, soft murmur of television voices behind it. Telling myself not to hope she was there, although of course I was hoping, I tip toed into Courtney’s room. I stood silent, holding my breath, while my eyes adjusted to the dark, the black fading until shapes emerged, the street light glint out her window, the dresser, and finally, her bed, empty, except for a triangular blob on her pillow, Ramona the Pest, where I’d left it waiting for her, open to the last page we’d read.
I cried silently while I brushed my teeth, then I undressed and crawled into bed, thankful that Eugene was dead asleep.
When I woke up, my thighs felt not tired, but strong, like the day after a long jog. It was Saturday, but I went to the library. I re-read an Al-Anon pamphlet before I turned to my thesis. When I came home and found Eugene sitting Indian-style in front of the t.v., I wanted to scream at him about the case. But “hello” was all I said.
Sunday the library didn’t open until ten. Eugene, awake and making coffee, squeezed my arm as I left, and I felt a tiny smile lift my lips. I was there before the library doors opened, stamping my feet in the biting steel cold. I was the only one in sight when I found my desk on the fourth floor. After reading a pamphlet about “doing more for others than for ourselves,” I took out my check book. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook and wrote two columns: “Eugene’s custody case,” and “Me,” and then I added up, checks to Eugene's lawyer, Philip, gifts for Courtney on my debit card, psychology books, an estimate of cash I’d spent on them based on the noted withdrawals, versus my own charges on the U. bookstore for my thesis and Latin, my own clothes and food and rent. Eugene and Courtney: roughly $1,700 in five months. Me for myself: under $900. I tore up the sheet and opened Hamlet.
On Monday I picked up my grad school recommendation from my Freud professor, then went to the U.C. for a fried egg on toast and a large coffee. So I didn’t read a pamphlet first, then go right to my thesis, as I had all the other days. And maybe that’s why I decided I’d been too rigid, I deserved a break, deserved to be relaxed like the people my age chattering around me, and I studied, or pretended to, in the U.C. until three thirty. And maybe that’s why, on the way to the library when I finally admitted I couldn’t concentrate with the noise around me, I stopped at the row of pay phones under the U.C. stairwell. Courtney’s voice was in my head again, even louder than the U.C. cacophony: “We got to draw someone important to us. I drew you, Grace.”
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