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Fiction

Metamorphosis

        I remember the last time I drove my daughter, Hildy, to school and the revelation it became. Or maybe instructive is a better word. Though I would never have admitted it to anyone, she was my favorite daughter. The older one, Julie, seemed to take an instant dislike to me the moment she emerged from the womb, Hildy on the other hand, as a child, had been my little furry caterpillar that would climb into my lap before bedtime and ask me to read a story. Then at ten, she had spun herself a reclusive cocoon and refused to talk to me or her mother.

  Now at twelve, the butterfly was slowly emerging from the cocoon. She had begun to show signs of approaching womanhood, and I suspected that it would only be a matter of time, a short time, that she would fly off to test her wings. I normally treasured my time alone with her. Time that gave me a chance to plumb the depths of her emerging personality. I remember that was what I was attempting to do during what became the last time I drove her to school.

  “So, what are you learning in school, these days?” Dumb question. Guaranteed to immediately irritate a twelve-year-old. It drew an obvious answer.

   “Nothing.”

  “Nothing? Well, then I guess we won’t need to pay next semester's tuition. Maybe I should get you a job as a waitress at a diner.”

  Her response to my attempt at humor made it clear that she was not in a mood to be trifled with. “Oh, Dad, like, get real.”

  Like get real? What did that mean? I asked myself. What did I have to do to get real? The conversation had fallen into a pothole, and it was only after several minutes of silence that Hildy decided to pull it out.

  “Can I ask you a question, Dad?”

  “Of course.”

  “Are you and Mom still … like … doin’ it?

  What kind of question was that from my twelve-year-old daughter? “What do you mean?” I hoped I had either misinterpreted her question or, at the very least, my return question would give me time to muster a proper parental response.

  “You know, are you still … doin’ it?”

  I did my best to compose myself. “If I understand what you mean by ‘doin’ it,’ and I think I do, I have to wonder why you’re asking?”

  “Cause I want to know if you and Mom plan to have any more kids? We’re studying reproduction in biology and learning about, you know, doin’ it.”

  Good grief. Where had the years gone? My little caterpillar was old enough to learn about doin’ it. I’d read how today’s teenagers were becoming sexually active at a younger age and, for a moment, I was tempted to ask if she was doin’ it. Fortunately, I had the good sense to quell the urge. Hildy hadn’t even been on a date, and as far as I could tell, she had not developed an active interest in boys.

  “No,” I said at last, “your mom and I are happy with the two we have. There won’t be any more.”    

  “So, you’re not, like doin’ it anymore?”

  The truth was we weren’t doin’ it anymore, but not because we were trying to avoid procreation and not because I enjoyed the celibate life. In short, it wasn’t my decision as to when or where or even if we would be doin’ it ...ever. Given my wife, Cosima’s, recent declaration that she wished to liberate herself from our conjugal responsivities now that she had inherited her mother's considerable estate, incidental, i.e., recreational, sex seemed out of the question. But this was not the time or place to discuss the deterioration of my relationship with Cosima. I decided to change the subject.          “Are you learning about reproduction in biology?”

  “No, in biology we’re learning about global warming, and how we’re ruining the environment by using up all the resources and leaving the rest of the world with just about nothing.”

  “That’s what you’re learning in biology?”

  “Yep.”

  I knew that school was too extreme. But Cosima wouldn’t listen. She and I are going to have to talk about this. I decided to probe another subject. “I saw you reading your history book the other day. Have you studied the Civil War yet?”

  “Sorta …”

  “Sorta?”

  “Our teacher said that the only thing we had to know was that the war freed the slaves, but not really because they are still oppressed, and that we should give them reparations.” She looked up at me quizzically, “What are reparations?”

  I wanted to answer, “A sham” and leave it at that. But I decided I had to come up with some type of definition. “Well, it’s sort of a penalty paid to a group of people who haven’t been personally injured by another group of people who had nothing to do with the injury the first group never had.”

  Hildy looked up at me blankly and said, “Oh.”

  I decided to continue with my history probe. “What have they taught you about the Revolution?”

  “The sixty’s revolution?”

  “The American Revolution.” And then with a tinge of frustration I added, “The one we celebrate on the Fourth of July.”

  “A little, but our teacher said it was mostly about some dead white guys who aren’t all that important to our lives in the 21st century.”

  “George Washington isn’t important anymore?” I was nakedly incredulously.

  “Yeah, because … I guess, like … well, Dad, he’s, like, dead.”

  “True.” It was hard to argue with absolute fact. For a moment, I began to consider how best to begin the process of deprogramming my daughter who was obviously being brainwashed by a cult of radical Bolsheviks passing themselves off as teachers at the Bountiful Country Day School. “Just out of curiosity, what does your teacher look like?”

  “Mr. Sporze?”

  “Is that his name, ‘Sporze?’”

  She nodded. “He’s really cool looking.”

  “Cool looking?”

  “Yeah, he has real long, black hair and a long braid down the middle of his back which he sometimes, like, wears wrapped around his head. He’s got a beard, which is kinda scudzie.”

  “Scudzie?”

  “It’s really blotchy lookin' … like … remember when Puddy Tat had that skin disease?”

  “You mean when her fur came out in handfuls?”

  “Yeah. It sorta looks like that.”

  A Bolshevik with a black, blotchy beard, I said mostly to myself. “What an appealing looking fellow he must be.”

  “Mr. Sporze dresses like an Indian. I mean, like, he doesn’t wear a feather or anything, but he sorta looks like an Indian. But what’s really cool is that he lives in the back of a great big truck.”

  And I’m paying for this? I asked myself. Then it occurred to me how much of an absentee father I’d been, at least since Hildy had left the Livonia public elementary school for the private day school. Overwhelmed with my job responsibilities, I had, for all practical purposes, abrogated most of my parental responsibilities and left them to Cosima. Did she condone this nihilist education or was she as ignorant as I was about what was going on in Hildy’s classes?

  I decided to take another tact. “What’s your favorite class?”

  “English.”

  “Oh, are you reading stories?”

  “No, we’re writing.”

  “Writing? Like what?”

  “Poetry. Wanna hear one of my poems?”

  “Absolutely. I’d love to.”

  Hildy opened up her schoolbag and sorted through some papers. “Here it is. You ready?”

   “Read on, Wordsworth.”

  Hildy laid the poem in her lap and took a moment to compose herself for the poem’s premier presentation.

              “I see a world of death and pain.

              There is no sun, there is no rain.

              The earth has turned to dust and sand,

              It’s all the fault of wasteful man.

              Down with all of nature’s foes,

              Smash ’em, burn ’em, anything goes.”

I was speechless and did my best to appear to be giving her work serious consideration. “Well, that’s quite a statement,” I said, leaving out the adjective “subversive.” I found myself asking: Who is this person next to me? Am I taking a stranger to school? Or had my daughter suddenly become a budding activist?

  “What did you think of the poem?”

  “Well … ahhh … everything certainly rhymes.”

  “Stop!” She shouted suddenly.

  I jumped on the brakes. “What? Did I hit something?”

  “No, I just want to get out here.”

  “But we’re still two blocks from school.”

  “I know,” she said, opening the door.

  “Why don’t I drive you up to the front?”

  She hesitated, and then clearly hiding the truth said, “I’d just rather walk, Dad, like, if it’s okay with you?”

  Did she have a rendezvous with a boy? Someone she planned to walk with the last two blocks? Was she going to meet some friends? Or maybe the Bolshevik with the beard? Like I needed to know. “Sure, it’s okay with me, but I don’t understand why you don’t want me to drop you off at the front door?”

  “Well, Dad, like, this is our clean air week and … ahhh, my teachers know you work for a car company … and since cars pollute … well, it would be, like, embarrassing if they were to see me with you.” Before she closed the door, she leaned her head in, blew me a kiss off her fingers and said, “Love ya, Dad.”

  With that, she ran off to a bunch of radicals waiting to fill her mushy brain with garbage. At that moment, I made up his mind not only to become an involved parent, but an anti-activist one as well.

  I watched as she joined several other girls and then turned my V8 pollution producer, this scourge of the environment, this villain of global warming, toward downtown and my office. For the first time, I felt totally disenfranchised from my family. Given Cosima's financial infusion from her mother’s estate, not only did they no longer need me to provide the basic necessities, they didn’t need me for much of anything. And Hildy, my favorite, had now fully emerged from her cocoon to become a butterfly flying solo.

                                                                                                    Words 1703  

April 01, 2022 19:14

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