Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bohemian Rhapsody (Prologue)

The Delivery
Behind the wheel of a 10-foot Budget rental truck last Saturday, I began my descent from the last of a series of foothill passes on Interstate 24 East. The vista was suddenly picturesque, with the Tennessee River on my left sparkling in the midday sun as it traced the contour of the downtown and industrial area of the city the kids like to call "Chattie."

I fumbled for the cell phone I had stashed in the cup-holder on the truck's dashboard console. My thumb tattooed three quick clicks on the directory scroll button to arrive at the line that read, "Amy's cell." I hit the "call" button.

No, I wasn't calling someone in prison; I was calling my daughter. The truck I was driving contained the last of Amy's belongings from home, along with some bedroom furniture and our household's original family sofa — Michelle and my first major purchase as husband and wife — circa. 1980.

"Hey Dad — where are you?" the familiar voice in my ear inquired.

"I just came around the bend, heading into town. I get off at Manufacturer's Road, right?" Although her mother had been here several times, I'd only been to Chattanooga three times prior — all to see Amy's performances. She'll be entering her third year in the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga Theater Department this Fall. This was my first go without Michelle navigating, and I only knew how to get to Campus from the freeway. Her new apartment was in another part of town, so I needed some guidance.

"Right," She said.

"I'm just gonna keep you on the line until I get there so don't miss any turns, okay?" I had called her earlier and gotten thumbnail directions from a friend of hers. But the mileage allowance on the truck left little margin for error, and I didn't want to pay (what I had mistakenly thought was) an $8.70 per-mile penalty for going over the assigned mileage on this one-way rental.

The plan was, I would rent the truck one-way from Nashville to Chattanooga. The mileage allowance was sufficient, I thought, to get the job done. I would then drop off the truck at the local Budget Truck Rental office and Amy would drive me back home that evening.

Since the next day was Father's Day, and she had to work at her local job at the Tennessee Aquarium, Amy had offered to take me out for dinner when we were all through unloading her stuff. I was looking forward to spending some time with my baby girl — and marveling at the beautiful woman; the beautiful person, she has become.

We'd talk music, I'd thought. We'd talk about the family. We'd discuss spiritual things; her potential acting roles for the upcoming semester. We'd just hang.

It's easy for me to be "Dad" to Amy. She no longer pretends not to care about my opinion, and what I have to say about life in general (or even her life specifically). She seeks her Mother's and my counsel, yet makes her own decisions. The discussions we have are often poignant and deep. Yet at the same time I can lay my corny sense of humor on her without fear of looking like a dweeb in her eyes.

We've become good friends, she and I.

Amy and I have the type of relationship I had always imagined I would have with my kids as adults. A relationship made easier by the fact that we started our family at an early age. Unfortunately, I had been much too impatient in waiting to see that type of relationship arrive while the kids were growing up, especially in regard to Amy.

I didn't grow up around girls, in any way, shape or form. I grew up in a family of five boys, and was only exposed to a sister after my Dad remarried and we moved to SoCal, when I was 13 following my Mother's death. At that point, my stepsister was already a Senior in high school. She was a cheerleader with a steady boyfriend, and consequently, was very seldom around. I had no training to prepare me how to deal with "little girl goofiness." As a result, I'm ashamed to say I wasn't very close to Amy when she was little. I didn't embrace (or much of the time even tolerate) her bouncing-off-the-wall personality, her penchant for purses, Barbie dolls, and "My Little Pony," or her constant assertions that she would someday be a star pop singer or actress. I'd nod my head and say, "Sure sweetie, sure...now could you go play in the other room? I can't hear the TV..."

I was horrible. But that was then, and hopefully I didn't do too much permanent damage. Good thing Michelle was walking behind me to replace my divots.

Next: Communications Breakdown
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