Laura finds she won’t have time to prepare for her semester in Japan and also visit us for Christmas so Jessica and I make a quick decision to drive up for the weekend to see and help her pack.
Laura slipped into my hands, into this life, in a small upstairs bedroom on East Third Street in Moscow, Idaho, when her mom, Tina, and I were not long out of high school.
“Oh, that’s pretty,” Jessica observes of many snow covered boulders punctuating the dark water of the Payette River along the winding highway. We made a last-minute decision to drive north with Brenna and Hunter from Boise to help Laura pack for a semester in Japan. She’s leaving in just over a week.
Most of the highway pull-outs are plowed shut. The place we’re able to stop for a few pictures doesn’t have quite the same rocks we enjoyed seeing earlier. I wade around in the snow, trying to make the best of it, until Jessica wonders if I’ve fallen in.
Within our church twenty-two years ago, it was taken for granted that public repentance, marriage and contrition were the narrow path forward for Tina, myself and baby Laura.
I had some experience navigating fundamentalist culture but generosity and goodwill riding a current of opprobrium was new to Tina. Shame-inducing dissonance (Rom. 7:15–20) is paradigmatic dark water beneath religiosity’s snow white surface. At a time when support and understanding were most needed, Tina found herself a pledge in the subversive and saccharin sorority of cheerful self-loathing. I can’t imagine how hard that was.
Like most things brittle, zeal for “things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) fractures over time, leaving hurtful edges. Grace Baptist Church and our marriage cracked around the same time. Congregants dispersed, the pastor left and church buildings were sold. Tina moved home to the Silver Valley, I moved to Boise and Laura became a frequent flier.
We all moved forward into the fog. Laura would attend primary and middle schools in Potlatch, Ritzville, Moscow and Wallace before deciding she would move to Boise for high school.
Snow falls heavily in Long Valley as we pass through Cascade then Donnelly and Lake Fork. “How much longer?” Brenna asks repeatedly. “Are we almost there?”
Snow and darkness are equally thick across the prairie beyond Grangeville. “You’re making me nervous,” Jessica warns. I enjoy driving in these conditions. It’s an adventure. But she’s not sure I should also be photographing. I figure I can’t do much to detract from near-zero visibility.
It is long dark but not late when finally we arrive at my mom’s house nestled among the forested foothills between Troy and Moscow. Her welcome and wood stove radiate warmth. Her home, wherever it’s been, has always been a refuge to my brothers and I and our children.
We all drive the next morning to Laura’s apartment in Pullman. “How did she plan to do this?” we wonder when we see the work remaining. It takes much of the day, all of us working, to clean rooms and drive boxes to storage.
Brenna insists that Laura stay with us at grandma’s. It’s not a hard sell since the alternative is now an empty apartment.
We spend part of the evening around the dining room table trying to discern the significance of small items my great-grandmother Violet left behind. The elder men in my family died before I was born or could know them leaving a kind of matriarchy among my enduring grandmothers, Virginia, Gerry and Violet. Although these women are now also gone, their wit and strong wills shine brightly in Laura.
We schedule a family breakfast the next morning in Pullman before Laura catches the first ride that begins her journey to Japan.
We pause a moment in front of the old church on Sixth Street in Moscow which also is where Jessica and I first met, years before Laura was born.
“He’s already making it,” the waiter says, nodding at the bar, when Laura orders a traditional macchiato with breakfast. She’s a bit of a fixture at Zoe Coffeehouse after leading a successful petition to keep them in their previous lease.
Brains transmogrified in our teens and twenties make young angst inevitable. We can’t control our children’s doubts, despairs and desires but I hope as parents we can engender a measure of mindfulness, an understanding that neural inevitabilities are never shameful — they’re physics, they’re biology, they’re life. And life is beautiful.
It is a couple hours yet until Laura meets her ride. She shares farewell hugs with my mom, brother Jesse (he and I air-hug) and Natasha after breakfast. She’ll see them again in the summer.
Laura invites us to bide the remaining time at the used bookstore where she offers encyclopedic advice to each of us on what to read and where to find it.
“It smells like teen boys in here,” Jessica complains more than once. We’ve crossed the street to a fantasy trading card store (I guess that’s what you’d call it). Hunter was eager to spend the last $17 from his birthday on a box of Magic cards.
When she was little I several times cautioned Laura about being bossy. I’d find her on the playground directing kids she’d just met. Today I’m glad to witness the self-assuredness she has carried through her transformative years. It’s nearly time for her to fly.
Boise Airport, December 2003
Wind rocks the Jeep and the windows whistle as we make our way across the prairie. Laura should be on her way west as we head south, back to Boise. We’re excited to face whatever is ahead.
Safe travels, Laura. May your horizons always be askew.