The Girl Behind the Door (18 page)

BOOK: The Girl Behind the Door
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“Okay, parents,” she announced with the flair of a carnival barker. It didn't take much for her to get our attention, especially when she was in good spirits. “I've figured out my college plan.” She paused, waiting for us to respond. That was her way of seeking our approval.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? Please, tell us!”

She slapped the arms of the patio chair with both hands for maximum effect. “I'm applying for Early Decision to Bennington!”

A wise decision, I thought. Bennington was an excellent, though pricey, school with an alternative, artsy bent. It was close to my mother and grandmother in Connecticut. My grandmother was 106 and in shaky health, but we'd been saying that for years and she kept defying the odds. I looked over at Erika, who seemed more guarded, probably unhappy that Casey would leave the West Coast.

“Wow!” I said. “Why Bennington?”

“Because they have a cool work-study program, I met people online who like it there, and I think I can get in through Early Admission,” she said, confidently. She'd heard that colleges were more flexible with Early Decision applicants, provided they committed to attend if they were accepted.

Erika was concerned. “What about the schools on the West Coast, Casey?”

She glared at her mother. “Mom, I want to get as far away from here as possible!”

“Casey, that's a very mean thing to say.” Erika couldn't hide her hurt.

I tried to gently take Erika's side. “Casey, do you have any idea how cold it gets in Vermont in the winter?” Her idea of winter was probably forty degrees and sunny, like in Tahoe.

“Yeah! That would be so cool!”

Erika wouldn't let go. “Casey, I'm just worried about what would happen if you get sick.”

Casey jumped up from her chair. “Mom, that's stupid! Colleges have infirmaries, you know!” She stomped back into the house.

Erika looked at me, exasperated. “Why don't you ever back me up? I'm really worried about her being so far away from home. Other parents decide where their kids go to school. Why can't we?”

I grimaced, as if we could get her to do anything. We just had to let Casey be Casey. Once she'd set a goal for herself, nothing could get in her way, and nobody was allowed to help. She'd racked up an impressive stack of A's and B's in her A.P. courses, and obsessed over her admissions essays, where she would truly shine. If she wanted to shoot for Bennington, I voted to give her a chance to feel good about herself rather than hold her back.

In light of Casey's newfound determination to take charge of the next phase of her life, we decided not to hassle her about the behavioral issues that had plagued us for so long unless they were truly egregious—say, finding a pound of weed stashed under her bed or noticing a dramatic weight loss.

We just wanted to get her off to college. I started to relax. We would get through this.

One weekday in October, I had plopped down in front of the TV to watch the local news with a glass of wine. Casey came in.



“Could I talk to you for a minute?” That was odd. She wanted something, probably money.

“Sure.” I waited for her to sit down.

“No, I mean in there.” She pointed toward my office, something she'd never done before—requesting a private meeting alone with me. I followed her into the office.

She shut the door and we sat down. She had a mischievous look in her eyes. “So, Dad. I was looking for a Motrin the other day and I was in your bathroom.” She paused and I looked at her intently. “I looked in your toiletry kit . . .”

When I heard
toiletry kit
I knew what she'd found—
stash of weed. My mind raced so fast that I didn't even hear the end of her sentence.

I pretended to stay calm and emotionless, but we both knew where this was going—my nightmare scenario, busted by my own child. On top of being a shitty father, now I was the ultimate hypocrite. Nice going,
; a Mexican standoff.

As the blood drained from my face, I wanted to melt away and disappear, grabbing for something to say. “Okay, Casey. So what is it you want to say?”

She was loving every minute of this. “I just think what I found in there was very interesting, since you've been so antidrug with me.”

I searched for a rational defense. “Casey, this doesn't change how I feel about you and drugs. You're seventeen and we don't know how this will affect your physiology. Mom and I are trying to keep you safe until you're on your own.”

“Dad, I'm not a druggie. I know what I'm doing. If you knew me, you'd realize that.”

“Casey, we never said you were a druggie. But whatever I do, I can't condone your drug use. I'd be an irresponsible parent if I did.” She was trying to blackmail me.

“We need to compromise.”

“No, we don't.”

“Dad, this isn't fair.”

Damn her
. I just wanted this to be over and pretend nothing ever happened. “Then what exactly did you have in mind?”

“I want you guys to stop searching my room.”

I pursed my lips and rocked back in my chair. Erika would hate me for not discussing this with her and for kowtowing to our seventeen-year-old yet again, and she'd probably continue to search Casey's room anyway. After a moment to think, I looked at Casey wearily. “Fine.” She smiled, satisfied, as we got up to leave.

That was the best day of Casey's life.


er online application for Bennington was off in plenty of time for the October deadline. Then we waited. A decision was expected in mid-December, sixty days away.

As I watched the other kids going through multiple applications for a springtime response, I understood Casey's decision to apply early. She wanted to spare herself the torture of waiting until spring to learn her fate. She knew herself too well.

The air in the house was thick with silent tension. She'd never had so much at stake before and so much to lose if she didn't get her desired result. I had nightmare visions of Casey receiving a rejection letter.

Despite her insistence that she'd prepared for any outcome, I imagined her falling into a downward spiral, locked in her room crying for days, refusing to eat. Or she could put on a good game face, keeping the disheartening news bottled up inside where it would eat her alive.

By early December, Casey practically stalked our mail carrier, anxious for any letter with a Vermont return address. She sifted through the bills, magazines, and junk mail stuffed in our mailbox.


One day I retrieved the mail while Casey took Igor for a walk, and there in the mailbox was an envelope from Bennington College, but it was a thin one. Weren't they for rejections?

My heart sank. I couldn't bear the thought of her ripping open the envelope only to have her hopes dashed. Erika was puttering in the kitchen when I walked in and set the mail on the counter.

“Guess what?” I held up the envelope for her to see.

Erika turned around. “Oh my God. She got the decision!”

“Yeah, but it's a thin envelope. That's not good.” I held up the envelope to the light but couldn't decipher a thing.

Erika scowled at me. “Don't say that. You don't know for sure.” She took it from me and examined it, equally mystified by its contents.

As we passed it back and forth, Casey bounded through the front door with Igor in tow, both of them in a flurry of excitement. I held the envelope up for Casey to see. Her jaw dropped and she snatched it from my hand.

The moment of truth.

“Careful, don't rip it,” Erika said. We stood together, jostling to get a view. Casey tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter while the envelope fluttered to the floor. A huge smile formed on her face as she read aloud in her high voice.

“Dear Casey,

“Congratulations! On behalf of the students, the faculty and the staff it is my pleasure to offer you a place in the class of 2012 at Bennington College.”

She threw the letter up in the air and let out a whoop. We did high fives, hugs, and yelps of joy. I'd never seen her so happy with herself. She deserved it. She got her wish—her dream school. Erika and I were immensely proud and happy for her.

A whole new exciting life lay ahead.

With the pressure of college admission out of the way, each of us had settled into a comfortable groove. Casey practically marked the days off on her wall.

She would turn eighteen in May, less than five months away, and then in August she'd be off to Vermont. She rarely missed an opportunity to remind us of it, but she seemed to forget, or ignore, that we would continue to underwrite her lifestyle for another four years. We weren't completely out of the picture yet.

Soon after Casey's acceptance to Bennington, my mother flew out from Connecticut to see us over winter break. Casey and Mom adored each other. Mom was the perfect devoted grandmother to her only granddaughter, who could do no wrong. I was perfectly happy to perpetuate that story line just for peace of mind. We spent a night at an oceanside inn in Mendocino, stopped at an Anderson Valley winery on our way home, and took her for dim sum in San Francisco before settling down for Christmas. Casey practically fainted over the present my mother gave her—an iPhone.

By early January, my mother had returned home. After sixteen years as a stay-at-home mom, Erika left the house for a new job as a phlebotomist. Gray skies and soggy winter storms hammered the Bay Area, and we were only too happy to stay indoors and hibernate, until one evening over the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend.

Several of Casey's friends had formed a bluegrass band called the Itchy Mountain Men. They developed quite a following, landing gigs, performing on the radio, and even cutting a CD. Casey considered herself a groupie.

They had a gig at Old St. Hilary's Church in Tiburon. Built in 1888, a good century before that finger of land became populated with multimillion-dollar homes, it was a simple Carpenter Gothic–style chapel that seated about a hundred people.

They were to play on Saturday, and Casey spent most of the afternoon obsessing over how best to doll herself up for a special night out. Her floor was littered with outfits. She summoned Erika—who was suffering from a virus—for help, only to banish her moments later when she couldn't magically make Casey look “gorgeous enough.” Casey called off the entire evening, dissolving into tears in her room, and then pulled herself back together.

The show started at 9:00 and it was 8:15. She was supposed to be picked up by her girlfriends at 8:30. The last fifteen minutes were a frantic rush to finish up hair, makeup, and the third outfit, which was also the first outfit—the usual tomato-colored quilted hoodie, skinny jeans, suede boots, and a touch of Eau de Parfum.

At 8:25, Casey's tears were gone, and she was happy, ready, and waiting by the front door for her ride. Then she blurted out, “You guys should come!”

We were taken aback. For so long Casey had fought to distance herself from us. Erika was too sick to leave the house. I was thrilled to be invited, but what was the protocol? Should I pretend not to know her?

“Dad, you'll have to take a separate car.”

I was still happy to accept her invitation. “Of course, honey.”

Old St. Hilary's was full to capacity by the time I arrived. Body heat generated more than sufficient warmth on that cold January night. The air in the chapel was thick and noisy with anticipation as I made my way from the front door to the end of the pews where I hoped to find a seat. I saw familiar faces in the crowd from church or school, all the way back to Casey's kindergarten class.

I took a seat where I could see the stage and peer over the people in front of me to look for Casey. I caught her at the foot of the stage with her girlfriends, chatting contentedly, falling into them and laughing. It was heartening to see her so genuinely happy. But I was afraid she'd see me, so I ducked down. I didn't want to embarrass her in front of her friends.

BOOK: The Girl Behind the Door
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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