I’ve spent the better part of a week with Bethany, caring for her while my wife and son take a much-needed vacation out west, far away from the typical day-to-day actions that we’ve followed for the last 16 years.
With my wife away, I knew what to expect from Bethany; sleepless nights, overwhelming bouts with obsessive-compulsion, seizures, diapers and wet sheets. I assumed hours and hours of redirecting her self-injurious behavior and enduring her aggression; twisted fingers, pinched nipples (mine), punched windpipe (mine also). What I got was deep insight into the personality of a remarkable young woman who seems to be oddly embodied in an awkward package.
Our evenings were calm, our mornings were somewhat orderly, and our interactions were even “precious”. Granted, mornings had their share of surprise roll-outs; those “ohmygod” moments when you’re changing the brief on a standing 17 year old who you thought only had a wet one. That flat thud from somewhere behind, of which no other object in the world makes a sound similar? Yeah, that one – plenty of those accompanied by her sleepy laugh. “Well played” I say to her as I began to clean up the surprise. Play me she did, all week long. In her world, pawns, rooks, and bishops all carry the same insignificant maneuverability – constrained “X” and “Y” movements; Bethany, she moves effortlessly any distance and on the “Z” axis as well. Can’t beat that kind of chess player!
One evening as I worked on my classic 1966 MGB, tuning the dual carburetors in a cloud of raw gasoline and diagnostic equipment, Bethany strolls out into the garage. Her attendant wasn’t but a step behind; she walks up to the fender of the car, leans both forearms onto the paint and tilts her head into the engine bay. The engine was warm and the breeze blowing from the radiator fan blew her hair back giving her a “devil-may-care” look. Damn, had she been seen in black and white you’d think it was James Dean leaning into the compartment. All she needed was a cigarette dangling from her lip. Her eyes, were nothing but slits from the big grin as she looked in my direction and laughed.
“Are you a gear-head”? I asked her over the roar. She threw her head back and laughed as if she caught the joke and knew better than to answer me with words. She put more weight on her left leg, causing her hip to tilt upwards while both forearms remained on the fender, leaning forward with her hair blowing back like that – man, she was a 17 year old rock star. That’s the personality I began to see with a different set of eyes, one that I’d not seen so clearly before.
Of course, after a tune-up there’s the obligatory “flat-out-run” down a desolate road to test the timing under load. This means you get to pretend like you’re a mechanical scientist doing diagnostic work by turning a rural 50 mph stretch into a 80 mph drag strip. Speeding with blaring 60’s rock on the radio, windows down, hair flying – all in the name of science. She loves it. Loud, fast, illegal, illogical – she smiles as the speed makes the small hump in the road a heart-stopper; the inertia and gravity fighting for the position of your internal organs. For a moment your lungs, heart and esophagus are all sharing the same cramped area up by your neck, driven there by your stomach which is confused for the moment because it rarely gets invited anywhere above the nipple line.
We pull back into the garage and turn the key off, the engine seemingly refusing to shut down after such an adrenaline rush continues to run on, clanking and sputtering until she finally dies. Quiet in the garage with the exception of “ping-ping, tank, ping-ping” coming from the hot headers as they cool down, the sound of warm engine fluids easing back down into their respective pans… “Moie, Mooooie”! she yells, her way of demanding more.
A father-daughter week of the most unusual kind and I find myself thanking God that not only did we live through it, we grew through it. I find myself using her words as I pack her on the bus the next morning for school; while I’m glad for the respite provided by seeing her go for a few hours, I find myself saying the same words: “Moie, Moooooie”!