Jupiter above the Moon—Tom Gaffiney
Jupiter above the Moon
They had driven through Weed as twilight descended. Big distance from Pomona but still a long way from home. They motored on towards Siskiyou Pass. The road thrummed on and on, rhythm and dislocation combining in a heavy silence, punctuated by dance music – hers – and podcasts and public radio.
“We should be able to see Jupiter just above the moon tonight.”
She looked at him with wide eyes, suddenly awake. And yawned.
“Right around nine.”
“Really Dad? Wow.” Then a return to silence.
She wasn’t sullen. She was bored, drowning in ennui. He continued to be impressed with how her silence was a refuge and a weapon. Why was he uncomfortable? He hadn’t been kicked out of school. In another era he would have thought of her as cool, as hip. He did not want his baby, his youngest, to be hip and cool, a rebel. How about happy and successful?
The expulsion process had gone surprisingly, yet achingly, quickly. The facts of the case no longer weighed on him, or so he told himself. They had found a stash in her room, not her first disciplinary issue. They said her “priors” had been nothing big enough to let us know about, but they had kept track of them If she left they would not pursue charges. Her California academic experience had been short and tart. He felt like a naive old man. He was disappointed and thrilled, thrilled she would be closer to home. He could not say that, of course. But it was true. She knew it too.
Part of him had leapt at the chance to drive down and retrieve her and bring her home. The solitude of the drive down, two arduous days tying affairs together in Pomona, then back at it. Now he drove and listened to her pounding beats, feeling like an intruder any time he said something.
Mount Shasta was big and beautiful and seemed to cup the highway and nearby civilization in the crook of its arm. The setting, with low angle sun highlighting the retreating glaciers still struck him as beautiful. Still seeing mountains through the eyes of someone who grew up in a flat suburb, they always impressed. He wished they were camping tonight as opposed to crashing in Medford. Then he thought of her wielding her silence around a campfire and realized the television would be better company tonight.
He remembered his scrapes, the reckless behavior, of his own youth. Small miracles and privilege had been his savior. Or just pure luck, I guess. How many road trips where he had never been stopped? She would be alright he told himself. She is alright. Just a bump in the road. The challenge still is to figure out what floats her boat, if anything.
“So, any ideas for the summer?”
“Not summer yet. I’m sure I can scare something up. When are we going to stop?”
“The other side of the pass, less than two hours. I guess it’s a plus that none of this will go on your record.”
“Sure Dad, whatever. My record – that’s what’s important.”
“But – it,,“ he sighed, “look, I’m sorry. But we’ve got to plan to move ahead from this.”
“Right. We need a plan. Immediately. Before we hit Oregon. Can it wait until Eugene? Why don’t I call Mom and put her on speaker and we can talk about it all right here?”
He stammered. He sighed. He put on Big Star. She rolled her eyes, curled up into a ball.
“What, is this record, like, fifty years old now? So tired. No road trip stories Dad. I can’t feel burbling up,” she said.
It was a worn path, but replaying old music felt like his last alternative at this point. A part of him thought she needed to suffer. He did not think it was good for her to get away with it. Another part of him thought it was funny and only respected her for not giving a shit.
She didn’t want for the things he did when he was young. Being happy hadn’t been a struggle before. She had been excited about school. Her reports had been positive. At the holidays she seemed great. Grades were a little low. Could have been transition. But they were easy classes for her. Was that a symptom? Guess it is all a symptom, of what, is the question.
“You know, having me at the U will be cheaper. And I’ll be around. The U is better anyway.”
“Still. You have just managed to get expelled from school. A bag of white powder in your room. What was that powder? Did they have it tested?”
“It doesn’t matter. I told you, it was a friend’s. The RA didn’t like me. The administration didn’t like me. I didn’t like them. I tried. I was going to keep trying. Better for all of us to cut our losses and move on.”
Even if she made a certain amount of sense, it still galled him that she could be so flip. For so many kids this would have been a tragedy, an opportunity turned into a horrible drama. If it had happened to one of her brothers, oh what a mess. Was it being older? Or having been down a somewhat similar path before? Outrage and anger were unnecessary.
Not like old road trips with the whole family excited. Her mother flew home this morning. There wasn’t enough room in the car with all of her stuff anyway. Eve and Sadie were both relieved at that. So was I. The friction would have been hard to tolerate with the three of us in here.
There will be plenty of time for anger and recriminations once we’re all home. That’s right, save it until then. She’s the last college freshman I’ve raised and the first to get kicked out. I picture all of them in my mind. How is it that Eve, our baby, is the one facing all this? Perpetrating it?
And why is that what upsets me? Like, there has to be some price to pay. When all I want is for her to be happy – so that I don’t have to worry? I have to worry about driving. Maybe I feel both inadequate and unnecessary? Aside from functioning as a long distance driver and accountant my opinions are not wanted or needed.
He would have fought with either of the boys. Demanded some answers – some better conduct. He would have lectured. All for naught. They did what they did, you really couldn’t shape it. Had he really run the gamut, after all these years, so soft as to be wrapped around his daughter’s finger? The parent of a spoiled kid and still enabling her. If this had been either of her brothers it could have been ruinous. Or would I have been freaked out just because I had not been there before?
Now though, he did not have to worry about that in the same way. They could piece it together. He knew this trail. Or thought he did. Two weeks ago he had been a bit more confident.
But Eve though, what was she thinking?
They pulled into the lot of the motel in Medford. On the edge or in the center was anyone’s guess. He was tired, a long day on the road. Tomorrow would be an easier drive.
The music was still on low. She hummed along to songs he had been playing for her all her life.
She looked up, noticed the moon and Jupiter.
“Hey, I know it isn’t nine yet, but that big bright dot above the moon, that’s Jupiter, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he said, cheered that she had noticed.
“Pretty cool, that big gas giant just sitting up there.”
“It is, it sure is.”
They both smiled, same time, maybe for the first time in days.
She smiled on, he watched a mood pass across her face. She giggled, and then, “gee Dad, it would be so cool if we had a joint right now.”