When The Dog was still living, The Child’s bedroom door was never closed. It wasn’t that she didn’t close it, or try to – she did – but rather that he always kept an eye on us. If he walked by her bedroom and found the door shut, he’d push it open with his nose, just slightly, just enough to be sure of where she was.
The Red Dog hasn’t learned this trick, nor is he likely to, any time soon. His primary concern is not Us but Me, specifically, not losing sight of me, even for a moment, even if it means walking away from his just-filled food bowl because I left the kitchen.
I miss peeking into The Child’s room – sometimes terrifically messy, other times obsessively neat. I miss the pause at the top of the stairs, where her door is, and peering in to make sure she was safe and sleeping, listening to her breathe, and then closing her door as quietly as possible. Sometimes, she would hear me and call out, Mommy, and I’d go in to give and receive a hug, and tell her she needed to either go to sleep or get up.
The door is shut now, and to open it, there needs to be a reason for the intrusion. She’s always there, behind the door, busy in a world I’m not connected to: Her TV shows are Youtube channels, watched on her computer in her room, and the long hours she spends talking to friends aren’t on a kitchen phone with a long cord, but also in her room, using a Skype ID I don’t know.
Sometimes I hear her giggling, and later ask who she was talking to that was so funny, but often I don’t get an answer, or if she does answer, it’s with a story that can only be followed by those on the inside, which I’m not.
Sometimes, she ventures out, needing me. One day last fall the group of girls who accepted her invitations, but never invited her in return, had a sleepover, and were sure to post pictures of it on Instagram so that those who were not invited would know for sure where they stood: Outside, not in. That evening and all through the weekend, The Child and I talk a lot, about who those girls are and how they made her feel. I point out that although I don’t really know who she’s spending all those long hours skyping with, I do know it isn’t those girls; their names were never mentioned in the half-answers I received to my inquiries.
It’s just enough to be helpful, and though the girl drama continues, The Child changes her lunch table and starts to look less like a girl she thought those girls would approve of, and more like the girl I know.
She recedes again from my world, and our car ride conversations become long silences that she proclaims Awkward and fills with music I don’t know. Still, I prefer it to the eyerolls and You Don’t Get Its that I receive in return for my occasional inquiries.
I even stop asking about schoolwork, so it comes as a rude shock to discover that after a strong start, The Child stopped turning work in, failed her math midterm. I talk with her, and go to work late so that I can meet with her advisor, and help her come up with a plan for getting on track, and though she seems to be working hard to catch up, each time I check, more assignments are missing.
I have a reason now to stick my head into her room, and each time I stop at the top of the stairs, I open the door and tell her to turn off Youtube, and make sure I can see work on her laptop screen before I will leave. My visits are a blast of winter air into her warm house, and she learns to shorten them by simply turning the laptop screen in my direction as I enter: See? Schoolwork.
One evening, I find her nestled in pillows, buried under blankets, but working, and I gently help her move to another room before she falls asleep; the next day, she thanks me for helping her be productive. Another evening, I take her with me so that while I attend a lecture, she is in an empty room next door, studying, and at the end she shows me the project she’s outlined on the blackboard as she captures the work with her camera phone. I got a lot done, she tells me, it’s nice to work with no distractions.
She dresses beautifully the day she has to give her final presentation for one class, but she’s in her jeans when I pick her up. I ask how it went, and she says great, and tells me all the little reasons she thinks so. I ask about other classes, and suddenly she’s angry: tests have been failed, assignments are still missing.
It’s too late to do anything, she says, I’m past the deadline for late work.
I ask what went wrong, why she stopped turning her work in, what on earth she was doing all those hours she seemed to be working.
I don’t really know. Do we need to dwell on this?
I rage out loud, then silently, for the rest of the drive.
When we get home, she disappears behind her door, slamming it shut and wedging her collection of Keds underneath it, to be sure it stays that way.