"You should put 'reject' in red letters, right on her forehead," he suggests. "I really do have a stamp for that, you know."
"She is not a reject, you big bag of maggots!" I shrieked, but my heart wasn't in the shrieking, and Lary could tell. God, this has got me in a slough of despond, this whole thing with Mae's preschool -- or Mae's lack of a preschool, to be more accurate. I'd gotten the phone message the night before. "I'm sorry to say Mae didn't get in," said the administrator, "but the good news is that everyone else did."
Everyone -- everyone -- but Mae. I'm told they had exactly one excess applicant and Mae lost the lottery. "Look at her, " Lary says, "she has no idea she's starting life out as a loser."
Christ, how's that for hitting a chord? And he's right, she has no idea. She seems perfectly happy in my office staring at the back of my head while I write on the computer all day. But shouldn't she be out there, interacting with the world and other babies? I mean besides Lary, who only qualifies as an infant in the emotional sense. He's offered to baby-sit before, but only because he's completely confident I'd let a flock of rabid bats baby-sit my daughter before resorting to him. I mean, last week he let her play with an old lawnmower blade, for chrissakes! Or at least that's what it looked like.
"It's a spatula," Lary said, "calm down." We were at his place preparing for the cocktail party he throws every other year to remind himself there's a world outside his warehouse -- because he really can close himself up alone in there for months at a time sometimes -- and he'd had enough of me and my multitude of minor freaks over Mae's safety.
"She's not going to kill herself with a kitchen utensil," he said, pointing to Mae's prone body strapped in her stroller. "Look at her, she's safe."
Look at her. She's not safe. This is Lary's place we're talking about; roll her two feet in any direction and she'll end up with fish hooks in her head. But how is this any less perilous than the world in general? Even Lary locks himself away from it occasionally, preferring his own personal House of Hidden Disaster to the uncertainty of out there. I remember the first plane trip I took with Mae. I told my husband Chris, a former linebacker for the Detroit Lions, that if we crashed on takeoff it was his job to plow himself off the plane with Mae in tow. Climb over seats, I implored, climb over idiots trying to gather their bags, leave them behind, leave me behind, and get our baby out of danger.
"Don't worry," he said, "Mae is safe."
Ha! I thought. Safety; here's to hoping there is such a thing. I have a coconut shell carved in the shape of a monkey's face I've kept for decades because it reminds me of the year I lived in Melbourne Beach, Fla. I was 9 and never wore shoes that year. I simply leapt out of the house shoeless every day and walked to the river where I'd catch sailor fish from the pier and let them go. On blustery days I climbed to the crests of pine trees and let the wind sway me back and forth. I wish I had other items to remind me of this period in my life, the last time I felt completely safe, because ... well, let's just say you would not catch me shoeless today. Today I cover my toes, among other things.
And I shield Mae, but I want her to be spiritually barefoot, too. I want her to spring up each day unweighted by the bunk that will eventually mire us all in time. Mired like me. Like I feel so bad about the preschool.
"Get used to it," says Lary, who has taken to calling Mae "The Unchosen One." He reminds me of the regrettable period a few years ago in which he, Grant and I once sought self-improvement from professional motivators. Lary even went so far as to join a seminar with the aim to make him a more loving person. After the second session they asked him not to return. And Grant! Grant didn't even get that far, they barred his attendance after one phone call. Me? I was told "there's nothing we can do to help you." We gathered at Daniel's place afterward and laughed about it, completely certain we were safe from ever fitting in.
"So you see? Mae is safe," Lary tries to console. "Safe from ever being normal."
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