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Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter, and an Adolescence Survived

MORGAN was still asleep, though it was almost eleven. The light from her west-facing window washed the top half of her face and her tumbled hair, the same brownish-blond as her brother Patrick's. One pink foot stuck out. I sat on the edge of the bed and shook it.

"Mom, I was sleeping." She smiled lazily at me.

"Is it true that last night you and Tara went into Dolores Park?"

"Mom, what are you talking about?" Morgan, caught off guard, sat up, trying for an expression of injured innocence.

"Did you?"

"What park?"

"Dolores. Where the drug dealers hang out."

"Well, yes, but we were totally safe." She said it with a little shrug.

"What about the beer?" I said in a tight voice. "Tara said something about a six-pack."

"It was just sitting in a bag in a parking lot. I didn't drink any of the beer. It was sour. I just sprayed it on the ground. God, Mom. You're overreacting, just the way Daddy always does." She slumped down, then, in a sudden change of mood, grinned at me. "It was worth it. It was the most fun I ever had in my life. The only problem was getting caught."

"Fun? You could have been raped or murdered, two young girls out on the streets. Don't you remember those two girls on Potrero Hill who were just standing on a corner when a gang of boys took them off to a shed and raped them five or six times each? They were only thirteen, like you and Tara."

"I'll be fourteen in two months, and anyway my friends wouldn't let anything happen to me," Morgan said confidently. "If anybody tried to hurt us, we'd kick them in the you know where.

"I was getting nowhere, so I stood up. Having a thirteen-year-old was like having your own personal brick wall. The phone rang. I found it under a pile of junk on Morgan's floor."Hello?"

"Hello!" said a familiar gravelly voice.

"Dad?"

"In the flesh."

"Where are you?"

"In the valley, in my hidey hole."

"Your hidey hole?" My head was still full of Morgan. It had been years since I'd seen my father or heard his voice. I swallowed. "How long have you been back?"

"Couple of months. I was wondering if you could find it in your heart to come out here today to see your poor old dad."

"I can't. I'm on deadline." I wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "And the kids start school tomorrow."

"I know you're busy, but I need you to come out here. Jesus Christ, I haven't laid eyes on you in five years. For all I know, you're taller."

"Dad, I told you . . ."

"Besides, it's an emergency."

"An emergency?" I couldn't help the frosty tone of my voice. "Are you in jail?"

"No, I'm not in jail. Tell you when you get here."

"Hey, let me talk to my grandpa!" Morgan yelled.

"Shush! I can't hear him!"

My dad had said something, but I missed it. "I'm sorry, Dad, I was talking to Morgan. Listen, I'm not coming out there."

"Come on," he urged. "You can tell me what a rotten father I've been."

"You have been a rotten father."

"Come on. You'll be back by early afternoon."

"Maybe next weekend."

I could hear Dad sigh. "Why are all you kids so angry?" he asked. "I gave you everything you ever asked for." He paused. "Except, of course, for the basic necessities. Those I left to your saintly mother." He paused, and I heard him sigh again. "All right, see you when I see you."

The phone clicked in my ear.

"I thought Grandpa was in the desert. Is he back? Where is he?" Morgan was up, pulling a pair of corduroy overalls over the T-shirt she had slept in.

"I'm not sure. In Marin County somewhere. I'm going out to see him."

"I want to come!"

"I'm sorry," I said in the snappish new way I had of talking to her. "You are grounded for the rest of your life." She had been sneaking out of the house for months now, and I always grounded her, for what little good it seemed to do.

I left her and tried to return to my column. But the sound of jackhammering outside the window kept distracting me, and I was restless and unable to concentrate. Outside a man lifted a piece of cardboard out of a stack someone had left on the corner. I watched as he shaped it back into a box, then flattened it again and walked off with it.

I called my twin sister, Adrian, reaching her at the Ukiah County Courthouse, where she was the civil clerk. She wasn't surprised to hear from me. We talked to each other three or four times a day.

"Hey, hag."

"Hag yourself."

"Guess what."

"What?"

"Dad's back."

"He is? Where is he?"

"In his hidey hole, he said, which I guess means somewhere out in the San Geronimo Valley. He just called, wants me to go see him. Says it's an emergency."

"Are you going?"

"No. I have my hands full here. Guess what Morgan's done now. Sneaked out last night with one of her little friends and went out roaming the streets."

"How did you catch her?"

"Tara spilled the beans to her mother this morning, and her mom called me."

"And now Dad's back."

"Yeah."

"Well, good luck."

I hung up, went into the kitchen, and grabbed my purse and keys. Since I had to finish a column, my husband, Bill, had gone off early for a hike on Mount Tamalpais with friends. Bill was not Morgan's dad but my second husband (well, technically my third), who had arrived on the scene when Morgan was eleven and Patrick ten. Today Patrick was playing basketball down at the rec center.

Where had Dad said he was?

I drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge, and followed Highway 101, Mount Tamalpais looming on my left. I took the exit to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which runs north and then west through central Marin County and out to the ocean. The air was warmer, and I rolled down the window.

After Fairfax, the foothill called White's Hill reared in front of me, warning me and everyone else that we were leaving the land of lawns, sidewalks, and brunch and entering San Geronimo Valley, in the last pocket of hills before the rolling grasslands that lead to the coast.

The road flattened out on the other side. Coming into the valley with its golden hills felt like driving into my own childhood, into those scenes that lay in the back of my mind like short videotapes, jerky and slow, like the Super 8 movies my mother used to take of us.

When I was little, Dad was the sound of hammering, the stray scent of tobacco and sawdust, the roar of a truck starting up, a man holding an anvil over his head for the camera. "I couldn't stand myself then," he told me once, "but I had all those lovely muscles." He was on the edge of my world, as I was on his: "You were always twisted around something in the foreground," he told me in a letter, "part of your mother's entourage." We were living in this valley then, a large unruly Irish-American family struggling along on the wages of a journeyman carpenter who only worked in good weather. Dad stayed until I was ten, when he was carried away on a high-cresting wave of Schlitz. Mom tried for years after he left to get the seven of us to call him Gene and hate him for deserting us, but we still sometimes slipped out, in ones and twos, to wherever he was, to drink his instant coffee and watch him strum the guitar that he never did learn to play.

Excerpted from HOLD ME CLOSE, LET ME GO (c) Copyright 2001 by Adair Lara. Reprinted with permission by Broadway, an imprint of Random House. All rights reserved.

Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter, and an Adolescence Survived
by by Adair Lara

  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 0767905075
  • ISBN-13: 9780767905077