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Fifth Conversation With Emily

Emily, thirty-five, a marriage and family therapist, and her son Andre, twelve, live with Emily’s father Neal, sixty-seven, a community college English professor. On a lovely sunny day in May, Emily and Andre arrive home in the late afternoon and find Neal still dressed for work in suit and tie, sitting on the deck with Niko, a big friendly ten-year-old mutt. Andre comes out on the deck to greet his grandfather.

Andre: Hi Poppy. We didn’t think you’d be home yet. (sits in an adjoining deck chair) We got Chinese takeout to celebrate Mom’s big success and cheer me up. We got Kung Pao Chicken and Snow Peas with Black Mushrooms and Shrimp Chao Fun.

Neal: Sounds fabulous. What’s made you so blue?

Andre: We just had my interview at the Waldorf high school and they don’t want me.

Neal: Why not?

Andre: Well, it’s not entirely true to say they don’t want me, but they are adamant I can’t finish high school there unless I first go through Waldorf Eighth Grade and all four years of their high school.  

Neal: Because?

Andre: It’s a different system than public school. A different way of learning, and since I’m only twelve they would want me to become accustomed to the Waldorf ethos and have their entire high school experience which they say has nothing to do with how smart you are. It’s more about psychic and spiritual growth specific to my age, which actually sounds pretty good to me, but… I just want to be done with high school.

Emily: (coming out on the deck) I explained he’d been largely homeschooled and skipped four grades, but they were adamant he should do five years with them.

Andre: So I think I’m going to home school for another year, pass the high school equivalency exam, and then take classes at the community college. I can’t possibly survive another year at Woodbury High. It’s like a prison. The classes are idiotic, and Desmond and Caroline are my only friends, and we’re just a pod of little freaks there.

Neal: I’m sure you’re not just little freaks there. But this is momentous news. And it coincides with my news.

Emily: What’s your news?

Neal: (gets up) Before I tell you, and before you tell me about your great success, I’m going to change my clothes and have a beer. I got home five minutes before you and I’m still in the throes of wonderment.

Emily: I’ll get you a beer. You want anything Andre?

Andre: Yeah. I’ll have a beer, too.

Emily: How about some kombucha?

Andre: With a shot of Kahlua.

Emily: Stop.

Andre: (follows her into the house) In Ireland kids my age drink beer.

Emily: Yes, but we don’t live in Ireland.

Andre: We should move there. Or France. I’d love a glass of wine.

Emily: Fine. I’ll give you a little glass of wine.

Andre: (excited) Really?

Emily: Emphasis on little. As in tiny.

Andre: Oh my God. (shouting) Poppy! Mom is giving me a tiny glass of wine.

Neal: (from his bedroom down the hall) Excellent. Sip don’t gulp.

Andre: (to Emily) This is so exciting.

Emily: And it will not be a regular thing.

Andre: No, no, of course not. Absolutely never more than once a day.

Emily: We are speaking of the occasional ceremonial taste.

Andre: How exotic. Shall we burn some sage?

Neal: (arriving in sweatshirt and loose trousers) Yes. Let’s burn some sage to usher in the new era of our lives.

Emily: (handing Neal a beer) New era? Tell us more.

Neal: Well… Andre home schooling again and… (pauses momentously)

Emily: And?

Neal: Shall we return to the deck? Such a lovely day.

They carry drinks and an old ceramic bowl full of sage out onto the deck and set the bowl on the table. Andre lights the sage and passes his small glass of red wine through the smoke.

Andre: Blessings on the new era.

Emily: Tell us, Papa. The suspense is killing me.

Neal passes his bottle of beer through the sage smoke and takes a drink.

Neal: There is a very good possibility that five weeks from today I will teach my last class as a full-time professor at the community college, and possibly my last class ever.

Emily: (shocked) What? You just told me a few days ago you wanted to teach until you were seventy-two.

Neal: That was before Janet Escobar, the charming new president of the college, assembled the eleven members of the faculty who are over sixty-five and asked us to please retire now rather than later. Generous severance packages were offered, and save for Archie Fitzgerald who called Janet an ageist idiot, we all agreed to consider her offer.

Emily: Well… it is ageist.

Andre: And I was going to take your classes.

Neal: I suspected something like this was in the works when Janet took the helm. Nine of the eleven of us are long past meaningful functioning, and I knew the new administration was keen to youthify the faculty.

Andre: Youthify? Is that even an actual word?

Emily: No. But you know your grandfather loves to verbify nouns.

Neal: A noble calling. Verbification. A field of endeavor you might want to consider, Andre. Not lucrative, but deeply fulfilling.

Andre: So does this mean that someone resembling you will be free to be my homeschool teacher for the next year or so? And teach Desmond and Caroline, too, if they want to homeschool with me?

Neal: If I retire, yes.

Emily: Is Karen retiring?

Neal: Oh yeah. She’s thrilled. So are most of the others. And the more I think about it, the more appealing retirement sounds, though after the meeting, Janet took me aside and whispered, “But not you. Please. Not you.”

Emily: What’s that about? Does she fancy you? She’s a bit young for you, but she is a dish.

Neal: I agree about her dishness, but I seriously doubt she fancies me. No, she had to include me, and Diana, in the cattle call or it would have been a terrible insult to the others, asking them to retire but not me or Diana.

Andre: Who is Diana and what’s a cattle call?

Neal: Diana is the Drama department incarnate in a single ageless wonder, and a cattle call is a show biz term that refers to an audition open to everyone, not just a select few.

Emily: So that means you don’t have to quit if you don’t want to.

Neal: No one has to. But the offer is there and it’s a very good one. And I do grow weary of correcting essays written by people who spent twelve years in school yet still don’t know how to write complete sentences, let alone coherent paragraphs.

Andre: Why don’t they want older people teaching at the college?

Neal: Because they think most of us are out of touch with the nineteen and twenty-year-olds composing eighty per cent of our student body. And if you knew the nine teachers they want to get rid of, you would agree with their assessment.  

Emily: I’m stunned. I don’t know what to say.

Neal: Yeah, I know. It’s a shock. (to Andre) How do you like the wine?

Andre: The taste is dreadful, but I’m enjoying the… the… oh what’s the word? (giggles) I can’t think of it.

Neal: Buzz?

Emily: Are you dizzy?

Andre: No. I’m… everything seems to be kind of flowing together. The various separate things are not so distinct from each other as they were in my sobriety.

Emily: I think you’ve had enough.

Andre: Oh come on, Mom. I’ve only got another sixteenth of an inch to drink. But I see why they say don’t drink and drive. I wouldn’t want to ride my bicycle feeling like this, let alone drive a car. I do see the appeal though. Certainly smooths the rough edges.

Emily: Listen to you. What rough edges do you have?

Andre: What do you mean? I’m a twelve-year-old about to enter my senior year of high school. I’m surrounded by giant goons who push me around whenever the fancy takes them, and gorgeous young women who think I’m adorable or invisible or merely freakish. I hate school and school takes up most of my life. Is that enough rough edges for you?

Emily: I’m sorry, dear. I really am. We should have had you in Waldorf from the get go but we didn’t have the money then. And now we have the money and they want you for five years.

Neal: Well then I’ve decided. I’m retiring from the community college and will henceforth be your teacher until further notice.

Andre: Great! This is the happiest day of my life.

Neal: Mine, too. I was sick of teaching there.

Emily: You weren’t sick of teaching there when you went off to work this morning whistling a happy tune.

Neal: I felt safe teaching there. I was afraid not to be teaching there.

Emily: (going inside) I’m gonna set the table. I’m starving.

Andre: (to Neal) But first we’ll have the summer off. Right? We’ll start our formal studies in the fall.

Neal: The truth is, Andre, you could pass the equivalency exam now. You could have passed it two years ago. So what is it you formally want to study?

Andre: Desmond and Caroline and I are all keen on Music, Literature, and Cuisine. And Frisbee. And Geography. And Cinema. And Biology and Astronomy and Anthropology and Theatre, of course.

Neal: We shall ponder the possibilities and create a curriculum including Mendelssohn, Miles Davis, Dickens, Wharton, Kazantzakis, Shakespeare, and Larousse Gastronomique as cornerstones of your educational edifice.

Andre: Sounds wonderful, Poppy. But for now… I don’t feel very well. Is that the wine?

Neal: Yes. That is your body wanting water. Alcohol dehydrates. Go have a big glass of water and then we’ll take you-know-who for his you-know-what.

Niko perks up, suspecting a walk is in the offing. Andre goes inside to get a drink of water and Neal has a little cry before he joins Emily and Andre in the kitchen.

Emily: (to Andre) Feel better?

Andre: (belching) Now I do.

Emily: Charming. (to Neal) You’re sure you want to quit, Papa?

Neal: I’m sure.

Emily: Well then I’m glad. If anyone deserves a nice severance package, you do.

Neal: Maybe I’ll take us all to England.

Andre: To Ireland where I can legally drink beer! And then drink lots of water.

Emily: Sounds wonderful.

Neal: But first I must gird my loins for another five weeks of labor at the place where I have toiled for thirty-seven years. Astounding but true.

Andre: Three times my age and a year.

Neal: Shall we walk?

Andre: We shall. You coming Mom?

Emily: I want to, but I’m starving.

Andre: Eat a handful of nuts. That’s what you always say to me.

Emily: Good idea.

Emily has a handful of nuts and they go for a walk, Andre holding Niko’s leash as they stroll along.

Neal: And now my darling daughter, tell us of your great success.

Emily: Well two things happened today that made me glad I became a therapist, not that I wasn’t already glad, but there are days and weeks, as you know, when I’m not sure I’m doing anybody much good.

Andre: But not today.

Emily. No, not today because one of my clients told me she has finally ended the abusive relationship she’s been in for eleven years, and she said she could never have done it without me. She was radiant and happier than I’ve ever known her to be.

Neal: Bravo! That outshines my news by a mile.

Andre: And that’s not all.

Neal: There’s more?

Emily: There is. A couple I’ve been counseling for two years who came to me unable to speak to each other and about to be divorced, asked me today if I would come to their remarriage ceremony.

Neal: That’s fantastic. (gives Emily a hug) I’m so proud of you.

Emily: I never thought they’d stay together, let alone fall in love again. But they really have. They just love each other now.

Andre: How did you do it, Mom?

Emily: After our first session, during which they almost killed each other, I saw them separately for several months, then together and separately for several more months, and then together for the last four months. And they both learned to talk about their feelings and really listen to each other, and they stopped comparing themselves to each other and to other couples, and they really got to know each other and like each other, and they fell in love again.

Andre: Wow. Maybe I’ll become a therapist.

Emily: I thought you wanted to be an actor.

Andre: I do. Caroline and Desmond and I are going to have a theatre company and be a famous team of movie stars. We’ll write and direct our own movies and plays, and I’ll be a therapist.

Neal: Good idea. Why limit yourself to just one occupation?

Andre: We also want to have an organic avocado farm and a café featuring entrees from around the world.

Emily: Oh to be so young again.

Neal: Wouldn’t it be just grand.

Emily: To think the world has no limits.

Neal: And start a rock n’ roll band.

Andre: And now that I’m done with high school…

Neal: Who knows what you might do?

Emily: We only know that when we get home…

Andre: We’re having Chinese food.

fin

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