She started off in a rush of words. "I don't want you to think that I'm crazy. And my family is all functional and everything. And I love them. They love me. And my mother only wants the best for me. Just so you know. And if you have to go or don't want to talk to me, then it's fine, I just thought that maybe because you're here, and you don't mind, right?"
I don't mind, I reassured her by my smile and setting down my teaching bag. I don't mind, and I have time for you, and I am sure that your family is beautifully functional and loves each other very much. I do not make judgment calls, and of course, I am here to talk to anyone who wants to talk to me. I said all that by patting the bench next to me, but she wanted to stand. I stood up, too. Slowly. I was very tired. My bus passed by in front of us. There would be another in fifteen minutes.
"It's just that my being thin and stuff is really important to my mother. We always eat totally healthy at home and she packed our lunches even when there was school lunches so it would be perfectly balanced. She's always working out and I also did, but here in seminary it's really hard. Because everyone eats junk and it's weird hours and there's no gym nearby. I gained a bunch of weight already, and now my mother is coming to visit for midwinter and she'll totally flip."
I glanced at her discreetly. She was objectively thin. I told her so. Her eyes told me that she too thought she might be okay, but her mouth said, "it's just that she worked so hard to keep us all in shape and I don't want to let her down."
Yesterday morning, Coco-pop said to me, "I have teeny tiny freckles, Ima, right? Like you." She beamed up at me and I beamed down at her. And you have my flash-in-the-pan temper, too, I thought, and my ability to completely mess up simple instructions to due space-cadet tendencies.
"Who made you so cute?" I asked her.
"Hashem. And also you," she said.
Five minutes later her objections to the clothing that I had chosen for her woke the upstairs neighbors. The upstairs neighbors are my landlords. We are so getting evicted.
I once played a character in a play who turned out to be going through life in the shadow of her mother's approval, and wasn't quite sure who she herself really was. There is no relationship as complex, as beautifully and painfully intertwined as that of a mother and daughter.
A second bus passed, and I glanced at my watch. The girl jumped and said, "You have to go, right? I'm so sorry that I took up so much of your time."
"Not at all, really, it was my pleasure. Listen, I think that you look just fine. And I think that you think so, too. But if you do want to lose the weight that you gained, you know that guilt from your mother--however well-meaning she is," I said over her protest, "will not work for you."
"Because you were out of the house for what, five months? And you gained. What will happen when you leave her house for good?"
Her mouth open and closed, opened, and closed. "But I..."
"You need to think about what you want."
I gave her my number and got on to the bus. As I stepped on and handed my card to the driver, I heard her whisper, "But I don't know what I want."