It wasn't the fact that she was going away—she had gone away many summers during college. And even though Amos always had a panicky feeling as soon as she left for overseas or another state—the sense that his daughter had slipped his hand while crossing the street—he always got over it, always had, anyway, by willfully forgetting or becoming fatalistic, by thinking, she was on her own now, he could not help her any more, goodbye, good luck. But this was different. He was surprised by how different it was, and he didn't like it, didn't like what it said about him.
But what did it say, exactly? That he was shaken that Randa was going on a trip to Bolivia with her college singing group and in the company of another girl, a girl who was more than her friend, who was her lover—or would be by the time they got to Bolivia, or after they had been in Bolivia for awhile, that it was only a matter of time, in other words, if it hadn't happened already and it probably had, who was he kidding, besides himself?
It wasn't that he disapproved, because he didn't, didn't care about it in a moral way, morality had nothing to do with it, he was totally open-minded. For instance, at a work retreat last summer, he had been come onto quite openly by Shem Cutler from marketing, the completely bald guy who looked like a linebacker, with the big muscles, and Amos had just been flattered, amused that he was still young enough (at forty-four!) to be asked to be someone's prison bitch, instead of being "Pops" on the cell block, the guy who divvies up the cigarettes, keeps a pet mouse, and dies of a heart attack during the break-out. And he only thought of prison because, well, Shem was big enough to be sort of scary in his form-fitting suits, so he looked like he could be, you know, kind of a convict, even though he was the gentlest guy—anyway, never mind, it didn't matter, it was just a joke.
It wasn't any of that—maybe it would have been the same if she were going away with a boy, which Randa never had, as far as he knew, though he had no idea what she'd been up to at school and didn't want to know. (If his own experiences during those years were any indication, watch out!) But, no, he had to admit—even if it was so last century and only to himself (and even then he felt sheepish, as if God could hear his thoughts, which he used to actually believe as a child and never got over believing, if truth be told, and he felt embarrassed thinking that, too)—that it was different. Because it made Randa different from him and feel further away, further even than her growing up had made her, as if she had actually moved to another country now, one that was hard to reach, so that he would not, in a sense, be seeing her as much any more, which made him melancholy, as if a little love had leaked out of his life, it was corny to conceive of it that way, but that's how it made him feel, lonely, even lonelier than he usually did, for he was aware that he was lonely as a rule and always had been. Randa had made him feel less so the second she was born.
Amos would have felt even worse if he hadn't seen how Sheila was reacting; and he didn't ask her, not right away, instead he just observed how she was taking it and interpreted it, which was risky, but it didn't feel right to just blurt out the question, especially since he felt so uneasy about his own response (and by himself, forget with his wife). Still, he saw it in Sheila, a sort of forced smile when he discreetly mentioned it, as if she hadn't known this about her daughter—hadn't known since she was nine, as parents always said they did—and so this meant that Sheila felt she had failed, had not been as close or as good a friend to Randa as she'd supposed.
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