Letting Her Go

by Larkin Vonalt

It’s like this every Christmas. Somewhere around the first week in December I wonder if I should send something to Camille.  We haven’t heard from her since my father died, six years ago. There was a very short time that she “friended” her brother and me on Facebook. When I mentioned to her one day that her sister was in a terrible crisis and suggested she send a note,  that portal snapped shut just as abruptly as it had opened.

I don’t know if the guy Camille married really is the son of serpent-handling, speaking-in-tongue preachers who invent a new church every time they have a falling out with the congregation. I don’t suppose it matters. They didn’t look like that in the snapshots that Camille’s husband posted under “My Wedding” on his MySpace page. Maybe all serpent handlers don’t look like they stepped out of a Shelby Lee Adams photograph. I don’t know.

Who knows if it’s true that he’s pressuring her to have kids or trying to keep her from her childhood friends and family. I hope not. It is true that during the brief time we were connected on Facebook that I didn’t recognize another name on her “friends list” except that of my son. Anyway, it’s not like she’s locked in a closet or something, she works at Dillard’s in the biggest town in Montana. She could get in touch on her lunch hour if she wanted to.

So there I am at Christmas every year wondering if I should send something again. Some years I’ve gone to considerable effort– an antique Korean jewelry box,  a block of watercolor paper, a necklace her long-dead Chinese grandmother bought for her twenty years ago “for later.”  Other years, most of them now, it’s just been money. Maybe money and a restaurant gift card.  The year she popped up on Facebook she said that she decided to get in touch because we’d sent her such nice gifts.  I knew what she meant, but still it gave me pause.

I bought into it for the longest time. You know, the guilt trip, what terrible parents we’d been. That, in all my painstaking efforts to treat both girls equally that somehow I had failed and her older sister had ended up with more.

But you know what? When I married her father, I didn’t sign up for this. I’d had a stepfather I appreciated, and my mother had been an excellent stepmother to his daughter. These  little girls were 5 and 7 when I met them, and I adored them. So I tried. There were riding lessons and ballet and trips to Disneyland. There were bedtime stories, and good morning kisses and cute shoes, and plenty of applause. There were pancakes that looked like smiley faces.

I put up with their mother’s berzerk antics all those years.  If anyone gave the older one more, it was their mother. Hell, she proudly wrote that they’d adopted Camille to provide a playmate for the other. It was their mother who told Camille, untruthfully, that she wasn’t “model material.” It was their mother who told them on our wedding day that she would like to cut off our heads with an axe.  It was their mother who told Camille that she should always order the most expensive thing on the menu when we took them out to eat, because it was probably all she was ever going get from us. It was your mother, Camille, who poisoned the well.

So Camille bought that story, I guess, because we never hear from her, but we know she still trails across the state to see her mother for the holidays. That she still remembers birthdays and occasions on that side of the family. And that’s fine, I don’t suppose I’d begrudge anyone a birthday card.

Then a few weeks ago I was out with a friend and we were talking about the ugly, offhand treatment she and her husband endure from his mother.  His parents always lavished his brother with such rank favoritism that it has cut wounds that may never heal.  I asked my friend if she would put up with that kind of toxic behavior from anyone else–  co-workers, friends, her own family members–and she shook her head.

I should have asked that question of myself.

This has haunted me  for a long time. I wrote another piece, a couple of years ago, A Small Planet Out of Orbit, about having a child out there somewhere.  How bewildering it is to break that thread that connects you, that thread you think will connect you always. About losing Camille.

I have been fed up about it. I have been grief-stricken about it. When I first sat down to write this, I cried so hard I had to put it away a little while.  I haven’t sent Camille something every Christmas because I was trying to buy her affection. I have done it because we love her.  I stand there reading every damn card Hallmark makes for daughters trying to find one that says we’ve left the light on for you. We support you no matter what. You’ve been a crappy daughter, but we still love you. You are always in our hearts and you are always welcome here.

But this year I just sent a funny one, a second-grade-style groaner about “a little doe”. I wrote the check and bought the restaurant gift card. I tucked in a picture of her baby brother, a senior in high school this year.  But I just didn’t have it in me anymore to be earnest. Because you know, I’m a little embarrassed. I wouldn’t have gone on for six years chasing after anyone else to make sure she knew she was loved.

I am embarrassed that I had a hand in raising a young woman who is so judgmental and unforgiving. Not that she really had anything much to forgive. Her childhood was as imperfect as most people’s and better than many. As my late father was so fond of saying, life is not fair.  One day I suppose someone will track her down to tell her that either her father or I have died, but it’s hard to imagine that she would even care.

So that’s where we are. I’m not sending anything else at Christmas. If she ever needs us, I hope she knows we are here for her. If she ever wants to see us, we are easy to find. But I have made, we have made, all the effort we’re going to make. I am tired. Is there any point of trying to hold on to someone who doesn’t want you? Does it hurt? Of course it hurts. It hurts like a stone in your shoe. It hurts like an eyelash floating in your eye. It hurts like running the grater across your knuckles. It’s just ordinary pain, at times excruciating.

Let her go. Let her go. Let her go.