Who'll Water My Teardrops?
By Win Herberg
My daughter's tears started, as we drove out of our driveway and down our neighborhood streets toward the highways that would take us over nine hundred miles to Colorado and her first year of college.
These were the streets she and I had traveled hundreds of happy times, going here or there, many times sharing thoughts and laughter. How perceptive she is, I have often thought, at reading people and situations, getting to the core of any matter, and putting into words the clarity of her thoughts. She is so much more capable of this, than I was at her age.
Now she could not find the words to say why she was crying on an occasion that should have been mostly happy. I thought she should be feeling the excitement of beginning a life for herself away from home - that she would be exhilarated at the prospect of being on her own and free from her parents' constant scrutiny. What went wrong?
Was she crying because she would be away for an extended period for the first time, because she would be leaving her friends, familiar places and faces, and her family or because she was leaving her best friend and first love, a young man she met months ago? This was the loss that seemed to have the greatest impact on her at this time.
I hoped the long trip would be another happy time for the two of us when we could talk freely and deeply for the two days we would be on the road. Her sorrow made it difficult to converse about the good times of the past and the new experiences she could look forward to. Though the tears eventually subsided, there would be no bonding on this day, and my chance to impress her with my best worldly advice had passed. Mostly we shared silence.
The next day when the mountains came into view and loomed larger so, too, did the reality of her future in this beautiful country. As the mountains grew, so did her anticipation and her spirits. We exchanged superficial talk.
Finally, we were on campus, and she was moving into her room, unpacking and settling in. She and her roommate seemed to hit it off right away. Both liked thick, gourmet coffee and country music; both were messy and had to set the alarm clock on the other side of the room to get out of bed in the morning. I never thought I'd see these habits as positive traits.
The orientation schedule was informative but grueling and kept both of us tuned into surviving the present. There were meetings for parents only, for students only, and for both parents and students together. I learned that this university is one of the top-ten party schools in the nation, that sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic and that two-thirds of the freshman class is on academic probation after the first midterms. Why did we agree to let her go to school here?
It was difficult for us to find our way around a six-hundred-acre campus where most of the buildings looked the same and where I needed my glasses to read the building names. Our differing methods of finding our way caused more friction between the two of us than anything else. I was into map reading, and she was into following her nose on the random chance that it would take her to the right building.
On the final day of orientation, registration was thoroughly frustrating, even maddening. It seemed as though none of the classes she wanted to take were open, and there were long lines for every step of the registration process. There was one advisor for approximately fifteen students. Only through her perseverance and willingness to wait for hours the next day to meet alone with an advisor did she get the classes she wanted.
With a gentle nudge she made it clear that it was time for me to leave her on her own. Now the excitement was hers, and a lump settled in my throat and tears came to my eyes. If I was going to impart any great new wisdom, it would have to be done in the few minutes of our leave-taking. What could I say that hadn't already been expressed?
I told her of a time when she was very young. She and I went shopping at a large department store, and I was trying on clothing. She walked out of the dressing room leaving me in a state of undress and unable to go after her. By the time I got my clothes back on, she was gone.
After frantically searching for what seemed like an eternity, I found her sitting quietly in the mall security office. It was a nightmare that seemed to describe this moment aptly. When she leaves me today, I will want to run after her. I still want her to stay with me, safe and secure. Now I am emotionally undressed; I cannot chase after her. She will be more content without me than I think she should be.
As I gave her a final hug, I could not hold back the tears.
"I love you," I said.
Out of nowhere she said, "Will you water my teardrops?" This is our name for the plants she has sitting in the windows of her bedroom. The delicate vines cascade to the floor nearly covering one wall; the small, circular leaves and the fragile, lavender flowers resemble teardrops. We both knew what she was asking. Would her room be there when she returned, the same as she left it? Would her family be there for her as we always had been in the past? Would we drive and laugh and confide on the same familiar streets that surround the only home she has ever known?
Yes, we'll water your teardrops.
She turned toward her new life, and I turned toward home. As the mountains diminished in my rearview mirror, so, too, did her presence. I became lonelier and emptier until the plains flattened my emotions. I managed to hold myself together for nearly twenty-six hours until the familiar sights of home brought cascades of tears.
Without her our streets are silent; our house is empty; my stomach is hollow.
Who'll water my teardrops?
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