Teenage girls do not long for spa days with their middle-aged fathers. But for her homecoming, I scrub and organize, no groom, her bathroom. With every breath of my missing design prowess I arrange the now spotless sink with what we affectionately called “product”: The Hello Kitty snail slime mask I brought back from the airport in Seoul; an artisanal, handcrafted, organic, sustainable, and perhaps ten other adjective-possessing bar of soap, carefully tired in a bow which I check for symmetry; and Aloe vera facial cleanser. I even bought new hand towels which I folded into a ceramic bowl I brought back from Costa Rica for her mother, once encased in an entire suitcase full of bubble wrap.
Upon her return, I carry her bags to her room, open the door to her bathroom as a magician reveals what is behind his cape.
“It looks really nice, Newfie.”
I don’t want to hold her back.
Days later, I drop her back at the airport; she returns to practicing adulthood, exploring the world, and most importantly herself. I can hardly believe that it is she and not I, leaving as an eighteen-year-old to find her way. Although she is a young woman and I a fifty-year-old man, only a few months past divorce, we are largely grappling with the same tasks. I used to joke that I was loving lawn furniture to a teenage girl, despite her nightly, unprompted kiss goodnight.
Still, I am a slightly fading poolside recliner. This truth? Less biting and lonesome when we were all together.
My daughter and I have a gentle and quiet love, and while I wish I was more fascinating to her, I try to respect the movement of the seasons.
I wake up this morning and check my email; there is a message from her, written the minute she landed, dutifully, just as I would do. I pick myself up out of bed and walk to her bathroom. The hand towels all on the floor by the side of the sink or near the toilet. The soaps were used, but the snail masks remain sealed; facial coverings made from the secretion of garden snails raised in laboratories, said to repair radiation damaged skin, cure ache and warts, rosacea and wrinkles, burns and boils, and make the skin more elastic and youthful.
I pull one out of the ceramic bowl, open the wrapper, and hold the tacky mask in my hand. How many sacrificed themselves for the skin of aging beauties? How many snails died for Korean kitsch? My dream of luring my 18 year-old-back home when she is done exploring the world?
And that is part of the problem; we only lived in this house for a bit more than a year before the divorce, before she took her gap year. She stained no walls with crayons here. This is not where I dug tunnels through the Nebraska snow so she and the other children could reach the school bus. This is not where she and her sister, age 3 and 7, gave me the inexplicable name of Newfie, that has carried me from young adulthood to the end of the middle of my life.
What part of the snails make up these masks? Flesh or shell? Both?
Today, the day after my heart leaves to--as I wish for her, eat the world--Tacoma is having its first significant snow in several years. As I watch from my chair, I wonder about the snails. Where do they go in the snow, those not designed to be massacred for the sake of deeply clean pores?
The dogs sleep on my lap. We will wait, take our walks, try to forget about snails, not think of her too often.
About the Author: Rich Furman is the author or editor of over 15 books, including a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007).His poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Hawai’i Review, Coe Review, The Evergreen Review, Black Bear Review, Red Rock Review, Sierra Nevada Review, New Hampshire Review, Penn Review, Free Lunch, Colere, Pearl, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and many others. He is currently studying for his MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Queens University Charlotte.