2. Solid Foundation
Nic cleaned up while Joni dropped off her stuff. They grabbed brunch at Joni's favorite local-organic place. Then they drove out to Free City, where Nic treated Joni to some new clothes that she so didn't need for Argentina. Joni knew her mom's angles, and the anxious but sincere generosity that kicked off most visits home. She braced herself for stage two. Sure enough, on the ride back to Simi Valley, the grilling began.
"So how was the summer term? Did you like teaching?"
"Assistant teaching," Joni corrected. "It was alright. The prof said I did well."
"Did she give you a letter of recommendation?"
"I don't think teaching's really my thing."
"Oh." Nic forced a nod. "Okay. That's cool. That's, you know, the beauty of college. You get to try out jobs and, sometimes, you figure out what you don't want."
A silence grew between them. Joni leaned her elbow on the car window and her chin in her hand. The wind whipped easily across what was left of her hair. Everything felt so bare. Two days ago she finished grading papers, went out and got this haircut on a whim, shaved her legs for the first time this summer, and started packing. Now here she was hairless, jobless, dateless… And after four years at Stanford, losing the guarantee of returning left her feeling a little homeless.
"It's just," Nic started again. "It's still an opportunity to get a general letter, you know? Just from someone who's worked with you, knows that you're smart and hardworking and up for anything. Research? Field work? Queen of the Universe?" she teased.
"Okay," Joni giggled. "I'll shoot her an e-mail. Geez, Mom."
They moved on to other topics. Jules' landscaping business was flourishing. Joni and Lazer's grandparents were all in good enough health to visit on the Fourth. Sasha was going on for her MFA and dating a nice guy, finally settling down a little. Lazer was transferring from community college to UC Chico with a track and field scholarship.
"I'm not surprised he got a scholarship," said Joni. "But I always figured it'd be for soccer or basketball, you know? A team sport."
"I know, right? But you should see him run, honey. He's just so… focused. It's kinda eerie."
"Is he gonna live on campus?"
"No. That's the nice thing: He's commuting to save money, and so your mom and I don't get so lonely."
And just like that, the space of the Americas stood between mother and daughter. Joni looked down at her folded hands. Nic pulled into Whole Foods. A giant rainbow flag was draped just inside the front windows.
"What's that for?" Nic wondered aloud. "Pride week?"
Joni jumped at the happy distraction. "I think it's for Holllingsworth v. Perry. Sasha and I were talking about it last night. You know her dad went to law school with one of the plaintiffs' lawyers?"
"That's neat. …Remind me what that one's about?"
Joni gaped. "Same-sex marriage in California?"
"Right. That. How'd it go?"
"Well they won."
Joni was incredulous. Nic showed more investment in the outcomes of Lazer's soccer games. Even the preseason ones. Nic pulled their grocery bags out of the trunk. Joni shut the hatchback with a little more force than needed.
"It's not just 'good', Mom. It's fantastic! Every gay couple we know can get legally married now. Including you and Mom!"
"Yeah, I got that, Joni. It is fantastic: for history, and for couples just starting out who wanna tie the knot. It's great."
Nic's tone clearly said 'end of discussion.' They grabbed a cart and headed inside. Air conditioning and fragrant fruits and flowers soothed Joni's nonplus. They roamed the vast slate floors and wooden-crate displays for all their party staples: Nic's steaks, the berries and yogurt for Jules' famous red-white-and-blue parfaits, Lazer's favorite spinach chips…
It was in front of the fresh heirloom tomatoes that Nic suddenly burst out:
"You know I didn't see the Star Wars trilogy until Lazer was in kindergarten? I mean, I like scifi- I always have. My girlfriend in college wanted to take me to Return of the Jedi but I just couldn't. It was so damn popular that it was tacky, what with everyone and their mother was camping outside the theater. I just thought, no way."
"So… that's why you don't wanna get married? Because it's gonna be trendy?"
"Well that, and... Sweetie, we already did. I mean, not legally." Nic grabbed some tomatoes and pushed the cart onward. Unlike interrogations, she preferred to make confessions in motion. "But you've seen the pictures hanging in the stairwell, of both of us in dresses on the beach with that bad 80's hair?"
"Yeah, and you wrote your own vows, and all your friends were there, and your parents surprised you by showing up, and you and Jules smashed cake in each other's faces. I've heard the stories, like, a million times."
"Well did we ever tell you why we did it? Why that commitment meant so much to us, in 1990?"
Joni knew that leading tone; Nic used it to drop hints when she helped Joni study for tests in middle school. 1990. What was the importance of that? The year before Joni was born?
That was it.
"It's just: marriage is supposed to mean a lot to the people going into it."
"Yeah, of course…" And Joni was touched, thinking that Moms did all they could to lay a solid foundation, even symbolically, before bringing her and Lazer into the world.
Nic dabbed her eyes on her t-shirt sleeve. "Great, now you got me all sappy…"
Joni laughed. "Let's go get some wine, okay?"