Originally written on December 16, 2016, this episode from Verity was at first intended to be Young Mildred’s Bad Day, but the image in my head was of a dark-haired girl who couldn’t be Mildred because she has medium brown hair with a reddish tinge. So Ada it became.
The sequence came to me as I was trying to imagine what Mildred, then Ada, had been like as a child. I still didn’t know very much about either of them at this point, and I was trying to get acquainted with them. Only in retrospect did I even realize how fortuitous it was that the scene presented itself this way.
Beforehand I had no idea how I could even begin to show the development of the bond between the two women, and I dreaded the idea of trying to come up with enough substantive dialog that could take place in Ada’s hospital room. But this provided a means – their love would develop as they told each other their respective life story. And I knew that it would work because I was simultaneously retelling my own life story through a series of essays, in the process of which I found a way to truly love aspects of my personality that I had previously always seen as shameful defects. I might share some of those essays, I might not.
The Boy and the Book
Ada came home early from school that day in a terrible state of distress. Mrs Noble did what she could to pry the story out of her daughter, halting and stilted though the recounting was, interrupted by sighs, gasps, sometimes tears, etc.
Apparently Ada had been reading quietly after lunch while the other children were playing this game or that. At one point, the boy on whom Ada had a huge early-adolescent crush came running over to her, stared her straight in the eye with a wicked grin, and grabbed ahold of her copy of Wuthering Heights, with which he then ran off, cackling, finally throwing it into the garbage bins against the far gymnasium wall. He then rejoined his little group of stupid friends, and they all cackled together like the stupid, stupid little boys that they were. Even if the stupid thieving boy was really dreamy.
All the while Ada just stared open mouthed and confused as the boy and her Wuthering Heights fled from her. What had she done to deserve such treatment? Why was he being such a little jerk? It’s not as though she had ever even had the courage to talk to him before, so surely she could not have offended him in some unknown way.
Just as Ada’s shock and confusion was turning into indignation and self righteous rage, the other boy, the one who drove her nearly to insanity, the one who constantly taunted and teased her in some ridiculous and not even all that clever way, the one who, other times, followed her around like a little lost puppy, that boy came up to her, perhaps to add insult to injury, to make one more stupid joke at her expense. Instead, and far worse, he stopped short, noticed the distress and mounting anger on Ada’s face, completely lost his own jubilant and mocking energy, and slipped almost into a kind of uncomprehending stupor to see Ada upset this way, his face going blank. Then he leaned over and kissed her right on the lips. It was an awkward and clumsy kiss. He jerked back, as though waking from a trance. His eyes grew as wide as saucers, and a strange, strangled “mmm, hmmm, uhhh” came out of his mouth. He turned and ran to the boys restroom just as those classmates who had witnessed the incident broke into mocking laughter. News of the kiss spread instantaneously among all the other children. Soon the post-lunch crowd was one gigantic swirling, laughing, pointing, and gossiping mass of terror. Ada fled as the tears streamed down her face.
There was no way she could face the rest of the school day, and the next day was too far away even to contemplate. And so she ran. She ran right out of the gymnasium, right down the hallway, right out the front door. She didn’t even stop to retrieve her Wuthering Heights, because really, despite her tortured existence, what could Cathy possibly know about this kind of pain and humiliation?
And so that’s why Ada was home early. Mrs Noble listen attentively and calmly to the story, stroking her daughter’s hair and every so often interjecting a word of sympathy or encouragement. She knew of her daughter’s crush, but not much, and she was surprised that the boy had some sort of attraction to Ada as well. The boy who tormented her clearly had an infatuation, but Mrs Noble was surprised about him as well. She didn’t think he would have the courage or even the wherewithal to try something as brazen as a kiss. But then, going by Ada’s retelling, it appeared that the boy had been running on some kind of auto-pilot. Perhaps he himself didn’t have any idea that he had it in him to do such a thing. She briefly wondered what he was going through at this moment.
Mrs Noble spent the afternoon comforting Ada, who would cry a little bit every now and then, but mostly remained glum and silent. She would also ask every couple of minutes why boys were so stupid, why the world was treating her so unfairly, why it couldn’t all just go away, how she was ever going to be able to face her classmates again.
Ada really wasn’t a very dramatic girl, but this was clearly a new kind of experience for her. Needing to comfort her daughter in this way was also a new experience for Mrs Noble. Up until then Ada would get upset about the kinds of things that children get upset about: not getting something she wanted, a friend not being nice for some reason. Now boys were entering the picture, even if not in a serious way. Nevertheless, Mrs Noble felt that a transition of sorts had arrived.
On the one hand, she was excited to see her daughter taking the first painful steps into adolescence. Watching her daughter grow, seeing her become an amazing young woman, was something that filled her heart with the most beautiful and terrible aching joy. Having a part in bringing a long-ago squalling baby to this next period of her life, despite the difficulty, was one of the greatest blessings of her life. Of course, as all mothers feel, she was also deeply nostalgic for Ada as a cooing baby, as a rambunctious and inquisitive toddler, as a child with an innocent trust in her ability to take action in a constantly new and exciting world. Looking across her daughter’s life, she could not help but feel the most intense nostalgia, optimism, and pride. She couldn’t help but shed a tear or two along with Ada, partly in solidarity and sympathy, partly because of the importance of this moment in Ada’s life and how it signified the amazing and terrible passage of time and path of growth in a young person’s life.
Mrs Noble made her daughter some cookies, which they both ate while snuggling together and watching a stupid, silly movie that sort of lightened Ada’s mood. She might have laughed at one point, though it was the kind of half laugh that can only come after a good cry. Maybe red, puffy eyes and a runny nose made a full-throated laugh impossible.
Eventually the family dinner came and went. Eventually Ada did her homework, brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas, and got into bed. She fell asleep reading once again The Prisoner of Azkaban which fell, pages open, onto the bed linens.
Mrs Noble came in to turn off the light and tuck Ada in. She sat down on the bed and simply looked at this little girl on the edge of adolescence. She ran her fingers through Ada’s impossibly soft dark hair, and she might have cooed a little bit while doing so. She felt in her chest a tightness of emotion, of love and concern and pride and a whole host of other feelings. She sometimes surprised and frightened herself by how strongly she felt towards this amazing creature that was part her and yet so distinct. In quiet moments such as this, once she was not focused on responding to Ada, but just able to observe her, she felt nearly overpowered by her love and protectiveness.
She would do anything for this girl. She dearly wished she could ease Ada’s unhappiness, which she already felt as her own. She wished she could grab ahold of Ada, tell her how much she loved her, how she would gladly die a million times for her. She knew of course that what she felt was too heavy and burdensome to explain to a child, even one starting on her way to adulthood. She feared that her love was too powerful or too intense, that it might consume her completely. She never wanted to find out what it might do to her child to unleash such a torrent of emotion, and so she held it at bay.
Instead she merely bent over, kissed her sleeping daughter on the forehead, ever so gently whispered, “I hope one day you feel about someone the way I feel about you,” and then left the room. She did not know that Ada had half awakened to the kiss on her forehead, and that without opening her eyes she had heard her mother’s whispered words.