Taylor has taken a Sharpie to her water bottle, crossing out “Jagurs!” and scrawling “Pirats.” Vicki would have been happy to buy her a new one, just as each fall she wants to get her daughter a new lunchbox, but Taylor keeps re-using the green one. Three years ago, she did a science fair project on recycling and learned that plastic doesn’t degrade for a thousand years. Ever since, she has insisted that she will use her lunchbox for the rest of her life. Or at least until high school. It’s cute and annoying. Maybe every child is a fanatic, a zealot for whatever they‘re learning. Maybe Vicki had been like that, although she doesn’t remember. Hopefully it’s a phase and Taylor will want to do more normal things someday, like the weekend shopping and “girl” talks that Vicki had imagined she would have with a daughter (even though those weren’t something she did with her own mother).
Vicki wonders if some part of Taylor still identifies as a Jaguar. Even now, she still thinks of herself as a Gehlbert. When she introduces herself as Victoria Holt, it feels as if she is playing a role and wearing a costume. It isn’t who she is. How could it be after she had been imprinted and raised a Gehlbert? Maybe married women are were-creatures, turning back and forth between the two, or the one inside the other, transformed by… what? A full moon? A piece of paper? A ring? A willingness? Jack had said that he didn’t care whether she changed her name, and she had said she believed him, but it had just seemed easier. Taking the path of least resistance on some things meant she could spend her energy on other, more important things. That was the theory anyway.
Vicki couldn’t tell if her parents had been upset or relieved. They must have cared one way or the other, but they had never said. She understands now how parents hide their disappointments from their children and also their desires and fears and confusions and ambivalences and just about every emotion except frustration and, occasionally, pride. Her mother had been right with her repeated refrain that, “One day you’ll understand,” even though the sentiment had infuriated Vicki with its sanctimoniousness, its impossible-to-counter argument, its smug righteousness of experience. And it wasn’t just her mother. Every judgmental old woman loved to say, “You’ll see. One day, you’ll see.” It had been all she could do not to dive for their throats and start gnawing. Instead, she had smiled as if appreciative of their useful “wisdom.”
And Vicki does see now. She does understand. She understands how angry her mother must have been sometimes as she packed Vicki’s lunch or did her laundry. How she must have wanted to hurl food or clothes against the wall. How she must have wanted to go somewhere, close the door, and curse. How hard she must have worked to control it. Vicki understands now how complicated and ambivalent love can be. She understands how some parents try to be the great and powerful Oz, desperately trying to cover their shortcomings and make the grim black and white world into a magical place of color. She understands how every expectation about how things will go—the days and the years and life itself—is wrong.
Vicki also understands how some things you come to understand and never talk about. At night, when Matt was interested, and he seemed to be interested most nights, his hands would start to move across her body. It reminded her of being in a tent and having an animal snuffling outside. Sometimes she tried not to move, hoping he would go away. Sometimes she rolled toward him to get it over with. It was annoying. Why did he wait until then? He needed to let her know sooner. When she went to bed, she wanted to go to bed. She had brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas, found her position. Why couldn’t he read body language: Closed. Come back tomorrow. The Rob and Laurie Petrie arrangement of two beds? That would be fine. Two bedrooms even. Yes, she loved Matt. Yes, she liked sex. Yes, she wanted to have sex with him. Sometimes. Just not in the middle of the night when she was falling asleep. That wasn’t a good time for anything. Mornings weren’t much more appealing. She took Patrick to practice and games because when Matt did it sometimes he would drop their son off and swing back home. His “You stay in bed” and “You sleep in” were almost always signals that he intended to climb back in. And not to sleep.
She understands now that people change. Her mother had gone from being an Inniston to a Gehlbert. She had gone from Gehlbert to Kohl. One identity written over the top of another as if people are palimpsests.
How long did a name linger? How long would people at the firm still think of it as Middleton and Carlyle despite the buyout? Not long. Those passionate conversations about the name and heritage and tradition? It had seemed so very important, and then it was done, and after a couple months even the website and phone messages don’t seem strange. There might be some letterhead and envelopes still in desk drawers, stationary that had been missed in the changeover or deliberately squirreled away. A few people might keep referring to the company as MAC, but soon Middletown and Carlyle would become a piece of trivia. Next year, Taylor might be on yet a different team, a Pirate magically changing into something else, like a Bronco. There would only be increasingly vague memories, a few artifacts like the team photos or a water bottle with “Pirats” on it. That would be it. Just as for her children, Gehlbert would be the answer on some password security question—“What was your mother’s maiden name?” Personal trivia. That’s what she was going to be to that girl running out there. Years from now, Taylor would say, “My mother used to…” For her children and their children, “Gehlbert” would be a vague identifier in their genealogy. She was one thing and then that got scratched out and she became something else, something that would barely be remembered. Now she understands how that happens. She wants to call her mother and say, “I’m sorry,” and even, “I remember you,” but it is too late.
When Taylor was a baby, Vicki had called her Baby Bug and BB and Little Baby Bug. She hasn’t done that for years. Taylor too has been changing identities, growing away from her names into new ones. Vicki misses Baby Bug. It hurts, and watching Taylor hurts. Her heart feels like it’s over-inflating. It’s a cliché, she knows, but she loves that child so much—and all the children Taylor used to be—that “I love you” isn’t close to conveying the feeling. It’s not even relevant. They have left the realm of words. And this, she finally understands, her mother knew too.