I picked up my granddaughter at the airport yesterday. After two months traveling through Chad I’d hoped she’d come back changed in some way, more evolved, but the same little punk-rock moppet disembarked the plane looking and acting exactly like herself. I figured she’d endure hardships in Africa and would at least stop cutting her arms but she met me with fresh, scabby slices on her left arm. I noticed she had a new nose-piercing and I worried about infectious diseases (my image of Africa is rife with stereotypical clichés of misery, poverty and puddle-water brimming with exotic illnesses). I’ve never been to Chad and have not researched it. As far as I know it’s as cold and antiseptic as Finland (another country I know nothing about except that they have a rather high rate of suicide).
My granddaughter’s name is Tiana (for some reason) and she’s eighteen and swears like a porn star. I inherited custody after her mother (my daughter) died of a heroin overdose two years ago. Tiana was the one who found her, two days decayed with a needle sticking out of her leg and dried blood crusted around her mouth. The flies had found her. I can’t imagine the kind of roaring psychological disturbance witnessing such a horror would cause, but little (4’11”) Tiana has still not exhibited anger or despair over the loss of her mother (or the hellish tableau that had confronted her). She seemed to greet it with relief. Being raised by a junkie, I don’t know, it must deform you in some invisible, intractable way. She learned to wear emotional chain mail a long time ago. I love Tiana dearly but I worry about her psyche. Maybe she’s just a lot stronger than me.
Or maybe she’s waiting to explode.
“So, how was Africa?” I asked her as we made our way across the terminal, lugging her baggage.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Okay I guess.”
“Okay I guess? You just spent two months in Africa. Can’t you do any better than that?”
“What do you want me to say? It was beautiful? It wasn’t. It was intense? It ain’t. I don’t know what you want from me.”
“A good, precise adjective, please.”
“It was fucking lame. It was fucking boring.”
“That’s better,” I said, rolling my eyes. We carried her bags out the automatic doors and walked into the parking lot.
“Are you hungry?” I asked her. “Want to grab something to eat before we go home?”
“God yes. The food in Chad was awful. I think I lost twelve pounds.”
“What was it like?”
“M-hm. So, what are you in the mood for?”
“Ramen noodles, Doritos, Slim Jims and grape soda.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’ve been thinking about eating that meal for weeks.”
“Okay, kiddo. Whatever you want.”
And as we made our way to the car I couldn’t help thinking how unlike her mother she was (which is probably a good thing).