Layla, Chapter One

MY NAME IS LAYLA.  My mother said my father insisted they call me that as soon as they knew I was a girl.  He thought the song by Eric Clapton, when he was with Derick and the Dominos, was the best R&R single of all time.  I loved knowing it meant so much to him to name me.  My mother, though always eager to talk about the world and its problems, shied away from anything personal, and so the main thing I knew about my father was that he was dead.

They were ’60s people, my parents.  And that’s what’s brought me to this waiting room where I sit, rubbing my hands over my goose pimpled arms, steeling myself.  After this long, rough summer, I think I finally get what it means to suffer the consequences of your choices.

My mother was always trying to convince me that we are all tied up in history and politics – who we are, even what we think.  The personal is political, she would say, and, all politics is personal.  She was a Women’s Studies teacher, an antiwar activist, a placard-wearing, union-ballad-singing Leftie.  She was always pointing things out in the paper or on the news, trying to “engage” me.  But I wouldn’t engage.  I resented the politics that took so much of her attention.  And I believed—I wanted to believe—that I could escape being shaped by anyone or anything I didn’t choose.

I no longer believe in escape.

The door opens, and a guard beckons.  I stand so quickly I bang my knee, but the sharp pain helps clear my head.  Was this what my mother was hoping for with her elaborate scheme, the promise she asked of me—that by drawing me in to her secrets, I’d end up every bit as implicated as she was?  Forced to become involved, to take a stand?  Because wasn’t that her point—that we’re all, in some way or another, implicated?

Still, I want to believe that it was much simpler, something that doesn’t have to do with politics at all: that my mother wanted to give me what I had been denied, and that she wanted my forgiveness.

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