I remember the writing session as though it were yesterday: Ringo tapped away on a worn-out Liverpool phone book with two skinny, warped wood drumsticks; George holed himself in the bathroom, humming a tune his band mates refused to help him with, “Mmm my Lord, mmm my Lord.” John stuffed another box of Chiclets gum in his mouth while Paul kept pruning his hair in the mirror with a five-inch black plastic comb he was given by a production assistant when he filmed “A Hard Day’s Night.” Me, I stared out onto the Thames from the second-floor rear window of Apple Records’ offices, piecing together lyrics for a song I prayed would never happen in my life: “She’s Leaving Home.”
Perhaps my recollection is a dream, fantasy, or flashback from the LSD John slipped me as we co-wrote “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” but nevertheless, it feels as though I collaborated with the boys back when we was Fab.
She’s leaving home . . . for college.
Elizabeth was born in a hospital on Hempstead Turnpike that’s changed names three times since that glorious day in 1995 when my only and favorite daughter entered my life. When she was 3, I took her every morning at 8 for swimming classes in the white elephant known as the Aquatic Center in the heart of Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. When she was 4, I started her on piano classes twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday at 4:30, never missing a lesson in 10 years. When she was 5, I became her softball coach, shagging flies in any open field we could find, her easily reaching home plate on one bounce from deep center field. And now that she’s 18, I took her this month to Long Island University, where she’s beginning a four-year stint playing violin, piano, and guitar in the music program and joining the softball and swim teams.
This time though, she won’t be returning home with her father.
Elizabeth has never been away from home, never. When I met with her college counselor, Candace Stafford, at East Hampton High School last year to choose a college, the realization of her leaving home hit me like a ton of mortar, leaving me unable to sleep for 3 nights, 4 hours, 29 minutes.
“Are you sure she passed all her classes?” I asked Ms. Stafford, hiding behind my Dollar Tree Wayfarer-type Tom Cruise sunglasses.
Flipping through Elizabeth’s records, she answered, “Everything seems in order.”
“I really don’t think she’s ready to graduate, perhaps another year here would be more appropriate,” I said.
“With a 91 average, it would be hard to find a reason to hold her back,” she replied.
Standing up, I leaned over, pointing my finger at her face, my diastolic meeting my systolic at 120. “She’s not ready to leave high school!”
Quietly, she pushed back in her swivel chair, pencil to mouth, and asked with a James Bond-like coolness, “Is she not ready, or are you not ready?”
Stunned, I turned and bolted out of her office, not seeing her again until the end of the graduation ceremony in late June under the circus tent on the grounds of the high school.
“Looks like you made it,” Ms. Stafford exuberantly said, embracing me.
“I guess so,” I answered, but quickly dashed away when I caught Superintendent Richard Burns’s Ultra Brite smile across the lacrosse practice field. I ran toward him — not in a stalking or menacing manner, that is.
“Congratulations, your third child to graduate East Hampton High School,” he said with the biggest smile next to Jimmy Carter’s.
“I got a little bad news,” I whispered.
“Oh really?” he said.
“I think my daughter was the ringleader in that SAT cheating scandal, so it looks like she’ll have to repeat the 12th grade, right?” I begged.
“Too late now, her diploma’s waiting in the cafeteria, gotta go,” he said as he abruptly dropped his paperwork, jumped in his gray Jeep Cherokee, peeled away, and popped a wheelie, leaving a 19-foot skid mark in that brand-new $90 million parking lot.
“See you in a few years,” he yelled as “Born to Be Wild” cranked from his car’s 8-track.
And as I ponder my daughter’s future away from home, I rummage through my basement, scouring for the “Sgt. Pepper” album with the Colony Records label and the round $4.99 sticker stuck on its cellophane cover, recalling a time when “She’s Leaving Home” was only a song, not a reality.
Frank Vespe, a previous “Guestwords” contributor, lives in Springs.