The storm broke just as I reached the outskirts of Iowa City. An unexpected boon, since I had decided to just drive in the country regardless of the weather.
It had been raining for weeks — heavy, dark, driving rains. March rains, holding potential for record snowfalls with just a slight dip in temperature. I was “playing hooky.” Well, not exactly — I had bailed out on obligations that I never really needed to take on in the first place. I was supposed to lead a graduate student meeting (we were all riled up over our new head of graduate studies), but I couldn’t do it. Told my friends I just had to bail out — the messiah role had become too much, and I needed everything I had to deal with my daughter.
She had come to live with me the summer before, at age 14. For two years before that I’d been on my own, living the graduate student life, responsible for no one but myself. Staying up late at the library doing research (most nights it was open until 2 a.m.). Doing whatever I wanted or needed to do without having to think about anybody else. I had forgotten how much a child needs, how young 14 really is. Or perhaps never knew.
When my daughter was 7 her father won sole custody of her, two years after our divorce was final. People gasp when I tell them that. It’s so unusual for a mom to lose custody. And it’s not like I was a drug addict or crazy or whatever. The story is so complicated, how that all happened. How I tried to have a “good divorce” and make sure my daughter had a father involved with her life. How when we were first working out the divorce we were supposed to have joint custody, but the judge wouldn’t allow it, so on my husband’s promise never to use the power it gave him, I signed over physical custody. And then, two years later, he “changed his mind.” Ultimately she did come to live with me — after her emerging adolescence became too much for her father and stepmother to handle. He gave her up to me easily — I took advantage of the image of Iowa as a wholesome place for kids.
I went to Iowa from southern California in January, 1984, drawn by some deep voice inside that said I had to make a dramatic change in my life or I would die. I wanted to be in the Iowa Writers Workshop but I’d been turned down, so I took my second choice, the doctoral program in mass communication at the School of Journalism.