And that side of my mother that Erica and I had loved to catch glimpses of on the stage in Durham was, in New York, unleashed. She would make sure Erica and I had breakfast, then my dad would walk us to our school, which was just down 110th Street from his office. Then, most days, Mom would change into her audition clothes, take the train from the 116th Street Station to Times Square, and spend the day dancing, singing, and acting her heart out at cattle-call auditions. She took classes in all those things, too, despite the fact that she was more qualified to teach them than almost any of her teachers. "The only people who don't know anything are the people who think they know it all," my parents loved to say. So she kept learning.
I didn't know then that she'd given herself one year to devote to auditioning, and that if nothing came of it, she'd have to take whatever sort of paying job she could get. I only knew that I rarely saw her without a smile on her face.
I'll never forget the day, after we'd been in New York eleven months, that I saw her cry for the first time—at least the first time I remembered. She picked Erica and me up from school, which wasn't the routine but happened sometimes, and took us home to change out of our school clothes into our best dresses. Dad was already home, dressed in a shirt and tie, though he didn't know why. But there was nothing to worry about. How could there be when Mom had that smile on her face?
We took the train to 66th StreetLincoln Center, walked together into Central Park, and had dinner at Tavern on the Green. After dinner we took the train to Forty-Second Street and walked up to Forty-Fifth and the Imperial Theatre. Mom sat between Erica and me so she could quietly explain little things about Les Misérables that went over our heads. In the first act, after Fantine sang "I Dreamed a Dream," my mom whispered to us, "There are all sorts of dreams, girls. And sometimes they come true." That was when I noticed the tears streaming down her face, and I knew that my perfect life had somehow gotten even better.
We left the Imperial and walked to East Sixtieth for frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity, and that's where she finally told us all the big news. She had been offered the role of Mrs. Potts's understudy in the Broadway cast of Beauty and the Beast. Her dream had become a reality.
That reality lasted exactly four days, and then she found out she was pregnant with Taylor.
Erica tried to explain to me that there was a lot of dancing in the show, and that they made the costumes to fit a certain size—even when the costume was a teapot—and that there were all sorts of reasons a pregnant woman couldn't star in a Broadway show. And she said Mom wasn't a big enough star yet to ask them to work around her or wait until after she had the baby.
I didn't know then that I was going to be forced to say goodbye to Amsterdam Avenue. I only knew that everything was going in the right direction, then it stopped.
Within a few months, we were back in North Carolina and my dad was teaching at Duke. Mom was always there to tell us to brush our teeth. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were always prepared. Then Taylor was born and our house was always loud—but at least we had a house. That's what my parents said whenever I complained about not being able to hear my friends when I was talking to them on the phone, or when I had to go to my room and watch Boy Meets World on the little portable television Erica and I shared. That's what they said when I complained about being back in Durham. At least we had a house.
So, great. We had a house. A house where I never once got up on the roof—and even if I had, there would have been nothing to see apart from other houses. But it was nice that Erica and I each had our own bedroom. Of course, that only lasted until Taylor turned one and Mom and Dad tried to move her from their bedroom to mine. No way. I was twelve years old. There was no way I was going to share my room with someone who didn't even have all her teeth yet. I begged Erica to let me move into her room—and swore a binding oath to help her with her chores for two whole years. And so my big sister became my roommate until she moved out to go to college when I was sixteen. She went to Duke, but she wanted the dorm experience. At that point Taylor was in preschool and was the most annoying human being on the planet. I couldn't wait until it was my turn to get out of there. Ignoring my dad's advice that Duke was one of the best schools in the country and would make the most economical sense for my undergraduate studies, I didn't think twice when I got accepted to Princeton. I was living in New Jersey, more than four hundred miles from everyone I knew—most notably my little sister—a full month before the fall semester began. I got my degree in political science and then went to law school at NYU.
Finally, I was home, and I didn't have any intention of ever leaving again.