At the end of August, I am offered a job as a live-in nanny with a family in L.A. There’s a lot of backstory here, but it might be kind of tedious to explain. Here’s the key point: I don’t know this family, but the dad grew up Jewish in Oklahoma, and so did my mom, and in the same town, and it’s a small world down there. So small of a world that, when my mom was a teenager and my future boss was four years old, my mom babysat him. (He liked dinosaurs.) It turns out this is enough information for both of us, and I leave New Haven to move into his house for the fall.
Actually, before I move in, I quarantine for ten days in an Airbnb in Silver Lake. Almost every evening, I mask up and ride a Lime scooter down a massive hill, past Echo Park lake, and up another massive hill to have al fresco, fifteen-feet-away meals with my bosses and their tiny children. Daisy is four-and-a-half and Marie is seven months. (These are not their real names.) Because Marie is a little baby who spends most of her time sleeping, eating, and benignly vibing on the floor, my job will mainly be entertaining Daisy, who has been home from preschool since the pandemic began.
When my quarantine is up and I test negative twice, I move into the house in Echo Park. I think I may have the nicest living quarters of any governess in the history of governessing. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this: a giant room on the second floor, one window looking out onto the branches of a giant sycamore, the other onto downtown Los Angeles. And the sheets are made out of something called “eco-latex,” which I can only describe as feeling like sleeping under a layer of Starbucks’ cold foam (This is a positive thing.)
In many ways, by accepting this job, I have flashed forward fifteen years into my ideal future. My bosses do absurdly cool work for real money. They wear clothes from independent designers and have sustainable fish (including the bycatch!) delivered to their house. I am intimidated by their friends in our pod, who include an architect, two fashion wizards, the host of a quite popular podcast, and all their elaborately-named children.
But really, the person I like hanging out with most is tiny Daisy. In the beginning, I ask her a lot of questions. What’s her favorite animal? A unicorn, because when it jumps over houses, it can make rainbows. What’s her favorite color? Pink and purple and blue and white and rainbow. Talking to Daisy is easy—I can tell we’re going to get along, and taking this job was a good decision instead of an insane one. Daisy has an answer to most questions, and if she doesn’t like the question, or if the question is too stupid to warrant a response, she just ignores it.
As we spend more time (many hours of most days) together, I learn that this quality of hers, this constant having-of-answers, extends even to questions that I might have thought too difficult, or too upsetting, for her. But she gets it. She understands it all. It’s simple for her. Why do we wear masks on our walks? To protect our neighbors. Why are all the grown-ups sad? Because a great woman died, and they’re scared about what might happen without her. Why can’t we play outside today? Because someone had a fucking gender reveal party and lit half the state on fire.
We flee the fires for La Quinta, California, an oasis town sandwiched between the Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley. This is where they filmed the entirety of The Bachelorette this year, and I can tell you right now—it’s a weird choice. La Quinta seems like the kind of place that shouldn’t exist, the kind of place where you’d pull over at a truck stop, pick up a bag of Funyuns, and suddenly all the lights would start to flash and the cashier would blink his third eye and you’d realize you’d accidentally crossed an interdimensional portal. But it’s also kind of bougie and kind of LA, and the Airbnb we stay in is clearly set up for Instagram influencers, with glittery donut pool floaties, a neon sign that read ELECTRIC LOVE, and a ton of barely-functional furniture in rose gold and bottle green.
That first night, Daisy and I spend an absurd amount of time in the pool. The glittery donut is her golden calf. The pool is so over-chlorinated that, when we get out, the skin on my face burns. Daisy’s eyes are bright red. We’re both euphoric. We go to bed and wake up ready to do it all again.
Except that when we come back out to the pool, there’s a weird smell. Like an almost chemical stink. We call the Airbnb guy, who in turn calls another guy, and that guy comes and stands a dozen feet away by the hot tub, sniffing the air. He has two theories: something died over the fence, or there’s a rattlesnake nearby. Rattlesnakes secrete. He says this in front of Daisy, who promptly decides she never wants to go in the pool again. Or outside, for that matter. Remember that we drove this far for the sole purpose of going outside.
And suddenly the landscape changes. Suddenly Daisy doesn’t have the answers, and she’s scared, and the person who’s supposed to fix it is me. I decide immediately that the rattlesnake-secretion expert/pool guy is my nemesis. The only way to defeat him on the battlefield of Daisy’s beautiful mind is to bend reality and the laws of nature. In other words, to falsify a PhD in herpetology. In other words, to make up fake facts about snakes.
I tell Daisy that rattlesnakes hate both the morning and the afternoon. They cannot stand heat and they abhor cold. They don’t like people. They don’t like trees. They don’t like anything. I have Daisy thinking that rattlesnakes only come out in the dead of night, in void-like spaces that exist at perfectly neutral temperatures. Nowhere near her. Please can we go back in the pool.
We can. We succeed at being outside for the next several days. Then, when it’s time to leave, I’m taking the trash out and the bag rips on the pool deck and a few chunks of Peking duck, a lettuce leaf, and a globular mass of yogurt fall in the water. I don’t know then that, later today, we’ll spend almost an eternity in a smoke-choked corridor of Southern California, the baby wailing, the air acrid, the Taco Bell bathroom shuttered—yes, even if you buy something—because of the ongoing global pandemic. As I try to fish the flaccid placenta of duck meat out of the water, I wonder briefly if this will cause the rattlesnake to return, if there ever was a rattlesnake in the first place.
When we get back from La Quinta, I drive to Beverly Hills to get my weird mole checked out at my boss’s dermatologist. I noticed this mole during the summer, and the most romantic way to describe it is this: imagine I’m the heroine of a Bridgerton-esque period drama, and the handsome lord whom I’ve ensnared needs to attend to the affairs of his estate, but he also can’t bear to be away from me for more than a few moments, so he decides to manage his correspondence while standing over my prostrate form, and a little droplet of ink spills from his quill and lands just to the right of my belly button. Or, it’s a really dark mole with irregular edges that just popped up this summer, so I should probably go get it checked out, even though I really don’t want to because I hate driving in LA and it’s probably nothing.
But actually, it’s not nothing and I get a call from the dermatologist, who informs me that my mole is highly irregular and needs to be removed ASAP. This makes me cry, even though the guy is like, “You’re going to be fine.” In my defense, it’s stressful to have to find a dermatological surgeon who is covered by your insurance and available in the next few weeks when your weird little mole is like a tiny ticking time bomb, just waiting to spew more of its evil seeds into your body.
Eventually I pull myself together, find a doctor in my network, schedule an appointment, don my N95, and ask my boss to drive me back to Beverly Hills because I’m scared that, after my surgery, I’m going to be too high to drive myself. At the surgery, the nurse looks at my mole in confusion and calls in the doctor, who looks himself and says, “This is a really bad mole. I’m sorry, because I know you’re young, but you’ll have a pretty decent scar.” He then takes out a big blue pen and draws a line about three times the size I was thinking it would be, right on my skin.
I’m actually feeling ok, though, because I think I’m in love with this doctor.
Is this man wearing a mask, a face shield, and head-to-toe scrubs? Yes. Can I still tell he’s an absolute FOX? Yes. (This is not a mask catfish, by the way. I could tell you his name and you could look him up and agree with me. But I’m not going to do that, because I do not objectify our #healthcareheroes.) At one point, whilst fingering my new stomach-hole, he asks me where I go to school and I say Yale and he says I must be pretty smart, huh, and I say hahahahahmmmmwell and he says, “I can tell just by talking to you.” And this compliment, even though it is almost certainly a hollow one—because the most interesting thing I’ve said up until this point is “Wow, anesthetic really works! I can’t feel anything!”—sends me instantly into a daydream where we get married, have beautiful, mole-free babies, and I spend the rest of my days throwing garden parties for his clients, who are probably the Kardashians.
I spend the rest of the day high as a kite on Vicodin. At one point, I go downstairs to make myself some tea and tell my bosses that there’s some Nutella I’ve been hoarding in my room, but actually they can have some. (If they want.) They politely decline, but do offer to make the tea for me while I sit down. (Go ahead and sit down.)
The problem is, I’m worried that maybe this is what being an adult is: You find the mole on yourself. You have anxiety about it. You call the doctor. You set up the appointment. You go there. You fill out the insurance form. You get the mole removed. You get the phone call that more of the mole needs to be removed than was previously removed. You go back to the doctor. You accept a bottle of Vicodin and don’t take more than what you’re supposed to, even if you wonder if that might be fun. You tell the small child who lives with you that she can’t touch your big ouchie, even though, yeah, it looks pretty interesting to touch. (And at one point she touches it anyway, and it feels like being stabbed with a blunt knife.) And as you lie around with your drugged-out brain, watching Enola Holmes on Netflix and wondering, very earnestly, if it might be the best movie ever made, the small child pounds on the door and demands attention, even though you’ve told her you can’t play because you’ve got Frankenstein stitches in your stomach, and you think about how if a child is very lucky, she gets to be the center of her own universe, and how you yourself were also a very lucky child—one who had countless grown-ups in her life to pack her crackers, to know which towel was the special towel, to comfort you in the aftermaths of tragedies you don’t remember. And maybe, if you do it right, you can be one of these grown-ups for Daisy, too. And maybe, when she thinks about October of 2020, what she’ll remember is this: standing in the shade of the sycamore, blowing bubbles in her twirly dress, the sky so clear that she can see the last one drifting all the way up over the top of her house. Just like a unicorn.