They aren’t lies, exactly – the things I say to my children about their father. I don’t talk about my ex much – not with them, and certainly not here except obliquely. Yet you may sense him in the background. An occasional presence, a haze, a storm brewing.
I speak of “you” as though we were having coffee together, as though I were writing a letter, as though –
Dear You Who Read:
You are the invisible, the faceless, the passing-through-strangers who become part of my world, and in some ways you are not strangers at all. You keep me company in my kitchen and my bedroom. You walk with me through the little den, navigating the stacks of books and bills and papers. You listen to my stories without knowing any more than I do what may be echo, and what is real.
No, that’s not quite right. I know what is real but I drift into the sensations of a phantom leg, the itch and ache of parts no longer present.
You take up residence beside me in your harried minutes and insomniac hours, with patience and forbearance, and in your search – like mine – for a quick hit of laughter or commiseration before an appointment, before the commute to the office or classroom, taking a night off with a drink and your computer rather than dressing for a date, or folding the laundry.
You carry your own load of troubles, your discoveries, your dazzling achievements – sometimes, as simple as making it through twelve more hours until you, too, can sleep. I think of you more often than you realize – when I first wake and want to give you something to smile about or over dinner, when my teenager falls silent.
But I am less alone because you are there, as we wrestle around together foolishly and purposefully in this mammoth, misshapen, inexplicable, insignificant and powerful place, this pool in which we read and write – blindly, sloppily, profusely.
Sometimes, you are too close and at other times, you are impossibly distant. And then, you are here. Right. Here.
The wizard behind the curtain
We make our own magic, don’t you think?
I choose the cauldron. I will play all three literary witches, cackling and stirring the pot of potions, poisons, and panaceas.
I am also the wizard behind the curtain, fearful and tiny even in my tallest heels. Wisely, I am wedded to the safety of my velvet drapes, but there are mornings when I seek more light; rooms filled and flooded with light.
A hawk flies through my backyard and I watch it soar, then dive, and I am envious. He is not the witch’s consort, though he is a strong, elegant, and predatory creature. I would master his sharp beak, his claws to grip and tear, his unrelenting eye for the kill.
But this has never been my way.
They aren’t lies – the mentions, the remarks, the pleasantries I bestow upon my sons. They’re bread crumbs. Moments I’ve been careful to drop into conversation here and there, entirely for their benefit.
“Oh, you move with the same grace as your dad on that tennis court,” I’ll say to my younger son. “I used to love watching him play. He was quite beautiful, like you.”
And to my elder: “I don’t know how you manage to look at a thing and know how it works, and how to fix it. It’s something your dad can do, and it amazes me the way you both have that gift.”
And of course, this is truth. I have given each of them bits of truth over these long years, bread crumbs so they might trace their beginnings to a time when there was love, or something like love.
So they would know they were created from something good.
When bread is fresh, it is warm and sweet-smelling. It sustains us. It comforts us. We slice it in order to share; we rip it into tiny pieces to scatter and feed the birds. In fairy tales, our trail of crumbs promises to lead the way to safety.
But when we leave our bread untended, the crusts grow stony and inedible. The middle hardens, and so we spit it out.
I have regrets: days when rage and despair have bubbled over, and words tumbled out that I wouldn’t have spoken with more sleep or less fear. This is not an excuse. It is an admission of human failing, of giving my children stale crusts.
I prepare my armaments of war although there is no battle cry of any sort that is audible to the average ear. I do this too many times for too many years and in so doing, I revert to my usual refrains: reminders for my sons to call their father on his birthday, to inform him of milestones in their daily lives, to offer the markings of love.
Some of these they would remember. Some, they would forget.
It is for them that I do this and not for him, though as I write these words I know that isn’t entirely truthful. Even rage allows for kindness, when kindness is a habit you do not wish to abandon.
This is my job as I construct it daily: to scatter bread crumbs, to recognize movable truth, to provide the constant that my sons are loved. I am the wizard behind the curtain; I am three witches at the cauldron; I choose panacea over poison.
How do you stay strong in a land of partial truth?
Sometimes we dwell in a land of partial truth, and partial truth is the best that we can portray.