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 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, are not strangers at all. You are 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 once present, dreams still tangible.
Nonetheless, you take up residence beside me in your harried minutes and insomniac hours, in your search – like mine – for a quick hit of laughter or commiseration. Before an appointment, before the commute to the office or classroom, or 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 one more day. 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. Sometimes, 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 it’s never been my way.
They aren’t lies, the things I say to 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.”
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’s 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 we spit it out.
I have regrets: days when rage and despair bubbled over, and words tumbled out that I wouldn’t have spoken with more sleep, or less fear. That is not an excuse. It is an admission of human failing. Of giving my children stale crusts.
I prepare my armaments of war. But there is no battle cry of any sort. I revert to usual refrains: reminders for my sons to call their father on his birthday, or to inform him of certain events in their lives.
Some of these they would remember. Some, they would forget.
It is for them that I do this, not for him, though as I write these words I know that isn’t a whole truth. 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, understanding that my truth needn’t be their truth, and the one constant is that they feel loved. My words aren’t lies; I am the wizard behind the curtain, 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. It is the best that we can portray.
- What do you say to your children?
- Is fairness during battle impossible?
- Must I be the hawk, if it means survival?