For all the children who have taken on the weight of a parent’s grief, this one’s for you.
My stomach tightened. There it was again, that question, like clockwork.
“It was good,” I breathed.
My bag slipped from my shoulder. I joined it on the floor, unbuckling my sandals as I prepared my voice, lifting and lightening it.
Then I said, “Really good,” for effect.
He looked up, hopeful, as I drifted past him. But I only offered a vague smile, fiddling with the invisible buttons on my sleeves.
I spoke again when I was in the kitchen, a room away. “And you?” I called. “How was your day?”
The same blurred response wafted in: “Good.”
“Mm,” I murmured.
I watched the beans pile in my bowl, caught between irritation and guilt. I never understood why we all wasted our breath with pleasantries; that’s where the irritation came from. The guilt though, that stemmed from what the French call déception de soi. Or, disappointment in myself.
I’d always wanted to be the kind of woman who had the ability to take someone’s vague “good” and weave it into a sparkling conversation. But I didn’t. I hadn’t the wish to, I guess is the truth, even when I loved the person.
I watched my reflection in the microwave—“Self-absorbed,” I’d heard some say.
As the numbers counted down, I thought of how other young women went about their nights, the good ones I mean, the ones who spill with sweetness. I imagined them smiling as they collapsed onto that couch, growing calmer, happier there.
They didn’t need to be tucked away, as I did. They weren’t pale and grey from working all day. They didn’t want to work all day. They wore rouge A-line skirts, pointy-toed mules. Or else, pink cheeks and yellow dresses—sweet little fools.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I retrieved my bowl and went out to the deck. Out there, the air was weightless and it had that smell of night that always soothed me.
My chest heaved as I sighed, drinking it in.
On the couch, I ate while reading.
“My responsibility is not to the ordinary. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive.”
I swam around in Mary Oliver’s Upstream for a while. I was at peace there, understood.
I couldn’t say how much later it was that I looked up at the moon. I thought, enough time had to have passed. He must be asleep by now.
I was gentle on the door handle, pushing it down slowly. I crept back inside and abandoned my dishes in the copper of the sink. It was quiet, I thought, but that didn’t guarantee what I hoping for. He may easily have been reading to himself, just a room over.
He was asleep, and I felt guilty at my relief. He was the sweetest old bear, and yet…
I flit up the stairs.
Smoothing my yellow, corn silk hair, I thought, I look perfectly ordinary. You’d never know I was this person, the kind who creeps through her own house to avoid being loved. But I was.
He deserved more, I thought, placing the brush back down.
I slipped into the toilettes.
But not from me, I thought, closing the door. I could barely keep it together myself—I hadn’t a clue about the best way to care for a full-grown man. I reached for my toothbrush thinking of the weight of his loneliness. It was so heavy.
I thought of Mum, and what it had been like when she was still with us. Turquoise paste oozed across my brush’s bristles. It hadn’t been all that different, I realized—she’d left us mentally far earlier. Mum had been depressed, disordered, and distant. In other words, she’d been no companion for him. I couldn’t recall if she’d ever been, though I assumed at some point they must have been in love.
Still, I’d never seen it.
I stepped back from the mirror and looked at myself, cringing at my healthy shape and thinking of mum’s, the way mine had briefly been. In the next moment, I cringed at my own cringe. Broken, I thought.
I shook my head and turned away from the mirror to lift my blouse in peace.
As I got in bed, I thought of what it meant to “have a good day.” I wondered if I’d ever really had one. I wondered if anyone did. I tried to imagine what it could look like, but my mind was filling quickly with cotton, and before I knew it I’d fallen beneath the blanket of sleep.
My dearest weight-bearers,
This one was to legitimize the pain you feel guilty about.
This one was to say, yes, our beloved parents make mistakes—and leaning too heavily on us is one of them.
This one was to peel back the layers of our dependent caretakers, to remember that they are just people too.
Ultimately, this one was to lend a supportive shoulder, to let you know that you’re not alone, that no one has a perfect life, or even a perfect day.
We’re in this game of life, together.