“Mommy, why doesn’t Daddy live with us anymore?”
I’m busy unravelling bacon into a pan when she asks, casually holding Mao-Mao in her arms, thumb ajar from her mouth. The glitter on her new Hello Kitty shirt catches the random sunlight in the room, her eyes wide and sad.
I stumble, the words in my head (cause he’s a jerk/cause I’m a bad wife/cause he was a bad husband/we were too young/we gave up/cause it’s the right thing) and spit out the old line.
“Because sometimes Mommy’s and Daddy’s can’t live together.”
She stares into my heart, and knows it’s bigger, and yet simpler than this. She senses the pause before I talk, the catch in my breath, the worry.
“But why can’t he wrestle in your bedroom with us anymore?”
I stifle the heave in my chest, months later, still hidden deep inside, and just shake my head.
“You can do that at his house Honey Bear.”
“But I want to do it here.”
What to say? How do I make this better, this hurt I cannot control, cannot change, and am at a helpless mercy to? How can I soothe a 5-year-old who only knows that Daddy isn’t here, and hasn’t been for a while?
“Do you miss Daddy?” I ask softly
Her eyes grow wider. “Yes Mummy.” The thumb pops back into her mouth, and she grows quiet again.
The hurts I cannot solve, or salve. The ache of something broken, something lost. In my head I’m screaming “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” but find myself helpless, torn between modelling calm acceptance or just sitting down on the floor with her and agreeing that yes, I hate this too. I don’t miss the fights. But I miss my family, as fractured as it was.
Like a fluttering curtain in the breeze, my heart wavers on her gaze, settles as the wind calms, hangs slack. There was a life before, and a life now, and the in between where my daughter still lives, emerges from slowly. The bareness of our life now, the aching hole.
I recognize it, its burn and sting. The empty seat in the picture. The word missing, the shuffle of houses, the irrevocable destruction wreaked upon my children. I have tasted this, in different ways but still, the nectar is close enough to dose my heart and chest in the shuttering stop.
There are things I know as true. That life isn’t fair, never will be. That I can control myself, and on a basic level, nothing more. That love and hate are more than two sides of the same coin, ofttimes muddled together like a trifle, sweet and cool on the lips, glittering in the light.
I know it’s true that you can mend a heart. But I also know it’s never quite the same.
I finish a book that leaves me breathless, and aware of myself. I can feel my nerves alive from words, the tears which come unbidden as I read on the bus, a patio. How the tentacles of the story stretch out and slither into my body, connections gloriously made. I smile into the clouds and realize, for the first time in years, I am truly and utterly moved. I see myself hovering briefly, reaching out to meet skin, and feel silenced by awe.
I am returning, me who has been lost. Dusty and worn, but aching to feel more than the numbness of these years.
The book speaks of love, loss, and love yet again. I swell with hope.
I don’t have an easy answer for Rosalyn, or Vivian, or hell, even myself. There’s 101 reasons why their parents can’t be together, even if I don’t want to admit them, bound by pride and a sense of duty. We’re both happier, the kids are happier. But they know. They recognize that something has shifted, a new normal descended. Soon, they won’t remember when we were a family together, and perhaps he’ll take a wife or I’ll find a lover who will turn into a partner and life will move on.
But memory isn’t a fair judge or jury. And hearts carry their scars like flags into the future.
Ros curls into me in the morning sun, pressing against my body as I wake slowly, as she does every morning, thumb in mouth, head boring into my arm. We rest for minutes, before the alarm, before the day begins running, snapping orders, hugs, the detritus of day-to-day life.
There was never enough room in the bed before for her tiny body.