It’s jolting how easily a desired ideal becomes delusion in the face of reality. My mother says my life has been, comparatively, charmed. I was an only child with a father who was only semi-absentee. My extended family was instrumental in helping to raise me, which meant I began to fly at the age of four and saw city and country and interstate early and often, whenever my mother needed the space to inhale an “un-tandem” breath.
This kept her from wholly resenting me and made me feel both exponential love and fierce independence.
When I went off to college, I incurred about $40,000 of debt, because the scholarship my father’s employment was supposed to secure for me fell through when he quit his job in a huff of ego and indignation. Neither of my parents helped me finance my education. But during my senior year, when my student loans wouldn’t cover the total cost of my degree, my grandmother took out a $7,000 private loan to insure that I was able to graduate in four years.
I was the product of a very healthy village.
At graduation, so many people from my father’s family showed up that, had it rained and I had been forced to use the four tickets I’d been allotted, rather than the unlimited standing room our sunny outdoor ceremony provided, at least five people would’ve been unable to watch me walk.
I know the singular joy of making those closest to me proud. I know how it feels to be encouraged to succeed, from birth to adulthood. I suppose this means that my mother’s right. My life has been, comparatively, charmed.
Things derailed a little after I got my BA. I’ve always been a little adrift. I’m a writer. I’m morose and meandering. Definitely not a Type A personality. Not particularly ambitious. Certainly don’t kowtow in order to insulate myself from demotion or downsizing; I usually don’t care enough about where I am to be sad about leaving, when the time comes. I pursue and maintain employment because it’s important for me not to have to ask other people for money.
People I’ve loved ask me for money, a lot. I almost always have it. I almost always give it. Occasionally, this bothers me–but usually only in cases where I feel like I’m being treated like a solution instead of a person.
Anyway, after my BA, I moved home to help my mother financially recover from a divorce. I spent four years on that and during that time I learned what it was like to financially and emotionally defer to someone’s needs other than my own. Twenty-one was a good and fair age at which to learn this lesson.
Some girls have to learn it in the womb.
Then, at 25, I started a master’s program. In creative writing. At one of the most esteemed arts schools in the country. That was the kind of whim that would’ve needed to wait, had I prioritized a family then. I didn’t think seriously of beginning a family then. In fact, the low rumbling of wanting had only just begun to surface. It had no shape or direction, only a distinct pang to attend it, every time another friend or cousin or acquaintance married or began to thicken with new life.
I incurred another $32,000 of debt for that endeavor. Just as I’m not particularly ambitious, I’m also not particularly practical or forward-thinking. I don’t plan very far into the future. This is not to say that I’m entirely short-sighted; I’m not.
But you should know that thinking far ahead has always been pretty difficult for me, as my life has been a series of unexpected, unforeseeable events I couldn’t have insulated myself from if I’d tried.
So I don’t really try.
Which brings me to this: there are some decisions that erode the supposed “charm” from the lives of those fortunate enough not to be touched by true calamity or affliction.
I made one such decision when I made you.
Listen: because I was a mistake, I know better than to call you one. You absolutely weren’t. You were no happy accident. You were no accident at all. You were, quite simply, a spectacular outcome. I want you to hear that, even now, even before you grow ears. You were a hope that burgeoned early.
I didn’t plan for you. But God knows I dreamed of you. Like I used to dream about an MFA, when it seemed I’d never be able to earn one. Like I dreamed of hitting all the milestones I somehow deferred, because I depended on the wrong people or believed the wrong things or thought myself unfit or incompetent to achieve them. You, like everything I’ve ever pursued but never truly envisioned myself attaining, were an iridescent abstraction, something beautiful in the background of a life I thought, maybe, someday, I’d be fortunate enough to attain.
Sometimes, you felt like an impossibility. I wept for you, longed for you from a pit so empty and echoing I was certain you’d never come and fill it.
When you were only a wanton hope, I romanticized you. I thought of making your bedroom a castle and taking you to grocery stores in a tiara and tulle skirt and purple galoshes or a cape, with a scepter, and cowboy boots. I thought of reading you Goodnight, Moon and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Then, I thought of all the years you’d say you hated me, of all the desperate prayers that whatever you were doing behind your slammed bedroom door would be healthy and normal, not destructive and unconquerable.
Because I’ve known your father my whole adult life, he flitted through the foreground of every dream I ever had of you. I dreamed a two-parent home for you–as most women do–filled with money, teeming with love.
On the day I discovered you, growing–just days after my 30th birthday–this fortuitous wonder, this prospect whose depths my mind seems entirely incapable of plumbing–I began to name you. You were here, as certainly as I and your father are here. You are a part of the world, because you’ve been created.
I couldn’t bring myself to even entertain the idea of not bringing you from one precipice of being to the next. I couldn’t–I still can’t–see you as anything other than a beginning.
But for the first time ever, in my erstwhile “charmed” life, I have come to realize that I’ve always been right to assume that I’m not like other people. I am not strong and determined like all my single cousins who parent, or practical and wise like my cousin who chose another practical, wise person with whom to parent and partner. I’m not hopeful and happy and of a sound temperament, like the friends I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, who find the necessary grace to maintain relatively decent and workable relationships with difficult partners, for the sake of their children.
I’m not much of anything, except a woman who waits too long to do most things and not long enough to do others.
I don’t feel particularly cherished. I’m constantly paranoid about being someone’s burden. I feel resented, even by those who declare their undying love. I am this way because I’m a reader–of actions and deeds, as well as words.
I am not the type of person who would be able to keep your father’s sudden and utter unwillingness to raise you a secret until you’re old enough to handle it. And, because you are part me, you’d sense it even if I hid it with the stealth of a host of illusionists.
I am not the type of person who can guarantee you I’ll be industrious enough to earn enough as a single mother to avoid subjecting you to the world’s (and the government’s) crueler indignities.
I’m not even the type of person who knew, after nine years, what kind of man your father was, before I literally opened myself, to the possibility and the reality of you.
Even at 30 and even with a terminal degree, I am entirely unfit. Uninsured. Impractical. Immoral. Vaguely depressive.
Your life may not be as insulated from harm as mine.
And what worries me most, for you, is that none of this ever occurred to me when I longed for you here, in this home, in this life.
This barely occurs to me now, as you are here and I still want you so, though I know it would cost us both so much emotional deficit, so many rejections, so few days of light, in these first years.
It’s strange, to float about, untouched by much of anything at all, vaguely happy and only superficially sad, until making the one choice that has abruptly tethered me to a surface so hard and coarse and cold, so crumbling and concrete, that I wonder if we’ll ever know floating again.