Regular women carry pictures of their babies, their husbands, their summer houses. Fat ladies carry pictures of themselves at their skinniest.
I always wondered, though, what the fathers felt as they drove up the street they used to drive down every night, and whether they really saw their former houses, whether they noticed how things got frayed and flaky around the edges now that they were gone. I wondered it again as I pulled up to the house I’d grown up in. It was, I noticed, looking even more Joad-like than usual. Neither my mother nor the dread life partner, Tanya, was much into yard work, and so the lawn was littered with drifts of dead brown leaves. The gravel on the driveway was as thin as an old man’s hair combed across an age-spotted scalp, and as I parked I could make out the faint glitter of old metal from behind the little toolshed. We used to park our bikes in there. Tanya had cleaned it by dragging all the old bikes, from tricycles to discarded ten-speeds, out behind the shed, and leaving them there to rust. Think of it as found art, my mother had urged us when Josh complained that the bike pile made us look like trailer trash. I wonder if my father ever drove by, if he knew about my mother and her new situation, if he thought about us at all, or whether he was content to have his three children out there in the world, all grown up, and strangers.
This is the meanest thing anyone’s ever done to me, I said, through my tear-clogged throat. I want you to know that. But even as the words were leaving my mouth, I knew it wasn’t true. In the grand, historical scheme of things, my father leaving us was doubtlessly worse. Which is one of the many things that sucked about my father?? he forever robbed me of the possibility of telling another man, This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and meaning it.
She thought of what it would be like to grow up without the one certainty that every baby deseved – when I’m hurt or cold or scared, someone will come and care for me – and how that absence could warp you so that you’d lash out at the people you loved, driving them away when all you wanted to do was pull them closer.
This is so much harder than I ever thought it would be…because the thing is, even if you’re just working part-time, your boss is going to expect a full week’s worth of work, no matter how understanding she is. That’s just the nature of the working world-things have to get done, babies or not. And if you’re like me-if you’re like any woman who ever did well in school and did well at her job-you don’t want to disappoint a boss. And you want to do a good job raising your baby…It’s not like you think it’s going to be
Cram your head with characters and stories. Abuse your library privileges. Never stop looking at the world, and never stop reading to find out what sense other people have made of it. If people give you a hard time and tell you to get your nose out of a book, tell them you’re working. Tell them it’s research. Tell them to pipe down and leave you alone.
As the days piled up into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, and fall slid into winter, I realized one of the great truths about tragedy: You can dream of disappearing. You can wish for oblivion, for endless sleep or the escape of fiction, of walking into a river with your pockets full of stones, of letting the dark water close over your head. But if you’ve got kids, the web of the world holds you close and wraps you tight and keeps you from falling no matter how badly you think you want to fall.
I’ve learned a lot this year.. I learned that things don’t always turn our the way you planned, or the way you think they should. And I’ve learned that there are things that go wrong that don’t always get fixed or get put back together the way they were before. I’ve learned that some broken things stay broken, and I’ve learned that you can get through bad times and keep looking for better ones, as long as you have people who love you.