Was it really you swinging around that ancient oak tree, brown hair bouncing in the breeze like a perfect partner, your eyes reflecting the sweet eternity of youth? Even through the faded film and the tired machine you jumped right off of the screen. I don’t
believe I’ve ever met that girl, Mother.
He took you as his in the age of Aquarius. He had that unforgettable smile with the unforgivable space between his two front teeth, that was luckily never passed down to me. He had the charm of a stately prince; I’ve seen him cast his spell on those reels of old. He had the venom of a vicious snake; you were bit in the end. What was it like before time froze you? Were there swing sets and drive-ins that witnessed dreams from now forgotten, Technicolor screens, the speaker boxes standing as best men at the
union of passion‘s first fruits? Did he sneak up your skirt to find the entrance to Love's universe? Were any of us conceived in a backseat? Did your dad approve of the safe information he was given on your new cause? What was the first meal offered to your prince; running home one day after studies:
“Oh Mother, you won‘t believe….please, Mother, please!”
“Ask your father“ is what she said.
Father was in charge and always took charge; you could bet another drink on it. Always another drink. You’d found your prince but Father was still King. I’ll bet it was roast beef, his favorite fodder. He’d bury it in black pepper to your whole family’s amazement. You wouldn’t go near a roast now, would you?
You got him home after studies, but there was a look in his eyes when he laid them on the layout; a hut at best with five siblings. He said nothing but you knew. You knew more than ever that something wasn‘t right. You wanted to tear that bottomless beer right out of your dad’s hands and hurl it far from existence. How much did that beer cost Father? How much does comfort cost? The math didn’t add up. You never forgave the old drunk.
Your prince still pined over you though. A sigh of relief. Close call.For a time, the dream blossomed. You found a little palace of your own, planned far from the home you knew. You lived where lawns looked like plastic and maids whispered among themselves in green spite. You confused comfort with affluence and your prince found a better paying job. At some point came the settling in; there came the burps, the snoring, the skipping of consummation; there came true love, love beyond the surface of things, something you hadn’t seen on a drive-in screen. Love is a bittersweet blend of beauty, fervor, sleep instead of sex, bad breath and methane gas.
Then came the dream‘s end like a sudden storm on a sunny beach, a bare knuckled backhanded conclusion to the day. All you had said was that dinner was cold from sitting so long. How dare you disrespect! You tasted blood for the first time. You’d need a stitch or two. What would you tell them in the emergency room? The color ran from your face. Where was the prince? Who are you? What have you done with him? You smelled the beer and you thought of Dad. But Dad never did such a thing! Dad could deliver the goods with a word alone. He followed up with flowers and sweet love songs in his cute pitchy voice. Oh, how he charmed those grade six students with similar songs; one of the
best teachers the board had to offer:
"Da-da-dum-da-dee-dee-dum…I am sorry that you’re sad. Learn the math and you’ll be glad!"
He’d close each number like Charlie Chaplin tripping over himself and the kids got straight A’s. Why did they love him? Why did you love him? Why did that priest love him when he asked you leave at last, as divorce was unholy; to hell with your scars. He
was home on time for a month and you were back in his arms. Another sigh of relief. Close call.
There were more harms to come. Dad often smelled of booze and strange perfume at odd hours. Your throat was torn from trying to pull answers out of him. Perhaps he needed more love than most, you decided; just a little more love and the drunken frog will become prince once again. He showed no signs of slowing though as you cleaned faster, cooked better and laid him down often. You would force love into him, you determined. You bore three of us as you mastered your pain. You dragged us through our days and hid us safe within stone walled rooms of the prison by night as furniture flew and sex could not calm the storm. Your tears would finally fall in hidden rooms. If you cried in plain sight, he didn’t notice anyway. Eventually you disappeared entirely, like a framed flower slowly fading into the wall from the torture of time. You looked out of your sad window into life, whatever life was supposed to be, and you planned your escape.
I must admit that you wanted him the very way he was. We all, in one way or another, seek to harvest the seeds that were planted in us without our consent when we were but sprouts ourselves. How utterly cruel life can be; a universe that would see us starve and die without the food of love, to feed us a poison apple when we‘re most vulnerable.
Perhaps somewhere sits the Creator of it all, maneuvering the chess board:
"What will they do if I do this? Hmmm… "
My dad was your dad; they were the same, save for the broken teeth and backhands. Daddy dearest was the dearest you’d ever seen, and you sought his face in every crowd until you found the one to fill the shoe print he’d left on your grand design.
Your memories are all but erased now, and the look of a warrior composes your face. Life will be safe behind your mighty sword.
You wonder from time to time as you paint on your mask in the mirror each day, was that dusty dream even real? Did a princess once live here? Na, couldn’t be so. A sigh of relief; you didn’t miss a thing. Life was always this way:
"Toss those reels, it’s not me."
But your heart kicks and rebels as scenes from a dozen drive-in movies flash like lightning in the corner of your eyes. You look around as though a burglar was in your midst, but you turn away while he slowly, carefully robs you, marking the clock, knowing the exact hour that your house will be empty at last.
You’re here with me now. I can feel you. We’re sharing this rainy afternoon in the insulation of silence while the weather pelts the windows and the keyboard ratta-tat-tats.It’s just us. I am humbled by your cause.
Don’t toss those ancient, dusty reels just yet, Mother. We can still push one more take through the lens.