tune in tomorrow

When I come back from the shower, I hear M. and the boy engaged in some elaborate game to which I have no real point of entry. There are whole, complicated narratives at work that span days. Characters are introduced, imperiled, and rescued. Seemingly innocent figures turn villainous, to later redeem themselves. Choices are made. Fortunes turn.

I hear my son say with a certain solemnity in his tone: “Will the Legion of Doom put Nom-Nom to sleep forever? Tune in tomorrow for the next episode.”

When Z. was little, these same games. Hours engrossed in the worlds they created together. If I joined them on the floor, they would patiently review certain bits of critical information. “This is Tiger Boy. He creates mischief.” Or they would temporarily suspend the narrative so that we all could take turns launching tiny plastic cannonballs at our beleaguered cat.

Over the weekend, our friends come over and we all stand around in the kitchen while the boys strew the contents of their board games across the living room floor.

The adults hover while I work. I assign them tasks – slice the bread, arrange the cheeses, pour the wine, dress the table. They raise the possibility of moving out of state and I stop what I am doing, put my spatula down, scowl. “We are just looking,” R. says, “there is nothing definite yet.”

“We just need work - actual, steady work,” N. says, “we can’t keep going like this.”

The boys rush in to update us on the progress of their game. They dance around us in their socks for a while before disappearing again.

“Didn’t you think that by this time in our lives, there would be more certainty? That we’d have all this figured out?” I ask. I go back to blanching garlic.

“Maybe not all of it,” R. says, “but definitely more than this.”

At the table we talk about the high school production Z. performed in. A musical. R. and I wax sentimental about its story, the song lyrics we had memorized in our teens. Our husbands do not share our nostalgia. M. says, “I came away confused, I couldn’t follow what the conflict was.” I take this as my cue to fly into mock rage. “It is so simple, what is there to follow?” My voice is raised and I am waving my arms around. M. plays along. “But he sees her at the school after the summer romance, why isn’t he happy to see her?”

R. and I take turns shouting explanations at him and now also at N., who has joined the fray. Battle lines have been drawn by gender. “It was the fifties!” “He’s protecting his reputation.” “She was in love.” And so on.

The divorce is reaching its final stages for my friend K., and I check in with her to see how she is doing. She and her man – the one she is in love with – have agreed to only speak by phone until all the paperwork has been finalized and filed. “It’s fine,” she says, “it’s good. We’re both really busy.” I nod my affirmation. They talk a couple times a week. He suggests that maybe she’d want to date other people.

She says: “I didn’t say this to him, but the last thing I want to do is date. I don’t want to meet anyone else. I like him. I want him. Why would I ever want to date other people, when I’ve already picked him?”

She is quiet for a moment, then asks: “Do you think he said that because he wants to date other people?”

There is no real way for me to know the answer to this, but I don’t think she is looking for an answer. She is waiting for reassurance. I say: “I doubt it. Why would he, at this point? After all this time that you’ve waited to be together?”

She looks down at her soup. “I don’t know. Maybe he does.” She pauses, picks up her spoon, swirls it around in the soup that is now growing cold. “Well, he can do whatever he wants,” she says, “but I’m tired. I don’t want to date. I just want to get all this over with so I can get on with my life.”

The waitress leaves the check, clears the plates. K. says: “It just gets so lonely sometimes, you know?” Again, I nod. She says: “I can’t help it. I’m so lonely.”

L. comes over to eat dinner with us while M. is at work late. I ask her about the man she made the four-hour drive to see, despite my admonitions. “It was lovely,” she says. “We had a lovely time.” She wipes at my counter with a sponge.

“I wanted him to come up this weekend, but he wouldn’t.” I say nothing.

“You know, it’s all fine,” she says. “I know it’s not going to be a thing. It’s just good to know where I stand.“ I let her go on.

"He’s completely transparent about it. It’s kind of refreshing. It’s good to know where we stand.”

Z. wanders into the kitchen and we talk about school, her classes, which temporarily suspends the conversation I realize I no longer want to have.

The fantasies develop early, blossom in adolescence. The idea that things will go one way or another. It is now, I think, in mid-life that one begins to recognize the fantasies for what they are. But the lure of them is still there, still driving us, even as we hold them up to the light, see them in all their gauzy impossibility.

It is not the details of the fantasies that I remember really – more the feeling of them. The sense of certainty that they engendered. The assurance that you have mastered a bit of the world, a bit of yourself. That you have arrived at a place of knowing – a static, unchanging place. How seductive the possibility of living without doubt.

I open my car door in the parking lot and there is a patch of ice – ice! – where I am about to put my foot. I am so cautious about my footfalls now, the physical therapist’s mantra – softly, softly – in my head all the time. The ice patch seems a reminder that there will be things I cannot anticipate.

Everything is symbol and sign to me these days. Messages of encouragement from the universe coded in birdsong; warnings in the play of shadows across the kitchen floor. I see hopefulness in a bit of winter sunlight refracted through the stained glass window. And later, as I ready myself for bed, shaking off the day, I listen for the wind’s mournful howl as I slip into dreamless sleep. 

briefly introduce yourself

My friends come over and we open a bottle of wine, but barely, among the three of us, make it through. I perch on the coffee table to sit close enough to them, both on the small couch by the window, to whisper when need be. There is no one else in the house, at the beginning, but there are some things that we discuss that require a level of discretion.

The work, our jobs. We always talk about them first, taking up, as they do, so much of our time. T. speaks of people I dont know and occasionally, I will interrupt and say: Now who is Laura? or Joe does what there? and she will tell me who they are and what they do little thumbnail sketches of the roles they play in the grand workplace drama.

T. is quiet, says its been a busy start to the year. Big shifts, she says, running her hand through her hair. Like lots of big things are changing. I nod, yes, I feel that too.

I have the tendency to want to track my state of mind at intervals that are too close together to be meaningful. I liken it to weighing myself every couple hours to see whether I have lost a pound: The constant How are you, really? that we ask each other. Wanting more than the cheerful Fine, good. And you? that our public days require, we have perhaps gone too far in the other direction, wanting more, asking too much, too frequently so that one finds oneself caught up in a loop of compulsive self-concern. How am I really? Am I fine? And what about now? And now?

I assemble the documents and the photos that I have, prepare to send them to the faceless social worker who is on the other side of the world, waiting. Or at least, I like to think of her as waiting. Sitting in front of her glowing screen, refreshing it periodically to see what has arrived. And what then will she see from me? A few photos of a chubby toddler in too-short dresses. A copy of the profile that her own agency sent with me that bore the name they gave me. (The childs name was given by the Oprhans Home as Mi Jin KIM, which means: Mi-beautiful, Jin-true. KIM-a most common family name.)

And the page of unfulfilled desires.

It turns out to be more difficult to introduce myself in my two-inch textbox than to explain what I want them to do. I can guess what they are looking for in the terse Briefly introduce yourself, and I oblige by providing the simplest data points: I am married with two children. I run an agency that gives grants in the humanities. I graduated from college, then graduate school. My parents are deceased.

This is as it should be, I am sure, but I admit that I consider another kind of introduction altogether: There are mornings that I wake from anxious sleep with my jaw aching. At stop lights, I find myself tearful for reasons I cannot explain. I am restless, melancholy. I long for things that I cannot name.

The other night, we watch a movie about a man who has nothing to lose. His character is conveyed primarily through his stony silence and the way in which, when the need arises, he kills man after man with steely-eyed unflinching determination. His jacket still wet with blood, he turns to his love interest wide-eyed, waif-like and tells her he will protect her. We have watched their love develop through a series of slow-motion scenes in which they sit silently in a car, driving; then silently near a stream while her son gathers sticks; then silently as he carries her son to his bed. Their love is all big eyes and wordless gazes. Despite this thinness of character development and motivation, I for my part am utterly taken in. This fantasy of two people knowing each other without speaking is just too delicious not to indulge and I imagine that after the son is put to bed, the two of them make wordless love, throwing themselves together again and again as night shadows give way to early light.

I am looking for a way to understand the fantasy. The imagined life I could have had, the imagined people my parents are. On the form, I say: I would like to meet them, if they are willing. I would like to sit across a table from them, share a meal. I would like to touch their faces. I would like to hold their hands in my own.

My friend asks: How do you picture your mother?  What if she is sick or poor? Or crazy?

I admit this gives me pause. In my fantasy, she is well and beautiful. A sadness about her, perhaps, a weariness. “Or what if she has this whole other family that doesn’t know about you?”

On the form, I write this and it is only as I am writing it that I realize it is true: I am not asking for anything of them. I know they may have families of their own. I don’t want to disrupt their lives.

The fantasy is this: that we will see each other and know each other instantly. That without words, without language, we will recognize something deep in each other - something true and transcendent. That the love will be there, instantly - vibrant, thrilling, alive. That she will say: My whole life, I have waited for you, for this. You are beautiful. You are perfect. You will never be alone again. You will never know longing because I am with you. You belong to me.

But that is as far as the fantasy ever gets. Cue sunset. Cue credits. End scene.

I am standing as I often am, in front of the sink. The endless loading and unloading of the dishwasher. The stacking of plates. The washing of pans, of countertops. M. is at the coffee maker. My daughter at her desk. My son at the kitchen table, drawing scene after scene of his imaginary worlds. Once the coffee is started, M. comes over with a towel. Dries the pans in the dish rack. He puts them away, asks: Do you want some music?

“Yes, please.”

“What do you want?”

“Surprise me.”

He pulls out an old record from the little collection we’re amassing and as it starts up, the low hum of it, I think about what this might look like to my mother, my father. How if they could peer through the window at this moment, could they take comfort in what they see? The love, visible - even when we ourselves don’t see it.

In the washing and drying of dishes, there is love. In the quiet burble of the coffee brewing, there is love. In the small hands of our son, moving his markers across the wide white pages, there is love. And I wonder how it is that I have spent my whole life longing for what has been here, what has always been here, when I stand still long enough to see it.

I would like you to tell them this:

That I am happy. That I have a life that is full and beautiful. 

That I think of them every day.

That I hope they are well, that they are happy. That I want them to be happy. 

That I am so grateful for everything they did and for everything they tried to do, to give me the life that I have.

That I love them.

That even if we never meet, I will always, always love them.

That they are with me, in my heart, and I will hold them there - for the rest of my life.