Facebook is a persona builder. It’s personality minecraft for adults. It’s the place where I sometimes go to flex new confidence or flirt or build joy by liking baby pictures. It’s also where I process a lot of parenting fears, usually through humor. What follows is a Facebook post followed by its “double take,” a poetry form created by Mitchell Douglas in Cooling Board, a book of poetry about Donny Hathaway. To double take is to hit the same blues from a different angle. Here’s mine.
When I’m minding my own business and feeling proud of myself for raising a brilliant, creative, resourceful child who is inventing her own fun in the other room while I mind my own damn business and then I hear the room go quiet and then there are little feet in the hall and then someone is at my door interrupting my business affecting a sad voice and saying there is no one to play with even though I JUST heard her having a ball by herself…I think I know how God felt when Adam was all whiny after he’d given him the world.
I bet he was thinking, “Boy, if you don’t go somewhere and play with all those animals you begged me for and I let you name! I’m sitting here minding my business being a BOSS all by myself and you’re talkin bout being lonely. Alone ain’t lonely! I’ve been alone for infinity. Why can’t you be more like me? Now watch; when I eff around and give you somebody you got to share everything with and look out for you’re going to come to me complaining talkin bout everything was better when it was just me.”
This also must be how the universe handles “send me a partner” requests.
When I’m minding my own business and feeling proud of myself for raising a brilliant, creative, resourceful child who is inventing her own fun in the other room while I mind my own damn business and then I hear the room go quiet and then there are little feet in the hall and then someone is at my door interrupting my business affecting a sad voice and saying there is no one to play with even though I JUST heard her having a ball by herself.. I think about the woman I loved such a short time ago and the little brother we’d imagined for you– the one who would be two now and playing uncle to your dolls the way my little brother played uncle to my dolls and the way he is uncle to you and I wanted that for you, an uncle who looked at your children the way my brothers look at you and laugh when something about you reminds them of the girl they once knew.
So I loved that this woman had already imagined your children’s uncle and I loved that she let me adopt him in my imagination and make room for him in my heart and push away my anxiety over facing again the surgery you’d just faced months before I met her, your little broken heart cut open and sewn shut while there were two hours of my life in which I wondered if we’d even get to this day. We’re here, love. You made it and we made it, and since I was single when I begged every deity I’d ever heard of for more time with you, I guess our small family is exactly the image I projected onto an uncertain future. I’m grateful. Truly.
But one day you may learn the way new love pushes you past gratitude and into desire that builds until you and your loved one are projecting your separate futures onto the same screen where they touch lovely then melt into each other, tangling limbs such that you don’t know where one future ends and the other begins.
Loving that girl shocked me into reckless imagining, and our futures did some serious coupling on that screen until they made a respectable family: a two-parent home, a daughter who is more than statistic, a baby boy on the way. She let you borrow his tennis shoes once. She loved us, she said. She loved us, she did. But love isn’t enough to hold together futures destined to be apart.
But what of your imaginary little brother? I ache for him on days like this when you show up in my doorway and I remember that he is supposed to be knocking down the castle you just built and you are supposed to be banging on our locked door while your imaginary other mother and I untangle our limbs and giggle and say “What now?” through a cracked door with blushing faces.
And that’s exactly what I asked your imaginary other mother, that day when, months after we’d broken up, my father died and I called her and cried and said, “What now? What about our son?” And she said, “I was going to have my baby with or without you.”
And I realized then what I think I always suspected—your imaginary other mother hadn’t loved me as much as she had loved the idea of her son having another mother and a big sister because she’d been a big sister and it was fun. Or maybe because she’d been the oldest child and it wasn’t fun. So maybe she imagined onto you the salvation I imagined onto her. A tall tree. And in hindsight, it’s probably not cool to be more in love with a tree than with the woman presently standing in front of you who will not touch you even when you beg. Perhaps I imagined a tree-hugging future to avoid the rip and tear of disentanglement.
It’s anxiety more than anything. I know you understand. It’s the way you clinch all of your muscles and squeeze your eyes tight right before the nurse sticks the needle in your arm. And long after she has beamed at you that it’s all over and covered your boo boo in colorful distraction, you’re still crying. Still screaming at the shock of it all. Still tense. You don’t know enough about the past or the future to be relieved that you’re better off now than you were before the shot. Protected from becoming a casualty to fear of strong medicine.
Maybe what I’m saying is that sometimes aloneness is strong medicine. And I guess that makes it silly to mourn my rights to an imaginary baby and imaginary other mother but I will tell you the truth: it feels so much better than mourning a real father so I go with it.
Kinda like I went with it when I imagined you into my life. Daddy had just gotten a blood transfusion when the second pink line came in faint and his disease was progressing and grief was stalking me and the timing was off so I could have, would have taken the strong medicine to regain my aloneness (you were but a daydream, after all) but the only sure thing was that my Daddy was dying. And since I didn’t know when that would be I projected myself into this moment, lying in bed daydreaming about Daddy long gone while the grandchild he loved reminds me to get up and go play.
So I guess what I’m really saying is that when I’m minding my own business and you come barreling into my room talking about you don’t have anybody to play with I am so grateful that I get to save you by saying what I once predicted you would save me by saying: what about me?