My son builds tiny sand castles in a box on the coffee table while I chop apples on the counter and toss them unpeeled into a crockpot. In the afternoon the whole house will be filled with their smell, cinnamon and sweet, streaming from the kitchen. I bake muffins and poach eggs, confident that here is something I am good at, making things, food and photos and words, a life for this small boy.
And if I am not good at connections still, I have at least stopped considering this to be solely my fault. I think on this when we drive past an exit on a road leading north and my son, still noting them, the boy and the girl he had once been friends with, announces for the first time that it’s that man’s fault. I have never told him to think this, only to believe that the fault wasn’t his, because a four-year-old isn’t responsible for the choices of grown-ups. And though I laugh, and though the woman in the passenger seat agrees, as I hold the steering wheel I privately think differently. It’s both our faults. Because in the last few months of our friendship, when the man made me feel lonely, when the man suggested ways I could learn to speak the “languages” of others instead of answering why there wasn’t a person willing to learn to speak mine, when the man wanted to do things only on his terms, I let him. It is his fault for the carelessness, for his casual way of wounding, but mine too for letting him, because there was a dark I sat in at New Year’s and made decisions in, but four months passed before I said out loud—I want better or I don’t want to do this anymore.
When I tell the man “I don’t expect you to be different,” he thinks it’s a compliment, and not me giving up, not me finally acknowledging that I do not matter, that my absence from his life will change nothing for him, not me remembering New Year’s, when I wandered his kitchen in the middle of the night and resolved to change the only thing I could. Never him. Only myself. How that night I wept for him and wept too for myself. That I would miss a man who thinks I am not worth enough to miss. How now, after six months of his silence, this is still true.
“I am afraid of meeting new people and making new friends because I am afraid of meeting someone like him again.”
When I say this out loud for the first time in my counselor’s office, it feels like betrayal, like I am discounting all his good qualities when the truth is, he had plenty. He would not matter so much to me; I would not have spent so much time in his company otherwise.
But it is equally true he took more than he gave, a scooped out hollowing of me rendered with his silence. When I took that silence home, loosed it in the house, it slid into corners and up the steps, becoming such a familiar thing that I did not notice when I breathed it in, when it filled too my own mouth.
Connection is not just my responsibility because two people are always involved in any real one. It’s our faults.
Someday I’ll understand how to choose more wisely people whom to care for. For now, I bake muffins and poach eggs and fill the air with apples. I love the boy with all that is best in me, love too the tiny sandcastles, their small city of shapes on the table, the sunlight streaming in past the curtain. I write poems and essay fragments, swirl cream into coffee with a practiced ease. Take a deep breath and let it go. I photograph leaves and pumpkins and the first winter snowfall, love their beauty, even in edges and fragments, even in their decay. Love them, even broken. Even when I’m broken.
It’s what I’m good at.