We used to play 'house': I pretended to be the father and sister, you were always the infant's mother and maybe even the infant itself. (so hard to tell now that we've forgotten the rules)
With artistic license we spun around the room hand in hand. We named everything over, as though the craving for reinvention had consumed us wholly. Here's the crib, this is the changing area, and oh yes, we'll make this the dinner table... Wont you stay for coffee Mr. Postman?
We cooked and cleaned, danced and fought, insulted and apologized, slept and woke, cried and consoled, loved and hated; we manifested our fantasy into simultaneous evolutions within ourselves. I became the roles I had spawned to play; you seemed to foster the narrative with similar devotion. The hours became a day, the weeks became a month, the past became the now.
At a certain point along the way, one or both of us forgot the game... all of a sudden we had been married, accepted responsibility, and given in to the finality of this burden. But the game continued, independently from our awareness of its constraints and implications. How were we to prevent the dissolution of our understanding in this actionable shared reality we inhabited?
- ~ ~ ~ -
One night I found that I could no longer hear the infant's cries in my slumber, and I awoke to find my wife nowhere to be found. After calling you too many times, to no avail, I immediately called the imaginary police. An inspector was able to come by in the early morning to take my statement. I was so worried; I remember how badly we had argued the night before and it tore me apart to simply wonder. Before the inspector had finished with me the phone started to vibrate in my pocket. It was you.
I asked if you were all right, and you said that you were. I thanked the officer and showed him the door. I noticed his face as he turned to leave: some bitter mix of understanding and frustration, ending with a slight roll of the eyes because 'he's seen it all before.'
Putting my ear back to the phone, I weakly said hello, asked you where you had gone... You told me that you were ok but didn't speak any further. My heart started to beat a sickeningly fast rhythm in my chest.
After I pressed you about it, I finally got the response I dreaded most: you had spent the night with another man, taking both mother and infant along for the ride. You eventually revealed with icy precision that it had not been the first time, and told me it wouldn't be the last.
"But," you said (and keep saying over and over in my head), "you're the only person I love."
For the first time in my short pitiful life I actually cringed at the word. Love had only been one little part of the game at first; but now, as though it had a life of its own, it rose up to clamp frigid hands around my neck.
I told you that I needed some space, which was the perfect excuse to give me the time to get the divorce paperwork ready. I told you that we needed to figure out what we both wanted.
I, of course, already knew that in two week's time the papers would be signed and you would again be free to live the life that you deserved all along. No battle for custody will likely ensue, and whatever alimony you might owe would surely get lost in the mail...
I hung up the phone and stepped back into what had long served as our quaint little home. The kitchen table now looked oddly like a simple dresser, and the crib seemed to eerily resemble a clothes hamper in the light of this new sunny day. Nothing seemed to be in its right place. I felt sick.
I looked at the bed with sullen longing, remembering that you had given birth to our infant child messily on those very covers. The stain, however, of that most grimy entrance into this world had faded beyond detection.
It began to dawn on me that this had all been pretend: there was no child, no sister, no crib, and no marriage to be found.
The anger began to rattle and quiver in my chest. This was not the first time I'd been fucked over, but it was now clear that it too would not be the last. It all seemed so murky. I sighed deeply and walked over to the window to look down on the sun-soaked revelry that waited outside.
To this day I have no idea what was real and what was not... but what I do know is that next time, I'm gonna play cowboys and indians instead.