On the care and feeding of elephants in living rooms

You have to pretend she’s not there, you see
It doesn’t matter that you can see her with your own two eyes
It doesn’t matter when elephant farts waft into your bedroom at night
It doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter
What matters is that she doesn’t exist
And it is your job to maintain this fiction
Or you, not the elephant, will become the problem
Everyone will sweep into damage control
“Sie hallucinates sometimes, you should know that.
Like just before or after a seizure?
Olfactory hallucinations are common in epilepsy
Those elephant farts sie’s smelling, they can’t be real.”

“Sie’s a child, and children are known for
Their overactive imaginations
And even their tendency to exaggerate
If something makes a good story.
And an elephant in the house
Makes an awfully good story
Doesn’t it dear?
Isn’t it only a story?’

I may be meaning-deaf or meaning-blind
But I have an uncanny ability
To sense the presence of something
By the shape people create
When they look everywhere
Everywhere except where that thing is

And I know there are conversations
We will never have
Because you can’t even stand the thought of it
Never mind the real thing

And I’ve finally realized that’s okay
Not every elephant needs to be brought out in the open
Some elephants are shy and want to be anonymous
Some elephants would rather not be seen or spoken of
Some elephants would rather die than show their faces
And I’ve learned too late that pointing them out
Is not always in anyone’s best interests

When I was fifteen I realized I was not ready to be engaged
When I was nineteen I realized I was not ready for a child
When I was twenty-six my body started pushing me to have a child
When I was twenty-eight my periods stopped

I am thirty-four now, the same age as when my mother had me
I was a latecomer to our family
Unplanned, unexpected, but never unwanted
Fourteen years younger than the first

And I am thirty-four now, and I think that
If I wanted a child
If I had a partner
I could finally be a good parent
Or as good a parent as I could be
When I was younger I worried
That my anger problems
Would lead me to hurt a child
Not on purpose
But it happens
Because no parent is perfect
And I could not let it happen
So I refused to have a child

And what I have learned from the elephant
(Because she talks to me sometimes,
Because I’m the only one who acknowledges
Her presence in our lives.)
Is that parents are just human beings who made love

And the best parents love their children
And do their best to do right by them
But even the best parents do things
That they will regret the rest of their liives
And I see the shape of that regret
Every time I see the shape of the elephant
Traced out by the things nobody is willing to say

I will not name the elephant
I will not name her shape
I will only say that I forgive
Everything she represents
That I forgave both of you
A long time ago

When I realized
I could not have possibly done any better
I would have done things more terrible
Than anything you could have done
I know you have regrets
We all have regrets
I regret the things I put you through as well
But I love you

Elephant or no elephant
You’re my parents
And right now
With so little time left
That’s all that matters
I love you
I forgive you
I forgave you long ago
It doesn’t matter what I forgive you for
The past is the past
It can stay in the past
We don’t need to dredge it up
To declare our love authentic
And meaningful
And real

We are all ordinary human beings
Doing the best we can (most of us)
In a world that makes that hard to do
Parents are not gods, they’re just people
Who had children
And muddled through the best they could
(Most of them)
.
Please forgive me
If I have never made my own forgiveness clear
It’s real
It’s love
It’s here

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