Tuesday, August 18, 2009

an honest lie

it's an impossible question.

you'd think, more than eight months later, i'd have figured out the answer. or an answer, at least, any answer, other than the lie i usually tell. i'd ask the same thing, surely have plenty of times, without even thinking. who would think about it, really? it's harmless and logical and so superficial, small talk defined, especially in the crowd in which i run.

how many children do you have?

small talk defined...unless you're not really sure of the answer. in which case, it's impossible.

but you can't hesitate to answer a question like that. "ummmm...well..." it's not something the perfect-stranger-you've-just-met-at-the-playground expects you to have to think about. this is an easy one, lady: count 'em. unless you have one you can't count, exactly...that is, one you don't have exactly.

i've tried honest: "well, actually, just one now; my daughter died in december." good, honest, possibly emotional...and, in my opinion, so not fair to the-friend-of-a-friend-you-just-met-at-a-party. where does the superficial, getting-to-know-you conversation go from there? especially if you're blubbering. nowhere.

a friend of mine who lost a daughter many years ago is a bit more oblique: "i have three living children." i've thought to try this strategy, but i'm not sure where it leaves the conversation; have i invited the person to ask me to explain? (do i want to explain?) have i indicated there's something to share, but i'm not willing to share it? again, so much for superficial: it's up to you, brother-in-law-of-the-neighbor-i-hardly-know, to decide if you feel like you've been invited to do some digging.

so i usually lie, as i did twice tonight: "just luke."

my rationalizing brain says that's not a lie; i do have only one child. i don't have eliza anymore. and anyhow, it's ever so much more comfortable and straightforward for the mommy-at-the-pool-who-i've-only-met-once-before; this is not a difficult question, and this is an easy answer. we can continue on to talk about swimming lessons or kindergarten or whatever, and no one's the wiser. so much easier on everyone.

except luke, who is listening. he doesn't say anything, but i wonder: does he think he has a sister? have i just told him--have i told him again and again-- that he doesn't?

my mommy brain says it's a lie; i have a baby girl. luke is a big brother. i have a heart torn in two pieces, one for luke and one for eliza. luke is not an only child; he is not my only child. have i denied that other piece? in my attempt to protect my own broken heart, my sweet baby boy, and the-guy-that-used-to-be-my-student-and-now-works-in-walmart from an awkward conversation, i have denied what is at my very being: there is a hole in my family shaped like a chubby, curly-haired, blonde baby girl.

my watermelon-knife-friend asked me recently if i feel like i want to be known. to answer the how-many-kids question as i usually do--to lie, or at least to avoid the whole truth--means, i think, that i don't. at least not to everyone. in fact, probably to very few people. it says, "this is mine, this grief and this baby-girl-shaped hole; this is not for you. i don't know you, can't trust you, don't want to burden you, and won't invite you in."

and one side of me says that's not what eliza's life was about. eliza's life was not just for me and my family, as so many people have told us. and i'm grateful, i really am, that she touched so many people. i really am. but my other side wants her for me and always did. just for me. the mother-of-a-cousin-of-luke's-classmate did not know my baby girl and therefore does not get to share my loss. i will not share it. this is mine.

selfish, yes. self-protecting, for sure. kind to strangers, i'm convinced so. exhasting, guilt-inducing, dishonest, cowardly? i think so. i do not pride myself on being a liar. the thing is, i just need another answer.

it's an impossible question.


deidra henderson said...

i am not sure what to say, Danielle but i want to you know that i am reading and learning so much from you. thank you for posting your heart.

Rebecca said...

I've wondered about this-- what one would say, I mean. No easy answers there, but yes, thank you for writing so honestly here.

Cameron Levine said...

I have a friend who had what I thought was a lovely response. She said she had two daughters, one who lived in Minneapolis, and the other was now in heven. It leaves room for more questions, but does not necessitate them.
Hope this helps....for today.