We have two plastic candy canes on our Christmas tree. We have to keep telling Oliver they are fake. “Finto,” I say — in Italian. They are fake. I know they look real and shiny and glossy and good, but they are fake. Don’t eat them. Don’t crush them. Just let your eyes gloss over when they fall upon them. They are nothing more than a mirage.
I thought images of families in living rooms laughing were mirages. Until I became one of those people, there on the soft floor, giggling like someone just said the funniest thing in the whole world. Someone did. It was: Look. You’re happy.
I share images from my life compulsively. Impulsively. Round the clock. Joyfully. And though I share them with you — I’m really saving them for me. So that when I am walking down the street alone, or sitting on the couch, and I’m tired or sad or angry or confused, that I can look down and see Vivid. Proof. That I am not alone, or sad or angry or confused — well — not really. Momentarily, yes. But not really.
But I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable nearly every day, that I play happy. That I play mommy. That I play family. I am constantly uncomfortable in this happy, happy life. Because I thought this was a mirage until I infiltrated it. My old eyes don’t like being fooled and my new eyes seek their old way of seeing, sometimes.
This morning, I posted a picture of Oliver. And then another. And I shared an Instagram story, and I watched other people’s images and stories and I reveled in all the **ddamn love. And then I felt a fool — like it’s been going on too long and I should shut it down or shut something out or just stop inviting everyone in — to my mirage.
I disabled my account.
Iowa is the place where I first started believing families on soft floors laughed and really meant to. That they wanted to be on those floors to begin with. That not everyone who refurnished their hardwood and reproduced and drove roundish vehicles hated their lives. Some people are genuinely happy in little square-like numbers like four.
When Oliver and Nic are out on the highway, I wait for texts that say they made it safe and that they both love me, and that they’ll be home soon, and that I’ll get to keep this happy picture we have painted.
But I also wait for a phone call. A notice that I don’t get to keep it. This bounty. This feast. This lovely image we created.
If they were both to leave me, I could light this life of mine on fire and finally dance around the flame, again. I could really thrive, high on loss and pain. Wouldn’t that be comfortable.
We are moving in three weeks and I am scared. Can I leave this land and remain who I’ve become? Can I walk across a state line and stay this person?
Who am I? Was it fake? Was Iowa a mirage? Do I get to be happy? Do I get to keep them?