Last night Ayla came to me with tears in her eyes to ask about time and space and the origins of the universe and also, is Santa Claus real? I was sipping a cocktail in the dark and waiting for something to start. I was waiting for a tv show to start in the dark when Ayla came brimming with questions and tears in her eyes that she was trying to hide from me.
I know this is made in a factory, she said, picking up a throw pillow. But see how it's stitched together here and like, someone must have done that. I know these books are made from trees but I don't know where did the first tree came from and all the ones after that and everything is like, made by someone but I don't know where they came from. Some people said that apes turned into humans but I don't know how that's true. And is Santa Claus real, or is he like, real like the Easter bunny? I'm not crying, my eyes just water when I yawn.
(She was trying so hard not to cry, she was smiling through these tears).
Weeks ago, Indy came home from school in one of her moods where she stomps around the house and says things very loudly and with unpredictable emphasis. Usually nonsense things like "WHY are the TORTILLAS in this CUPBOARD?" or "WHERE did my DOLLY put her SHOES?" But this time she came home in a mood and said to me, in a steely way like someone out of True Grit: "Ayla and I found Easter candy wrappers in your closet and we now we KNOW the Easter bunny is you and I DON'T believe in Santa anymore." Her air was of accusation and hard truths, and I stood in the kitchen at three in the afternoon nursing cold coffee and a broken heart. If I could do it again, I would never tell my children these fanciful lies in the first place, but I have, and so here we are. Sunday night after bedtime and Ayla is asking about God and Santa with tears in her eyes and I can't tell if she's crying because Santa might not be real, or beacuse she knows I have lied an am lying to her right now. I raised my cocktail to my lips to buy myself time, to try to find a way to save both our lives.
140,021. Those are the miles on my car today as I drive out of the leafy birth canal of Pisgah forest, the trees a thick canopy, a semi-dark passage bearing me into the mysteries of life and light. The sun has returned after ten days of rain and the trees are green like Crayola. My husband has just asked why I want to move to Los Angeles/Paris/Taos and I have heard stupid reasons fall from my mouth like betraying stones and I have understood them, at last, for a fanciful dream; the kind of fancy I have entertained long past the time when it's seemly. Nevermind, I think. Nevermind. I have driven this red van across Monarch Pass in the snow hoping not to slip and plummet to our icy deaths, along Trail Ridge Road, backbone of the earth, where I saw cars crawling a thin blue line between mountain and sky and knew I was headed to that narrow road at the very crest of the world and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I have sped through the red deserts of Utah and the silver deserts of Nevada, seen Joshua tree at dawn and finally stood in the pacific ocean on a gray morning after Christmas, when the mimosas have been drunk and the champagne is gone. And then one day I got in this van and drove it east, through farmland and plains, crossing rivers wider than mountain valleys to the land where I am now, this earth that is wet and spongy and misty like any unknown feminine place we pass through on our way toward our life.
I don't believe in signs and portents. I might gamble with my life on prayer and instinct, but I wouldn't bet a dime. I don't know what to tell a child about the origins of the universe other than that I just don't know myself, and nobody does, even those who will tell you they do. Imagine yourself by the ocean, under gunmetal light and restless palms. You have experienced the isolation and vast majestic landscapes of the west. You have been wrapped in leaf-shook arms and cradled by the gentle curving comforts of the south. Tell yourself you have been guided, if it helps you sleep. You have tasted these pleasures, each distinct and in their time. Tell yourself that they have touched you in some deep place and that surely they must have worked magic on the rushing river of your soul, magic that is beneficial and will aid you on your way. Even if you lacked the wisdom to see it at the time.
(I took Ayla by the hand. I put her back to sleep)