“We spend a lot of our days pretending,” he wrote to me, in response to my questions regarding his daughter’s unrecoverable traumatic brain injury.
“You know how that is.”
He didn’t know me, but he knew me. Better than I knew me.
I felt my sharp intake of breath, as though my mask had been ripped off, and I watched, frozen, as my well-built facade cracked and then crumbled into pieces on the floor around me, until I was totally exposed, totally vulnerable to the one person I’ve pretended to the most for the past five years. The most important person from whom I’ve hidden every emotion, every lost hope, every broken dream, every frustration, and every heartache.
“Yes, you know how that is, don’t you?” I asked myself not without anger. I tried to be honest with myself for a split second, before I began to quickly rebuild that facade, brick by brick.
I spend much of my days pretending that caring for someone 24 hours a day is normal. That my son will find his abilities just around the corner. That all is always well. That others actually care and it’s just today they are not showing up, physically or emotionally; surely they will be here tomorrow.
I pretend that I am not exhausted. That my daddy did not die. That my mom is well.
I pretend that I am happy and present.
I pretend that each punch from the universe just makes me stronger and each knife in my heart makes me care more.
I pretend that as we are on our way out the door, on time, an “oops, Mom, I need a change” is just part of everyone’s normal day with their typical 22-year-old, requiring a complete change of clothes, after a transfer back to bed from wheelchair, to remove shoes and braces and all clothes and then having to reverse the entire procedure until he is back on his wheelchair, ready again to leave, now 20 minutes late for that appointment.
I pretend that your “God only gives us what we can handle” or “God has a plan” doesn’t make me want to shake you and scream uncontrollably.
I pretend those little pills I take to help me sleep at night actually do help me relax and that I bounce out of bed at 6:15 am, eager and happy to face the world, on yet another groundhog day.
And no, your oils and aromatherapy and herbs will not help me with this “stress”. I pretend to be sweet when I say no, thanks.
I pretend that you do not judge me or my daughters, because I pretend you know better, are able to comprehend what we have all endured, or endure, even without trying on our shoes, let alone taking a few steps in them.
I smile. I laugh. I have a sense of humor that allows me to poke fun at me. I also have a vault inside my head where I store all the grief and pain and a massive cover-up as to my reality.
“Who are you most afraid of?” I was asked the other day over a delicious Starbucks latte, decaf with nonfat milk…a hint of vanilla, pretending to fit into this chic setting, as I broke down explaining my pretense, my sadness, my fear of being “found out”.
“Me,” I replied, not even shocking myself at my answer. “I’m most afraid of becoming vulnerable to me. I’m afraid of the vault exploding with that last weight I try to shove inside and then what will become of me or Damon or the girls? Who will hold up our fort?”
Maybe you need professional help.
Maybe I do. But I’m terrified to face the contents of that vault. Terrified of the realities. The what-ifs the what-if-it-nevers.
In the first few days when they told me my son would die, or be in nothing more than a vegetative state in the best case scenario, I refused to look over that edge into their darkness, not because I was strong, but because I knew I was too weak to face their reality. So I pretended they were wrong. I pretended he’d get well again. I pretended I knew best.
I still pretend to be strong. I pretend a cure is right around the corner. I pretend that your actions or words or a dire prognosis doesn’t hurt me. I pretend that all of our lives are absolutely fine, and the aftershocks that just don’t stop, don’t exist.
It’s just easier to pretend, isn’t it? As long as the vault stays sealed.
“You know how it is.”