Some people might say, Janelle, that it wasn’t any better to replace one diversion with another. I had always run from my problems by woohooing with the multitudes—theoretically, learning guitar or playing house with my live-in baby daddy were just as much running away. But, I don’t know, maybe it was. But it felt different. It felt like I was doing something different with myself for once. I never thought I’d pick up an instrument, after how in love my mother fell with them. Surely finally trying to play was engaging with my baggage, not running away from it. Even if I was engaging in it to a degree that was a bit… obsessive.
To be fair, even if I was running away, I wasn’t running away from the same things I always had been. I was reconciling myself with my usual issues—the abandonment, the fear of commitment. Now, though I had to contend with the realization of my changing lifestyle, the growing… something… for Leo, the growing up of my beautiful children. And that’s to say nothing of the ghost who had taken to haunting my house—Alexia.
She was rather nice, though such a snob, so it’s not like she was bad to have around; but when you’ve spent much of your life running from the past, having the past literally come back to haunt you isn’t quite what you want.
Anyway, even if was running from all of those things with my guitar playing and my yoga, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing. There’s always going to be something we need to cope with—no one, I think, has a completely perfect and happy life at any moment in time. And my way of coping has been, and always will be most likely, running.
Luckily, with all the diversions I exercised regularly, I was able to keep myself together for your and Hari’s birthday—and my own.
Well… I mostly kept it together. To an outside observer, I might have looked a little off my rocker, but you and the rest of the family knew me—know me. I may be a little eccentric, but this was keeping it together by my standards.
I made a bright blue cake—your favorite color at the time, Janelle. You wanted everything that shade of teal. Every bedsheet, every pillow, every doll. You couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know when that changed—maybe it doesn’t matter, change is sometimes just change, like Leo said—but it saddened me a little when it did. It was such a bold color, so much like you—you were always bright and bold and fierce. If I’d had to guess your aura color, I would have guessed that same teal you loved. It suited you.
Hari was a little disappointed in the cake color—you shared a cake, as I didn’t see a need to have three cakes for the three birthdays. Too much cake made leads to too much cake eaten, and I didn’t want to facilitate that.
It was a good party, I think. And you and your brother just looked so… grown up. It was crazy, to look at you and think that I had made you, or helped at least. That my genes went into making yours, and that I had raised you, into the beautiful and smart and brave and kind people that stood before me.
Though the two of you had some difficulty adjusting to Leo—you didn’t like him much, as he “wasn’t your real father”—he looked so proud that day. Every moment he was around the two of you, he lit up like a damn Christmas tree. The people you were becoming overjoyed him.
I think maybe I made him proud that day too, though obviously in a different way. I held it together pretty well, I think. There was no crying, no blubbering. And I didn’t really want to either. I was just happy. I only wanted to smile.
Understandably, the family dynamics changed after our span of birthdays. I think it took some of the weight off Apollo, which was nice to see. He smiled more. He played more. He was still extraordinarily studious—he always had been—but it was with a lighter tone. He didn’t have to be the only grown-up kid. You could take some of that load for him.
Leolin, on the other hand, seemed a little down. Now that you and Hari were “mature teenagers,” you weren’t as interested in doing the kid things that you had always done with Leolin. The poor boy did a lot of dancing alone.
I tried to join him when I could, but I was mostly preoccupied. At least he didn’t let his loneliness get the best of him—he still danced.
Somehow, becoming an adult, it felt like a weight had been taken off of me. Maybe it was some kind of instant maturation magic, or maybe it was just because an inevitable change had been forced upon me—an unavoidable transition—but the changes that had so worried me prior to my birthday no longer seemed like an issue. So what if I was changing? Of course I was changing! I was an adult now. A real one, not a twenty-something screw up. Change was good.
Hari was an interesting change. He seemed more engaged in his academics following his birthday, and he spent a lot of time on the computer.
He also spent a great deal more time outside. It meant he came it dirty a lot of the time, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He looked miserable, but he also looked driven. Something in him—the combination of the geek and the love of the outdoors—meant that he had decided he wanted to catalogue all of the fish in Willow Creek. Write a book on it, even.
He really did smell disgusting after those voyages. But Creator, was I proud of him. He was going to do something big with his life, I knew that with certainty. He was so smart, and now he had a passion behind it.
I think I envied him a little, Janelle. I hadn’t been even close to having a passion at his age; I barely had one now.
No. There’s no use in dwelling on thoughts like that. Leo says they make me smell bitter to him, like something burning—as much as I was dealing with my issues with my mother, they pop up sometimes. I have to work on letting them go.
Creator, Leo astonished me every day. Still astonishes me, really. That he could pledge his life to a kid with a woman he barely knew; and to her other kids to boot. That he could open his heart so unrestrainedly.
You know, Janelle, I was an adult now. I told you that some of those changes were starting to panic me less and less. And I can’t be certain, but I think that one of those changes that stopped causing me anxiety was my changing thoughts about Leo. Of course, I’d always felt lucky to have in my life—to have him in your lives.
But I’d always maintained that he was temporary. Or, if not temporary, he was nothing I’d committed to. I wasn’t emotionally invested in him; he was just there.
I think, though, that it was around this time that I finally started admitting it to myself. Leo had been there with me through the good and the bad. He had stuck by me when I wanted to see other people, then supported me when I didn’t. He’d been a little judgey for a time, but I attribute that more to his strained empathy (the crypt really was a bad thing for him) and less to his true intolerance of my decisions (though, to be fair, I never told him about the voyeurs and the threesomes).
Anyway, Janelle, maybe I couldn’t admit it then, but I was at least allowing myself to start having an inkling of the thought in my head: I think I maybe… loved Leo. And maybe he might could maybe be something like a soulmate… or something.
*Cough* Um, anyway, um…
Yes! You, Janelle! You changed after your birthday too!
I won’t say it was a bad change, darling. That would be unfair to you, and would maybe make it seem like I didn’t like the way you were growing up. I did, for the most part. But you got more… distant. At least from me.
You spent a lot of time alone, holed up places, taking notes on who knows what. It made me happy that you seemed so dedicated to some sort of study, but you’d never let me know what. You’d just make a face at me, usually rolling your eyes, and walk away.
You grew closer to Leolin, though. Just like when he grew into a child, I think it was something about feeling responsible for someone. You liked feeling like you had someone who needed you—we all like that. I liked that, for damn sure.
It made my heart warm. I loved to see you and your siblings so close. And it especially made me glad to see someone else sense Leolin’s same warmth—you seemed to absorb it, brighten because of it. Only around him and your brothers did you seem truly full of life, now.
I hoped it wouldn’t last. I was determined not to let it last. Leolin, at least, seemed like he needed me a little. But you were my only daughter… I needed you to at least want me for a little longer.