On Sweet Nothings

Every woman is a mystery to be solved.

Don Juan, aka every player in the book

Standing close to the crowd a few weekends ago, listening to conversations, children laughing, birds crying overhead, I suddenly felt like I was in a tunnel. That part of the movie where the protagonist becomes hyper aware and oddly dissociated from the scene, and everything seems at once far away but in sharp contrast. Details stood out—a woman’s floppy beach hat, the boy’s red shovel, a blue bottle of beer on the picnic table—and I felt a sense of forboding. Slowly surveying the area, motions seemed to slow. All I could think was—this is all over. These people, they don’t realize what is happening. To us all. Right now. Life seemed almost normal. Maybe it was? Suddenly, I snapped back into the present. The sense of peace I had been seeking in this place, my sanctuary, evaporated. I abruptly got out of the food queue and walked back to my apartment, chilled despite the bright sun.

Since that day I’ve been finding myself drifting farther and farther from normal and closer to the alien distance of that moment. I find myself doing small rituals to bring a sense of structure and hope in a very uncertain and scary time. Like that guy who tells every girl she’s pretty and special, I find myself saying not quite convincing half truths to my children who have been yanked out of their safe and known world to make them feel good about what’s happening, like it’s all a grand adventure. I weave a tale of excitement and fun to cover up the sinister truths just lurking under the false veneer. And just like the motives of that guy who tries to pick up every girl, I feel like a fraud offering a shiny plastic ring dug up from the bottom of the cereal box to my children and selling it as a rare diamond for them to cherish. My kids are smart, and they know what’s happening. But I find my usual tell-it-like-it is attitude being dampened by the horrifying reality that I am trying to assimilate myself, never mind being able to translate in a coherent manner.

So I know, my kids know, the world knows, what’s really happening. And still I find myself whispering sweet nothings, to give a false sense of hope, to avoid reality. To make what could possibly be a new world that emerges after this crisis, one that is severely damaged with a long path back to being healed, a far off impossibility. What is worse, I think. The sweet nothings, the white lies that feel good, if only for the moment? To buy into the pleasant dream for as long as it is offered? Because regardless of those few moments of pleasure derived from illusion, the heartbreak is coming. Why not pretend, if only for a little while, that the world is beautiful and amazing? But as I look around, I realize I’m not saying the sweet nothings to protect my children, to ease them gently into the abyss; I’m saying them to escape, for me. And I think, shamefully, How can I prepare myself and them if I don’t face reality? I’m wasting time stringing together sweet nothings that evaporate into thin air upon waking instead of a sturdy rope I know we’ll need to climb out of the abyss. To build something meaningful, to do the hard work of creating the foundation that will offer support, tools, love, and trust to see us all to the next day. A better day. The new one we will create from the ashes of the old.

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