Is This Real?

I write a blog instead of fictionalizing life. I put it here, for “the world” to see, and I am often admonished for it. I just can’t possibly understand, I’ve heard, why you would want to publish your private thoughts.

My students read “The Moths” this week, Helena Maria Viramontes’ coming-of-age short story of a narrator (never named) who is the black sheep of the family, minus the loving care of her grandmother, Abuelita, whom she, at age fourteen, cares for as Abuelita succumbs to death. Reading the graphic description of stepping into the tub with her grandmother’s frail and lifeless body, my students were sure it was a true story. “What, this isn’t real?”

“Well… all writers take their tales from pieces of their lives… but this is fiction.”

They couldn’t believe it. The blurred lines between truth and fiction, the harsh sentiment that went into the words, the pain that emanated out of her soul as the moths escaped, the sickening description of the cancerous vomit and diarrhea. “I thought for sure this happened to her.”

Maybe it did. Maybe some version of this story had been sitting at the back of her mind for months, just as I sometimes spend the day carrying around words that I think I might shape into a blog post. Sometimes I’ll write for over an hour, zealously anxious to share with the world the pain that went into making it past 5:30 p.m. Sometimes I have only enough energy to write a haiku, throw in a picture, and wish I had the courage to say more. Sometimes I feel trapped between the words in my head, so brutally truthful, and the fear of what “the world” would think if I put them down on paper.

Sometimes the world bears down on dreams, on marriage, on the day-to-day struggle of life.

Just like Viramontes, we all have our coming-of-age stories. The burden of being fourteen, the challenge of facing an adult life that seems too cruel to accept while hind-sightedly looking back at our childhoods and wishing we could straddle both worlds.

But this isn’t a coming-of-age story, unless we can have a second coming at age forty, just around the corner for me. This is an adulting story. And not one about finally learning to streamline my bills from paper to online or managing to make it to happy hour after surviving yet another children’s birthday party.

This is about the constant struggle of being an adult. A wife. A parent. A teacher. About the bombardment of horror stories I hear from my students–running the gamut from childhood rape, childhood obesity, childhood anxiety, broken bones, broken dreams, impossible expectations–to the bombardment of stories (perhaps slightly lacking horror) from my own life.

Isn’t it enough, I want to scream, that I spent twenty years trying to convince my husband to try skiing, and he tore his ACL on the second day?

Isn’t it enough that I freely spoke to my eldest daughter about her relationship with her boyfriend, checking in with her, allowing her to see him frequently, trusting her to tell me when important decisions were being made, only for her to lie to me and do what I know she would rather not do?

Isn’t it enough that his mother is already gone, and now his father is facing his last days?

Isn’t it enough that we waited fifteen years to finally feel like we could have enough money to fulfill our dreams, only to have the threat of financial security stripped away after less than three years?

I write a blog instead of fictionalizing life. Sometimes fiction is the perfect reflection of what we must face when we’re young, when we’re trying to make the decisions between wrong and right, giving or taking, and the lines become blurred. But sometimes life seems like it reflects the stories we read, the inundation of too many events that fill seven or 300 pages, that seem unfeasible and completely valid in the same moment. Because the truth is out there, buried in my adolescent’s lies, in the stories we devour, in the words I carry in my head throughout the day, in the kindness of colleagues, in the arms of the man who would try anything, even tearing a ligament, to please me.

The truth waits behind those cancerous moments that try to steal us from our lives, from our happiness. The truth can be fictionalized, fabricated, feared… but it will find us. Whether we share it with the world or not, the truth will find us.

The truth, the brutal truth, is that I feel I have failed my daughter. Have I not loved her enough? Have I not taught her to cherish her body? Have I been too harsh, too lenient, too never-quite-right?

The truth is that I put our marriage on the line for that ski weekend. That it is a struggle to keep the fire lit after twenty years of watching Friends and going out to dinner, and I wanted him to capture my Rocky Mountain High, to experience the freezing flakes on his face, to feel like riding a cloud on a powder day, to love something as much as I loved it, love it so we could love it together, long after the kids were gone and Friends was taken off of Netflix.

The truth is that the family healthcare plan for my school district has an annual out-of-pocket maximum of $12,750 after paying over $700 a month into a fake insurance, and one little ACL surgery or broken bone or broken heart would break us if my husband loses his job, and we already spent ten years, half of our fucking marriage, living on a goddamn teacher’s salary and its SHIT BENEFITS, and I’m. Fucking. Done. With being poor.

The truth is that his mother was the center of his life, and his sister has sacrificed everything for the past two years to take care of his grieving, dying father, only for the last remnant of the Vittetoe line to fall away without bearer of his name, and I don’t know how he’ll face another burden right now.

The truth is that life is filled with black sheep, vomiting, cancerous moments, and we sometimes need to overcome our fears, take our bodies into the tub, and let the moths flitter into the parched sunlight of a perfect day, blue skies, mountain views, and spring promising more than what it offers.

This isn’t fiction. All the same, it’s a story. My story. And I have to share my truth, because this is how I fit into the world.

And if my students asked, I would tell them: “Yes. This is real.” And if you read this? You would know how hard it was for me to share it with the world.

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