By the Light of Roses
Meander and Drift
It could not be pinned to a single moment, as one might think--an instance, a realization: I am not happy. I must leave--but was a gradual weakening and pulling apart, so insidious that it was already well underway before anyone had noticed.
Rather like the way a pair of favorite breeches will wear and grow thin at the knees--weak--and the fibers will break one by one until there is a tear in the cloth. It seems like something that should have drawn one’s attention long ago, but until one feels that first nip of air on exposed skin, life continues oblivious, content, and uninterrupted.
That was the way of things with my parents. I had been taken into the fatherly embrace of one of my uncles and told that I could “talk about it,” if I wanted, and it was hinted that there must have been an explosion of sorts, a fight to which I must have borne witness. (Being as everyone knew that I had no friends or pursuits to distract me from solitary study in my bedroom.) Even as I knew that it said something about me, my character, that could not be contradicted with words, I felt my shoulders stiffening, drawing away like a tree subtly growing away from a close neighbor out of fear of losing its share of the light. I murmured that there was nothing to talk about, and I suppose that my glance that refused to meet his might have been misread as being evasive, even insolent.
Cold. Sullen. These words punctuated the whispers my grandparents and uncles--“concerned parties,” naturally--exchanged while glancing in my direction. There was a furtive shushing and my grandmother’s watery, patronizing voice: Hurt. Denial. Natural at this stage. Will come around. Give him time.
None of them understood the gradual wearing away of my parents’ marriage, the much-loved fabric of their union growing too small to contain that which it was expected to hold. As with the torn breeches, there was only a moment of cold discomfort and a surprised glance and the realization--It’s over?!--that something much-loved was now little more than rubbish to be cast aside, that our own being has betrayed us and grown beyond what that love could contain.
It was my father who first told me of their intentions to “separate,” calling me into his chilly, geometric study overlooking the square and presenting his marriage to my mother like he might present a building to one of his clients, lifting away the roof to expose inner workings that were best left unseen. He had a habit of making boxlike gestures with his hands as he spoke, as though outlining the dimensions of rooms; into these “rooms” he placed my mother. Me. I felt that I was supposed to drop my emotions into them and let him seal them shut with his hands.
He spoke of his goals and her goals and their careers and their discrete social circles and “drift,” that was the word he used: “We have moved apart, through the slow workings of time, like two marble blocks once pressed flush against each other.” Hands placed parallel to each other on the table slid apart in a drastic move that made me flinch. He laughed. “Not that abruptly, of course. One can look at two marble buildings day by day, looking for drift, and never see it forming even as he can pass into the space between them.”
Naturally, my father would compare his marriage to two errant buildings.
“So separation isn’t a choice, Eressetor, but more an inevitability. It is just where time has placed us. No need to be angry or sad, any more than the hard-working architect who constructed those two buildings should begrudge the centuries that moved his masterpieces apart, creating what might be construed as a flaw.” He shrugged. “Instead of one unified masterpiece, you have two of equal splendor. That is not flawed, I don’t think.”
My mother had called me into her studio not long after with the same intention.
The pungent smell of ink overlaying the dusty odor of parchment lingered as though in denial, but already, her art supplies were being packed into crates, as though she’d merely been waiting for the excuse to do so. Her ink-stained hands were not prone to sketching compartments into which emotion could be locked away as were my father’s; dismissing the servants with a wave of the fingers, she sat us opposite each other. Reaching out, she held my hands, stroking the backs of my wrists, while she leaned forward with elbows propped on her knees and her pendulous jewelry swinging in the space between us. “A leaf,” she said, “may fall from a branch and follow a meandering course to the sea.” Her hand likewise meandered poetically into the air. “Is it frightened? Perhaps. Could it resist, and remain where it has grown and flourished? Perhaps. But the effort of that …” Her fingers fluttered at her temples as though warding off a headache, tucking tendrils of hair behind her ears. “After a while, don’t you think that the exhaustion would remove any comfort you might otherwise have? I wonder, Eressetor, if it is not better to let the river carry us and enjoy the new sights which we might otherwise have been denied before being released into the vast freedom of the sea.” She squeezed my hands in both of hers and sighed dramatically.
The result of all the “meandering” and “drifting” in my parents’ marriage was waking up to a cart hitched in the street in front of the house and two burly Elves trying to maneuver my mother’s worktable down the narrow path, between Atar’s roses on one side and Amil’s rock garden on the other.
All of this--the separation--came at the time when I had my “trouble.” But of course, they were not related.
As even spurious correlation can inspire the notion of a relationship, though, I was given pitying looks in the weeks that followed and undue sympathy from normally contemptuous relatives and associates of my parents’. I was called aside, again by an uncle, though a different one this time. My mother had three brothers, all with pointy rodent-like faces and heads that looked two small upon their bulky bodies. Whereas my mother was an artist and delicate of hand (and, purportedly, of mind), her brothers were quarry workers with voices used to shouting over a chorus of falling pickaxes and tumbling stone; they regarded their sister--her marriage, her career, her son--with a patronizing fondness and were given to ruffling my hair, even when I had it secured in neat, precise plaits that were damaged by their rambunctious shows of affection.
“Eressetor,” said my uncle, and again, I found myself in the circle of his arm, smelling his musky, hard-working scent, “you must understand that this is not your fault.”
For it was believed that surely I must think that it was. My father had never been fond of children, and my mother’s “accident" was the proverbial beginning of the end for their marriage. At least, this was widely believed and whispered in circles where it was thought I could not hear what was being said. “He always did require a lot of maintenance,” it was said, scornfully, of my father by my mother’s family. (Interestingly, his family said the same of her.) He required his meat cooked “well done” and a fresh tunic every day; certainly these things--according to the contempt in my uncles’ eyes--were indicative of a pathological need for great deals of attention. Which had obviously been taken from him when I was born and my mother laved her attention upon a newborn infant instead of him.
This was my father’s problem, not mine, my uncle assured me, giving my shoulders a chummy squeeze, neglecting to note my crisp-pressed robes and plaited hair and polished shoes indicating that I obviously shared in my father’s “pathology.”
Those to whom my “trouble” had been confided by my stricken parents were even more adamant in their assertions: “Eressetor. This is not your fault.” My eldest uncle’s beefy, calloused hands gripping me above the elbows and even delivering a curt little shake as though desperate to force the knowledge into me. “No matter what happens between them, you mustn’t believe that it is your fault.”
Of course, no one bothered to ask: Did I think it was my fault? For I did not. Lying in my bed at night, in the house my father had built long ago, with my hands folded on my belly and staring at the cracks in the ceiling that widened imperceptibly with each passing year, I waited for an assault of anger or pain … but neither came. I even tried to muster it--surely I must be angry! hurt! for my parents had forsaken their marriage before I’d even come of age!--but could not. My amiable mother returned on occasion from her new house in the artists’ district (designed and built by my father, of course) to retrieve something “forgotten,” and she and my father would have tea on the balcony. She was illustrating a book that he was compiling on the evolution of Telerin architecture after their arrival in Aman; he was designing a series of gazebos for a sculpture garden on which she’d been invited as a consultant. At times, we even ate meals together as a family: mother, father, and son, with a table full of plans and diagrams strewn between us.
Marital separation was uncommon among Elves with underaged children; most separations came only after long marriages, when the interests and pursuits of the partners diverged to the point of impracticality. Still, they were not unheard of, and I waited for my parents to dictate my place in things--that I should remain with my father or go to my mother or assume some sort of nomadic existence in between--but nothing was said.
Of everything, this bothered me the most, niggling me late at night as my restless brained turned over and over what I’d learned that day until exhaustion forced me to contemplate something--anything--else, and I wondered why there wasn’t a greater delineation as to my role in things. I wondered why they didn’t see fit to fight over me. If they both wanted me, this seemed the logical way to go about it.
Could it be, then, that neither wanted me?
I had stayed at my father’s simply for reason of default: It involved no thought, action, or discussion on my part. If anything, I was disturbed less in my pursuits while my mother was in the process of moving, for my father was busy helping her and often skipped making meals for us where my presence would otherwise be required.
I went to his antiseptically utilitarian study, interrupted him at his work. and asked, “Should I go to visit Amil? Live there on occasion? What is the proper protocol for this?”
(I will admit that I’d sought connection with him on the basis of protocol, something I knew we both respected even if neither was silly enough to use a word such as “love” in connection to it: grammar, the proper means to cite written sources, the correct way to codify architectural drawings. Rules. Neither of us had time to shepherd abstract thoughts into a semblance of logic as my mother liked to do … at least not on issues as non-pertinent as the proper capitalization of King Finwë’s various titles or the indication of pipelines beneath a building.)
“Ah, Eressetor,” my father replied, “that would certainly be acceptable. Neither of us has a preference as to where you live; we simply thought it would be easier--for now--for you to stay here. But if you wish otherwise …” His voice was bright: in an effort to placate what he might have perceived as discontent on my part, I wondered? Or in hope that I would “wish otherwise?”
I didn’t know who to disappoint with my presence. So I stayed where I was.
Sitting opposite Fëanáro, I told him of this. Most of it.
I’d once had a tutor in historical lore who’d said that when compiling a historical record, part of any historian’s duty was to select from amid the facts and discard those that might be hurtful to those involved. Those were usually useless anyway, he’d said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
With that in mind, I chose carefully from my parents’ story. I took out the bits about my doubts (replacing it with a cheery “I decided to live with my father,” which was certainly not a lie) and my cynical regard for my parents’ meddlesome families (“they showed rightful concern”; also not a lie), and of course, all mention of the “trouble” and any correlation--spurious or not--between that and the separation.
The bright fire in his eyes slowly cooled and was replaced by something nefarious in its unfamiliarity on his face: bafflement. His brows knitted and his eyes took a suspicious glint. “You are trying to convince me that it just … happened?”
“Yes?” I wanted my voice to sound confident but it betrayed me and lilted at the end into a question.
A barking laugh, cold and humorless: “So you are attempting to convince me that an estrangement happens in the same manner of eroding farmland.”
“To my parents …”
He snorted. “Ai, and so we have the proverbial ‘can of worms,’ Eressetor: that which inspires more questions than it answers.”
Startled, I waited: Why my nonchalance? What sort of emotional deficiency was implied by my inability to feel anything for my parents’ failed marriage? Why the delusions that separating anything “bonded”--as in flesh as well as spirit--should be a painless affair?
But that was not what he asked: “If not to escape the pain you parents have inflicted upon you, why, then, are you here?”