On what might have been

I am imagining what might have been. I don’t do this very often; it’s pointless and it hurts. But today in the warm spring sunshine it seems harmless, and I think I am tough enough to take it.

My “what might have been” always begins with “What if my daughter Jessica were like anyone else?” I might still be married. I imagine that I am, and that she will be going to college next year. I am not exactly imagining her as a college student; I cannot actually imagine Jessica as other than she is, and anyway this project is about me and not about her.

So she would be off to college and I would be married. Our mortgage would be nearly paid off and our retirement savings in good order. You see, I am imagining that nothing else has gone wrong, that no businesses have failed, that Jessica has not turned into a drug addict or died in a car accident on a lonely county road.

We would be comfortable, as they say, my husband and I, thinking our hard work had brought us here. We would be planning a trip, maybe a cruise but probably not, probably a two-week trip to China or Kenya.

I am probably a little smug. I am probably in better shape. I am probably content. I am probably thinking everything turned out just the way I wanted it to.

It is an attractive picture, for a moment. I turn it over in my mind. I think I would like to be her, the woman in that might-have-been picture. I think it would be very restful.

The sun is strong. I’m getting a burn. Later I will remark that I get older but I don’t get wiser. You would think after all these years I would remember the sunscreen. I go inside, turning the image over in my mind one last time. I would like that life, I think, and even as I think it, the picture starts to crack across, like what happens with old paintings, fine little cracks everywhere.

Even if Jessica were like every other child, that is not the life you would have, the part of me that knows me thinks. You would not be married. You hated being married, irrespective of your daughter. You hate being in relationships. You are like a feral cat, thinking someone is trying to trap you. The only relationship you have ever been in that has not strangled the life out of you is the one you have with Jessica. And if she were like everyone else, she probably would have strangled the life out of you, too. Also, you would never have money in the bank. Are you kidding me?

I rub some lotion on my sunburn, thinking age may not have brought wisdom, but it has brought something. Discernment, maybe. The ability to tell the truth from the lie.

The might-have-been picture crackles into dust. I am happy.

Conversations with Jessica
On talking out loud