A Bedtime Fairy Tale

Aug 09, 2020

I am putting my daughter, Micah, to sleep and she asks me, “Daddy, if you could have one wish, what would it be?”

Considering tonight is my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I am inclined to tell her that my wish would be for her to put herself to sleep, but that seems cruel, so I demur. If there is one parental pastime that I dread and will miss in profound and equal measure, it is this ritual. It tests both psychological endurance and physical dexterity. I summon and spin the same thread-bare yarns of childhood, listening attentively for the parasympathetic breath of slumber. Not yet free, I plot my exodus, furtively sidling toward the edge of the bed. Like a parole officer sensing illicit activity, Micah rolls over and imprisons my mid-section with her flopping and now lifeless arm.

“I’m not asleep yet. Tell me the story of when you met mommy.”

It’s 1988. Long-haired and rumpled in my favorite flannel, I sat in the back row of freshman art class. If it had been possible, I would have opted for a desk on the scaffolding outside the window, anything to avoid the icy gaze of the persnickety art history teacher. Miss DePoint was preternaturally tall, always in a well-fitted skirt suit, her tight grey bob accentuating her angular chin. She wielded a yardstick that she used as a pointer and, at any moment, she could have pivoted toward me, Jadis-like, endlessly long, and turned me to stone. She flashed Bernini on the overhead projector and tapped at the screen rhythmically with her lengthy wand.

With clockwork precision, Schuyler, still in her talc-y leotard, sauntered into class five minutes late and folded her sinewy frame into the seat diagonal from me. Completely unfazed by Miss DePoint’s displeasure, she fetched a grapefruit from her dance bag, clawed both hands into its top and ripped back the peel. This vigorous action unbottled an aerosol of grapefruit particulates that, like fairy dust, infused the back of the room. As the citrus cloud enveloped me, I fell under a mystical spell.

And, in a moment, we were sculpture. Hovering above her, I thrust my golden arrow into her heart. She, with her head thrown back, lay in a state of transcendent bliss. The ecstasy of Saint Theresa. This was the epiphany that shuttered my faithless childhood and launched my devotion to Schuyler.

My chivalrous pursuit of this maiden knew no bounds. I boarded my trusty 4-wheeled steed and stalked my quarry stealthily from city block to city block. I learned to speak with my hands, like her. I rambled barefoot on the perilous terrain of upper Manhattan, slaying the dragons of my motherless adolescence. Until one night, intertwined, we collapsed right on the sidewalk of Amsterdam Avenue and lay there for hours, baring full witness to our eternal embrace.

“You still awake, Micah?”

“Daddy, tell me the part where you and mom get old.”

“Well, we’re not exactly old yet but…”

See-sawing between lover and beloved, we romped across campgrounds and far-flung hostels, slept in hammocks and in the hallways of train cars. We learned foreign tongues and stole across borders. We owned little and wanted for nothing.

As adulthood knocked, I climbed beanstalks of steel and glass and spun straw to gold with both ardor and folly. Schuyler stepped onto stages, to act out the plays of others and play out the acts of self. We toiled, built studios, launched festivals, forged friendships and scrawled books. We raised the chalice in victory and we suffered epic defeats at the hands of neighboring kingdoms.

The human story is the accrual of hundreds of these triumphs and just as many failures which slowly, against our will, begets wisdom.

Commitment is often misconstrued as limitation and framed within the parentheses of sacrifice, of what one must give up. However, the bedrock of our unconditional mutual pledge has allowed us to take madcap risks and chase uncertain dreams, knowing, that in failure, there is the comfort of allegiance to break our fall. In this way, we have known commitment only as freedom.

And then we had three little bears with goldy locks. (My mighty rapier valiantly delivered three consecutive X chromosomes, if only to avoid a duel over circumcision.) And, with three princesses, we were summarily dethroned, usurped from the center of our own universe. No longer the nucleus, we became electrons looking in on life, not out at it.

Self-obsession dissolves when you would die, without a moment’s hesitation, for someone else. And this phenomenon of parenthood transforms the geometry of love from a linear affair between partners, to a multi-dimensional shared consecration of your children.

Young, unruly chaotic lust gives way to care, respect and also distinctly unmagical transaction. No longer is our love the rapturous, intertwined passion of teenagers on a city sidewalk. We’re more linked paper clips than a double helix, free to go our separate ways until the curved edges of our union pull us back in line. It’s an officious type of middle-aged tenderness. I love you. Pass the hole puncher.

Who will drive the carriage to procure provisions? Who will deliver the girls unto seminary or to the athletic pitch? Who will pay the state tariffs and manage the gold? But the fairy tale need not completely become the laundry list.

Over time, devoted partners fulfill each other’s needs. In the absence of need, a profound sort of love springs forth. Love, in this way, is not an emotion that visits the castle as a party guest only to leave before the strike of midnight. In wholeness, one becomes the source of love, not the subject that perceives it as transitory sensation.

Your mother and I were two young saplings planted too close together. We are often now indistinguishable from each other, not just because our gnarled tree trunks have fused, but because our love, as essence, impervious to the vacillations of space and time, is not separable.

On my best days, I still feel like in a painting. Dreamy, not altogether of this place. I want to tear her away from this dull care. And walk and talk and do nothing and leave nothing undone.

“Can you go to sleep now, sweetheart?”

“Ok. Daddy, but just answer me. If you could have one wish, what would it be?”

I ponder. She can sense I have an answer now. Could it be a trip to Disneyland? Or a Pomeranian? Perhaps a new trampoline?

“Micah, I wish your mother and I, a long time from now, will die on the same day.”

I feel guilty giving her this macabre answer. But what her mind cannot grasp, her heart understands easily. She gives me a hug. I forget that she is closer to God than I am.

“Good night brave sir Micah. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

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