There once was a penguin that lived in the middle of the coldest part of the world. This penguin built her home on a giant block of ice, and spent all day every day swimming in the water around the ice and catching fish. One day, the penguin saw a bird flying overhead. She looked at its beautiful wings and decided that she too wanted to fly. She saw that she had wings, and she knew that only birds had wings. She assumed that because she had wings she was a bird, and that because she was a bird, she could fly. She flapped her wings and flapped her wings but nothing happened. She couldn’t fly. She got nowhere. She was trapped on the ice, but instead of enjoying her life as she had before, she spent every minute trying to escape it.
The penguin had a concept of herself as a happy, swimming, fishing creature.
But when she saw the bird, it was all ruined.
“I can convey this on a literary level,” I tell M. “That’s why I wrote the piece the way I did. The tense shift in terms of the event itself is really how it is, how it feels. It’s separated. Detached.”
She nods and scribbles something down on her pad. “What happens when you try to talk about it?”
“Talk about it?”
“Like, out loud. You call it ‘the event.’”
I spin a strand of hair around my finger and say again, “I can convey how I feel on a literary level. With writing.”
“But not out loud. What would happen if you did? If you talked, out loud?”
I have a million or more answers to that question. First and foremost, it would make it real. I didn’t want it to be real. I wanted to rewind to a happier time when I didn’t have to think about these things. When I didn’t have to wonder if people would hate me. When I didn’t hate myself. I deflect her question. “I’ve been doing better in class. I talk to people. I share stuff.”
M refuses to let it go. “But back to the piece. What would happen if you said these things out loud? If you used the words? If you incorporated the experience back into yourself?”
I would drown. I would hate myself even more.
I stare out the window over her shoulder and watch the birds flying over the field. And I wish that I could fly. If I could fly, things would be so much better. I wouldn’t be here any more. I wouldn’t belong to him.
There is a common misconception that penguins mate for life. Many penguins do indeed remain with one partner, just like people do. Especially during mating season. However, once mating season is over, many penguins choose to find a new mate. Once the penguin children are born, the love dissipates.
I remember sitting on my bed maybe a year or so after my son died. A lot had happened in that time. I’d gotten sick; I’d gotten better. I’d gone bat-shit insane. And I’d left my husband for totally justifiable reasons. My crazy was justified. But as I sat there on that bed, the orange box cutter from work clutched in my fist, I was lost. It was around three in the morning. The cat stared at me, swishing her tail back and forth. The thoughts beat around inside my head.
He hurt because of what I did. Because of Carter. That’s why we’re not together. Because of me.
I had seen another life. I had seen another way of being, and then I had lost it. I had lost my son; I had lost my husband; I had lost everything. It was all because of me, and I couldn’t escape that. I couldn’t escape myself, no one can. But there was a way. There was this way. I told myself I wasn’t strong enough for anything else. That was a lie. It was nothing more than a moment when I realized I could never escape him. That he would always be part of me. That I didn’t know how to go forward.
The ultimate escape. Only not. Because it’s not escaping anything. It’s just an end, and not a good one. Never.
There’s always another way. There’s always another choice.
I am that penguin. My self concept was shattered. I spend every waking moment trying to escape. It’s my life goal. Escape what? Escape my thoughts, my past. Escape my son. Escape him.
But I can’t.
I want to fly, but I am trapped inside my own head. I want to express myself, but I’m missing the words. I still belong to him.
Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can feel his hands on me. I can see his eyes boring into mine, but I can’t turn away. I don’t like to sit on the couch where he was, or in the car where he was. I don’t like to walk where he walked. When I open my mouth, I imagine what he would think about what comes out of it. I imagine that he would disapprove, and then I disapprove. And I stay silent. Still. Because the belonging is that solid, that deep. That lasting. Because I let his disapproval mean more than any amount of approval ever could.
I believe that, even now, it will always exist. I will always be his. I will always be here. Looking back now, I know that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I almost let him take everything from me, but then I didn’t. I held on. I stayed. But I take the failures hard, and I run away from the truth. I run away from the things that happened because it’s easier to me than admitting them as true. It’s easier for me than saying they are real. It’s easier for me than taking responsibility, because I don’t know where that responsibility lies. Every ounce of me wants to put it on him, but I know that it doesn’t all go there.
I’m scared that, as hard as I try, I will never be able to fly. But I still keep going; I keep trying. I need to remember that I’m a penguin. I’m okay. Giving up is a choice I am not willing to make.