Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.
There are certain things I do not talk about.
Like when I was thirteen, and I had to take my dog and have her put to sleep. Or the time in high school that I got all dressed up for the prom and sat by the window, waiting for a boy who never came. Or the way I felt when I first met Colin.
Well, I talk a little about that, but I don't admit that from the beginning I knew we were not meant to be together. Colin was a college football star; I'd been hired by his coach to tutor him to pass French. He kissed me- shy, plain, scholarly--on a dare from his teammates, and even muddled by embarrassment, it left me feeling gilded.
It is perfectly clear to me why I fell in love with Colin. But I have never understood what made him fall for me.
He told me that when he was with me, he became someone different-a person he liked better than the easygoing jock, the good ol' fraternity boy. He told me that I made him feel admired for what he was instead of what he'd done. I argued that I wasn't a match for him, not tall or stunning or sophisticated enough. And when he disagreed, I made myself believe him.
I don't talk about what happened five years later, when I was proved right.
I don't talk about the way he could not look me in the eye while he was arranging to have me locked away.
Opening my eyes is a Herculean effort, Swollen and grainy, they seem resolved to stay sealed shut, preferring not to risk the sight of something else that might turn the world on end. But there is a hand on my arm, and for all I know it might be Colin, so I manage to slit them enough that the light, sharp as a splinter, comes into view. "Mariah", my mother soothes, smoothing my hair back from my forehead. "You feeling better?"
"No." I am not feeling anything. Whatever Dr. Johansen prescribed over the phone makes it seem as if there's a foam cushion three inches thick around me, a barrier that moves with me and flexes and manages to keep the worst away.
"Well, it's time to get moving," my mother says, matter-of-fact. She leans forward and tries to haul me from the bed.
"I don't want to take a shower." I try to curl into a ball.
"Neither do I." My mother grunts. The last time she'd come into the room, it was to drag me into the bathroom and under a cold spray of water. "You're going to sit up, damn it, if it sends me to an early grave."
That makes me think of her coffin table, and of the ballet lesson Faith and I never did manage to get to three days ago. I pull away from her grasp and cover my face, fresh tears running like wax. "What is the matter with me?"
"Absolutely nothing, in spite of what that cretin wants you to believe." My mother puts her hands on my burning cheeks. "This is not your fault, Mariah. This isn't something you could have stopped before it happened. Colin isn't worth the ground he walks on." She spits on the carpet, to prove it. "Now sit up so that I can bring Faith in here."
That gets my attention. "She can't see me like this."
"It's not that easy-"
"Yes, it is," my mother insists. "It's not just you this time, Mariah. You want to fall apart? Fine, then-do it after you've seen Faith. You know I'm right, or you wouldn't have called me to come over here and take care of her three days ago." Staring at me, she softens her voice. "She's got an idiot for a father, and she's got you. You make what you want of that."
For a second I let hope sneak through the cracks in my armor. "Did she ask for me?"
My mother hesitates. "No ... but that's neither here nor there." As she goes to get Faith, I adjust the pillows behind my back and wipe my face with a corner of the comforter. My daughter enters the room, propelled by my mother's hand. She stops two feet from the bed. "Hi," I say, bright as any actress.
For a moment I just delight in seeing her--the crooked part of her hair, the space where her front tooth used to be, the chipped pink Tinkerbell polish on her fingernails. She folds her arms and sets her colt's legs and mulishly presses her beautiful bow of a mouth into a flat line.
"Want to sit down?" I pat the mattress beside me.
She doesn't answer; she barely even breathes. With a sharp pain I realize that I know exactly what she's doing, because I've done it myself: You convince yourself that if you keep perfectly still, if you don't make any sudden moves, neither will anyone else. "Faith . .
I reach out my hand, but she turns and walks out of the room.
Part of me wants to follow her, but a larger part of me can't muster the courage. "She's still not talking. Why?"
"You're her mother. You find out."
But I can't. If I have learned anything, it is my own limits. I turn onto my side and close my eyes, hoping that my mother will get the hint that I just want her to go away.
"You'll see," she says quietly, laying her hand on top of my head. "Faith is going to get you through...
Keeping Faith: A Novel
- paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial
- ISBN-10: 0688177743
- ISBN-13: 9780688177744