Zenella graduated from primary school tonight.
Throughout the ceremony, I could not stop thinking of all the ways I have failed her. I have allowed myself to be one of those people who use words seemingly in the belief that the form of words is as meaningful as the substance. How can I say I have loved her when I have not loved her enough?
It is a central fact in her life that she has a broken home. I do not know in what ways that has affected her; I mean, in what ways that are not visible to me. Sometimes she deals with emotional upset by sitting and cuddling her teddy bear. She was presented by him when she went to grief counselling, after I left Mrs Zen. I do not know what he means to her, what he symbolises, because I do not have any way to elicit the symbols. I can ask, but she will shrug and likely will not say anything at all.
I can say I want everything for her, but I have to remind myself that I have not given everything. I did not maintain my marriage. The price, it seemed to me, was too high, but I cannot help feeling it was not too high for the sake of my children. All I needed to do was surrender to Mrs Zen, to allow her the fiction that she was entitled to take without giving, to allow her to believe that her fairy tale could be real, that there even is a world in which it could be real, that you can be loved without being at all loveable, that you deserve it just because... well, I don't even know, just because you are you? But I am not, all said and done, Mrs Zen's father, and having a fourth child that I must love unconditionally was too much to ask. Relationships are, they must be, transactional.
Should I have simply abandoned all my insight into relationships, my understanding of how we are together, for the sake of my children, for my hope of a life that could bring me happiness? But how would it bring me happiness? That was, it seemed to me, the crux of it. I could not know that I would come to believe that I should have been strong enough not only to bear unhappiness, but to be able to hide it. Now I could. The tragedy for me is that now I am again strong enough, but then I was not.
I do not have anything to give Zenella, because I am morally such a poor example. All I can do is love her hopelessly and still hope that will be enough. But it doesn't seem to be. She is so complex and difficult to read that engaging with her emotionally is like setting out onto the ocean without a map, without a compass, without a sextant, so that all you can do is disappear into a wide blue without direction or hope of figuring out where in it you are.
She was such a happy child. She was a funster, a trickster, but sunny, not mean spirited, not seeking advantage. That burned away. A year of neglect from her mother, whose love she wanted more than mine, I think because mine never faded, burned it away; she retreated, became dependent on her own small resources, and consequently shrank the boundaries of her emotional world.
But she thought better of me, didn't she? She thought I could give her what she wanted: a family, a home, the world of love she had had when she was younger. Instead, she had to live like a child orphaned by war, a refugee from an emotional landscape she could not understand, perhaps felt she had no place in. I know she did not blame me when I was all she had, but afterwards, I feel she knows as well as I do that I failed her.
She says she loves me and I do not feel she does.
Some part of it must be that Zenita loves me so much, and even Naughtyman, who has blossomed into someone with much broader emotional needs than he had previously, has discovered that he wants me to love him and love me in return; I do not know.
This is almost forbidden to think, let alone write, but I think it: it seems to me that she first knew that Mrs Zen did not merit her love because she did not try; then came to believe that I did not merit it either because I was not worth trying for.
If you say, Are you happy? she will say, yes. If you say, Is there anything that makes you unhappy? all she will ever tell you is some trivial thing that showed that Zenita didn't love her enough, or Naughtyman slighted her, or L had something she didn't, or M wouldn't let her do something with him she wanted. Never anything beyond the ephemeral, the easily resolved, the meaningless unless she really does find meaning moment to moment. And perhaps she does. Perhaps the way she has chosen to deal with how her life has been is to cut it finer, and deal with it in small portions. I do not know because there is no way to ask her.
I am left with the feeling that there is more I could do, but I don't know what it is. I don't know where even to start thinking about what it is. I am only who and what I am. I have only the resources I have at this point. I cannot, however much I want to, be more in any meaningful way. In so many ways, I accept, or have tried to accept, that I am limited, that even where I feel I can breach those limits, it is not something that I can do overnight, or that it would be wise to try to.
Maybe I have the wrong idea of wisdom, and it is simply a way to make cowardice seem noble. I have no doubt I am a coward.
I want to tell you something fundamentally wrong with me. I say, and I do, I do, I believe in love, I believe it is worthwhile, that it is all that is worthwhile in an absurd world, that it is our salvation if you must, yet I would not sacrifice enough to give it to someone when it was all they wanted. Sometimes I say to myself, well, she does not even care, does not have any remorse for her part in it, does not even have any conception that she did anything wrong -- and it is infuriating because she is so quick to feel bad about doing wrong to others, even if in fact she never rectifies any of it; it is infuriating because were we to weigh our lives with a balance of payments, she owes me far more than she was ever willing to pay me, and can only think she doesn't by heavily discounting how much I paid for her; it is infuriating because I have above all else a sense of justice and justice has not been served: I have reaped so much pain and unhappiness that she could easily have resolved at very little cost -- after all, she needed only to live in the UK, to spend her time with my sisters, who love her, rather than hers, who don't love anyone at all but themselves -- well, I say that to myself, yet I am left, when honest with myself, with the bottom line: you could have lied.
I could have, but what is fundamentally wrong with me is that I am afflicted with pride. It is absurd: I know the world is meaningless, rather that its meaning exists in diminishing amounts in concentric circles, because we live, essentially, within ourselves, then within a world that is as small as the house we live in, our family, the day to day, diminishing rapidly as we move away from ourselves. Yet I am proud, and why, I have nothing to be proud of. Whatever material I consist in, I have done nothing much with it. I could not even be successful at marriage and I am not successful at fatherhood either. I am not successful at anything.
It is pride, only pride, that drives me to believe that I will one day wake up and become a man. It is absurd, yet it could be tomorrow. Truly, it could. I know it is only pride talking, but I cannot stop believing that it could be tomorrow that I will wake up and be the man that finally Zenella can love because I know that that pride is all
I consist in, there is no more to me, however unmerited, yet here's the thing, that man would not be proud.
Have you ever felt a fear like I feel? That to become the thing that your pride tells you you are is to surrender that pride? That you might decide, yes, I can cast off my self and become renewed and shout, love me, without any guarantee that there will be anything loveable about you at all?
You have not. You believe you are loveable. You believe you should be loved just for who you are. You believe you are someone. You have not tried not being anyone at all. I have. I am. It is bewildering. I cannot ask you to join me. I cannot ask Zenella to join me.
And I have tears streaming down my face when I watch Zenella, dead centre in the crowd of her school year, that shy child, that child who would sit on the edge of every group, that has no clique, no gang, and never will, yet she is in the centre, she believes she is someone. And she is someone. She is the person I love the most in this world. Now how can I make that be something?