In Any Other World
The first time your world explodes, you should have seen it coming.
The signs were there, but you were just too young to realize that the door slamming wasnít just the wind, the broken dishes werenít what the cat did, the silence wasnít just because it was Sunday. You never considered the possibility that you would be a casualty; even when the sirens were screaming, you never saw the bomb coming. Only when it threw the ground out from under you; only when you opened your eyes to find yourself lying under a pile of broken concrete and splintered wood; only when your eyes burned from the smoke in the air, only then did you understand. Those late night shouts and loud chatter werenít the sound of a grown-up television show. They were the sounds of tanks and machine guns, of armies gathering to fight.
And you start to understand what happened, that youíre only going to get one goodnight kiss now, and you only need to put out two plates on the table, and that youíre in charge of feeding and walking the dog now. But you donít like going to school in Mommyís car, you donít like waiting until the weekend to practice baseball with Daddy. You donít like the way Mommy talks about Daddy, she uses bad words that she told you never to say. And Daddy doesnít tell jokes like he used to, heís more like your grandpa, quiet and frowning all the time. He never helps you with your science projects anymore, heís always somewhere in the kitchen with this bottle of liquid. It looks dark and smells bitter and weird, and you think it could be bad for him.
But then you learn how this will go. Miss Everly teaches you about it during history class on Thursday. Cities get rebuilt, nations are restored, alliances come together. It might take many years but countries always rebuild after the war, and they even make treaties with those who were once their ďenemies.Ē They shake hands and take pictures together too. So you stop worrying, and you wait, and sure enough one day Mommy stays for dinner at Daddyís instead of just dropping you off, and the next week you thought you saw Daddy smiling when you showed him that your art project won first place. And Mr. Jeffrey tells you during science class about how forests regrow after a fire and starfish can regenerate their arms and legs even after theyíre cut off. So worlds can regrow too.
And it does. Slowly, a blade of grass pushing itís way through charred soil. Mom stops swearing every time she says his name. Dad doesnít drink so much. A phone call, an appearance at Thanksgiving, both of them showing up to your Junior League games. More and more blades of grass, growing into a lawn that stretches out into a field and then acres with rolling hills and meadows. Your world isnít just restored it starts to expand. The wildflowers that spring up between the grass bring butterflies; the young saplings grow taller and sturdier branches, shading the patches of clover that cluster around the roots; the puddles of rainwater join to become a stream that trickles between the grasshoppers and crickets.
You start to bring things into your world. A hammer, nails, a shovel, and stacks of bricks. You test the earth to find itís not just firm enough to stand on but also to build on. A house that can shelter you and welcome others. Some of them just pass through, some linger longer, but only one really wants to stay. Forever.
That word makes you uncomfortable, makes your hands sweat as flashbacks float to the surface. You love the world that youíve made and you donít want to see it in ashes. So you ask your old man on your next visit to him at the hospital. Time has been chipping away at him but he promises to make it to your wedding. He tells you not to make the same mistake he did, and to know that when the greatest thing in the world is in your life you should never let her go. He doesnít make it for the wedding, but you know heís there. He wouldnít have missed it. And you realize he was right, because when you look into her eyes, you see your world. Your whole world.
Thunderstorms. Thatís the first time you have to fix the leaks in the roof. Then a hurricane. When the flood warning comes over the radio you decide you need to move. She doesnít want to go, but you tell her not to worry, there are other parts of the world to explore, other houses to make a home. And there are other gardens where she can plant yellow roses, other fences she can paint blue, other windows she can paste snowflakes on.
When spring comes you find that youíre going to need even more space; your world is trembling with the impending arrival. And your mom is so excited to finally be a grandmother that you donít even tell her how terrified you are. You know that every new brick you lay, every new room you build means another part of your world that can crack, that can crumble. Sometimes it scares you so much you canít sleep, and when she gets up for a snack in the middle of the night she sees you lying there, eyes wide with fear. Thatís when she kisses you and tells you that your world is as big and beautiful as it is because you had the courage not to let the destruction of the past destroy the present. She says that if she could choose any other world to live in she would always choose yours.
People think that that if something happens once it wonít happen again. You should make sure it never happens again. But sometimes you are so on guard that you get caught by surprise. Youíre so busy watching the front gate you donít realize whatís sneaking in through the back. You take your daughter to dance classes and practice her ballet solo with her; you learn how to use a coat hanger and lots of construction paper to make her crocodile wings for Halloween; you read through the entire book of Disney fairytales so you can memorize her lines of the play with her.
And you donít notice your wifeís late nights, her constant meetings with that colleague after work hours; her standing you up for dinner; her forgetting your daughterís friendís birthday party because that colleague needed help with that assignment; her taking phone calls from the colleague in the middle of Christmas dinner; her distance when you touch her. You donít hear the whispered talk of doomsday, you donít feel the faint tremors in the ground, you donít see the excuses that donít match and the lies that donít fit. In an other world you might have been able to tell the difference. But not in this one, not in this glass castle you built from your shattered dreams.
Only when the earth bursts wide open and when the air swells with fire, and in a split you realize what is happening. Your daughter grabs your arm, her eyes wide in a scream that youíll never hear because the fighter planes above are swallowing sound. The shock throws your bodies to the ground but youíre still conscious. Your eyes refuse to close, forcing you to watch, to say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in.
The second time your world explodes, you never saw it coming.