"So what would happen to you if you let yourself love her?" said my mother, who is wise even when I resist her wisdom. She said this some time ago when all this was coming down on me, when it was all still fresh.
"What? Besides end up hanging in the pantry mummied over in cobweb and sucked dry of all my vital juices?"
"Oof!" said my mother. Which is a sound you would have thought is only made in comic strips. But is, obviously, the proper response to sucker punches, however they come.
She didn't laugh. I didn't laugh. This wasn't funny.
"Oh, my dear," she said.
And we were silent. Maybe I sat in the car listening to the sound of the rain with the phone pressed into my cheek. I don't remember and I didn't write it down later in my notes.
My mother said, "I don't like to see you with this burden you're hugging on so tight to."
"Can you act with kindness --"
"I am kind. I am patient. I am polite. I respond. I do everything that is required. And a little more."
"I know you do. I've seen you. You're doing good."
"But she wants me to say I love her back and I don't."
"You could say it in kindness."
"No, I couldn't."
"You might find it's not so scary as you think to let yourself let go of this."
"I think I would find it nothing at all. I think I would disappear and wash away. And then there would be two of her and none of me."
"I don't think that would happen. I don't think that could happen."
"Hmm," I said.
And she was quiet.
"I love you, Mom, but that is what I think. I don't think there's room for more in that room."
"I think you are a story-teller and you could change the story you are telling here."
"I think stories tell themselves and this one is East of the Sun and West of the Moon and now the huntress maid has tracked down from one side of the world to the other and she's at the place her truelove is being held in a block of ice and the troll-queen and her ugly daughter have her working in the kitchens. Day after day she washes the blood out of the shirts, just so she can plead at his frozen ear all night to wake and see her and come away into the light of day."
"That is a story."
And I was quiet.
"Do you like it, this story?"
"I don't know that I like it, but it's true."
And my mother didn't argue with me that what I've just told her is a fairy-tale and there are no trolls or troll-daughters. That there are only extenuating circumstances and personalities and past histories and every other social behavioral mumbo jumbo. This is how I know always and again she is my true mother: because she knows what is really true.
She said, "Is this story worth more than going without a story would be?"
"I don't know."
She was still.
And I was still. Who have so often in my life capitulated at her call, leaping into peace and joy and full forgiveness at the sound of her voice. This voice from faraway now speaking in my ear. This voice I have listened to from even before I burst into this earthly air. This voice I am not going to agree with this time. Not completely.
"Just leave a door open in that room, will you? Let there be a possibility."
That was long enough ago I can't remember now how many years.
I am still standing at that door. I don't have to knock.
The door is open only a little, but if I touch it, it may open suddenly too wide.
In the meantime, I forgive you, my Failure to Love.
You have been a staunch defender. You have been valiantly unfair.
If I go sometime beyond the reach of your nocked arrow, it's not because I am not grateful you took my cause to heart.