[Trying to get some of those January beginnings I talked about. This is the beginning of the story proper, Ben's parallel to Bella's Preface is here.]
I come from a family where no one says what they mean, and consequently no one means what they say. For my mother and I that's because we don't talk much, but for my father's side of the family it really does seem to be a complete aversion to saying what you mean. This means nothing is ever taken at face value, or expected to be taken at face value.
This may work for some people, but it does not work for me. It just doesn't. I want to cut the point and speak plainly, not navigate the confusing social waters of double talk and hidden meanings. That, I supposed, was one thing I wouldn't be missing. I looked out the window at the perfect cloudless sky. That was something I would be missing. You can still get a sunburn through a cloud, but you can't see the dome of the sky, and I was headed to a place whose single defining feature was having the fewest clear days of anywhere in the US.
My mother's home.
It rains on this small town more than any other in the country, and my mother loved it there, still did as far as I knew. My father disliked it as much as I did, and the differing communications styles between my mother and father probably played no small roll in their breakup, but as I said, no one ever says what they mean. And so I have always been told that the reason my father left, taking me with him, was largely due to the climate.
A lie, almost certainly, but my father comes from a long line of liars. And I'm next in that line, and a lie was my justification for going back to my mother's home in spite of the fact that I, like my father before me, am a desert creature. Phoenix is my home, and if need be I have little doubt that I could walk without rhythm.
I do believe that climate played a role in the decision to leave, how could it not, but I don't believe that divorces are made based on climate. There has to be more to it than that, I've just never been told what that more is. Likely never will be.
When I was less than a year old was when the divorce took place, and getting the truth about the here and now out of my father is difficult enough, the past is lost. Forks, my mother's home, was a place I remembered from the summers that came after. One month of every year, in the summer, was spent with my mother. And in the beginning that meant one month of every year was spent in Forks.
Summers by the Sea goes here
And so the time I spent with my mother had been cut in half, from one month to two weeks, and the time I spent in Forks had been cut to zero. I'm sure, at the time, I meant to stay in contact with the few friends I had in the area, three children from the nearby reservation that happened to be the children of my mother's best friend. I wondered idly if any of them would remember me, as I tried to take in everything I was leaving behind.
I loved Phoenix. I loved the image of a fiery bird rising from its own ashes, I loved the heat, I loved the city life, I loved looking at the stars on a cloudless night. I loved the desert.
I didn't much like the sunburns, but like I said you can burn through clouds too.
And I was leaving all of it. And I couldn't say why. I couldn't say why because I come from a family where no one ever says what they mean, and consequently no one ever means what they say. So if I came out and said to my father, "I want you to be able to travel the country with your new girlfriend and having to stay here with me is preventing that, not to mention that having to keep a house you no longer need is a serious financial burden," it wouldn't be taken to mean... all those things I just said. It would be taken to mean, "I want you to talk me out of this and am pissed off that you seem more interested in your girlfriend and finances than me," which a) isn't true and b) isn't true.
So I said I wanted to. Which is an obvious lie. And I stuck with that lie. And I was grateful that my father was letting me ride in silence rather than pressuring me for reasons and thus making it so I had to choose between lying more and possibly screwing the whole thing up.
That blissful silence ended at the airport. He said, "Ben, you don't have to do this." Which was in fact true, I don't have to do anything. I have free will, insofar as anyone does because I am not about to get derailed into a freewill vs. determinism debate. But the problem was, he didn't mean that. What he meant was, "I want you to do this but I don't want to feel guilty for exerting pressure on you so I'm giving you an out by pretending I'm trying to talk you out of it." I come from a family where no one ever says what the mean, and consequently no one ever means what they say.
At this point I'd had almost, but not quite (three years short of quite), two decades of having to decode meaning from things said but not meant and, while it tripped me up still, something as simple as, "You don't have to do this," was well within my capabilities.
This was definitely on the list of things that I would not miss. I tried to keep that in the front of my mind when I lied by saying, "I want to do this," looking my father straight in the eyes. He looked like an older version of me and a younger version of my grandfather. The men in my family look like a series of clones. Where I took after my mother was in things mental, not things physical.
As I looked at him I worried about leaving him alone, I don't remember how he got by before I was old enough to help, my memory of years gone by is less than stellar, but I did remember that in the most recent years I'd been very much involved in keeping bills paid and food in the refrigerator. It wasn't that he didn't have enough money to live on, it was that he didn't manage it. Then I reminded myself that he had Phyllis now, she was clearly capable of taking care of her own finances, and add her income to whatever was gained by selling the house and the expenses shed by no longer having it and he'd be sure to do fine.
"Tell Charlize I said, 'Hi.'" he said.
"I will," I'm not sure if my relief came through in my voice now that I could say something that wasn't a lie.
"I'll see you soon," I somehow doubted that, "And if you change your mind that's fine." More double talk. it did, at least, means some of what he was indicating. If I were to change my mind he would be there for me, but the "fine" was something I new better than to take at face value. It meant if I changed my mind he'd grudgingly do the things necessary to accommodate my return. That's not what "fine" is supposed to mean, but it's what it meant here.
"Don't worry about me," I said. A dangerously honest sincere request. God knew what it would mean once put through my father's internal decoder. "It'll be great," an outright lie and so therefore probably safe. "I love you, dad." True.
We shook hands, then I got on the plane.
[Edith and Ben Index]
Oh, and I found my copy of Twilight. It was exactly where I thought it was, making all of the searching unnecessary, it was just deeper than I would have thought possible.