The pieces that I am
She didn't ask him (again) about it.
Honestly, it surprised him. The fact that she didn't ask, didn't pressure, didn't tease or beleaguer him. It was so un-Emily like, but he didn't dare mention it, because what would he say? 'Thank you for leaving it alone.'? She asked him the original question – did he love Gillian? What are you waiting for? And he'd (non)answered and for now at least, his (non)answer seemed to be enough.
She didn't ask him about it. And that wouldn't last forever, he knew. It was a short-lived reprieve, but he was in the short part of it, and he just wanted to enjoy the reprieve and not think about how long it would last.
Maybe he should be using this time, to prepare an adequate answer for her when she did ask. (What are you going to do about it, Dad?) But he couldn't rightly sort through it in his own head, and he had no idea how to sort it through enough to explain it to other people.
The problem was that what he needed to do to figure it out was to take it to Gillian, turn it inside out, let her examine it from every angle until she looked at him in just that way, and just like that – it was right-side in and in perfect order again.
If his mind was a hopeless tangle, then Gillian was a master seafarer – untying knots and showing him the rope, and then retying it all again and handing him back a net. (Now use it, Cal.) He loved that about her.
He loved Gillian. And because he loved her, he couldn't love her.
It was a particularly nasty tangle and it made sense in his head, but without Gillian it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever anywhere in the outside world. He loved her, but he didn't want that love to ever seem like something it wasn't. And that's what happened out in the real world. People put the word out there, they put the sentiment out there and it became twisted, substituted and shoved into holes it overflowed from or couldn't quite fill and suddenly you find yourself saying the word love but the taste it leaves in your mouth tells you that it meant something else entirely. Ownership. Obligation. Infatuation. Lust. Longing. Belonging.
None of those were what love really was, and he didn't want to ever look at her and think that she belonged to him. Or even him to her. She was Gillian. He didn't want his story to become hers, or her story to become his, he just wanted their lives to be like two books. Two stories that were placed next to each other on the shelf. Side-by-side. His story. And hers.
He loved her enough to recognize the fact that loving her would change him. Change her. Change them.
It already had changed him, because she was a vital part of the novelization of his life. She wasn't the letters, words, sentences or paragraphs, but she was a little bit of the syntax and the meaning. She was the filter that he read through, the lens that made all of those words make sense.
And how did he ever boil that sentiment down enough to explain it to his daughter?
Gillian was the antagonist and protagonist – the heroine and the supporting cast, depending on which part you were reading at the time. She wasn't the author, but maybe she was the ghost writer. She was everything to him and yet so wholly separate from him that he could look upon her in wonder.
Wonder and awe at who she was. Imagine about who she would be. Reverent remembrance about who she had been. And he knew that she could look on him in the same way, but once they spoke about it – once they put it out there for the world to see, interpret wrongly, judge and demean, it would never ever feel the same way again.
Maybe one day – one day he would have had his fill of loving her from afar. Maybe one day he would grow tired of their static devotion, and he would long for the thrill of change. Maybe that day he would be brave enough, strong enough to set out his love and defy the world – you will not change it. But today was not that day, and he loved her better from here – between his own bindings and covers, with his own words.
He loved her better when their stories were read side by side, two perspectives of one story. Her story helped him understand his own better and some small part of him hoped that the reverse was true. That when she deciphered his meaning, it added layers and subtext to her own. That when she took his thoughts, untangled and rewove them, she added ropes of her own seamlessly interwoven in.
He hoped that she understood. He hoped that her love for him was much the same as his was for her.
But he didn't need to ask. And she felt no obligation to answer. It was all there, between the lines.
"She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order." - Beloved