Chapter no 71

Anxious People

They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that de1ned us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.


The girl always thought that the weirdest thing was that she could never be angry with her mom. The glass surrounding that feeling was impossible to break. After the funeral she did the cleaning, pulling empty gin bottles from all the hiding places she never had the heart to tell her mom she already knew about. Perhaps that’s the last lifeline an addicted parent clings to, the idea that their child probably doesn’t know. As if the chaos could possibly be hidden. It can’t even be buried, the daughter thought, it just gets handed down.

Once her mom slurred in her ear: “Personality is just the sum of our experiences. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So don’t you worry, my little princess, you won’t get your heart broken because you come from a broken home. You won’t grow up to be a romantic, because children from broken homes don’t believe in everlasting love.” She fell asleep on her daughter’s shoulder on the sofa, and her daughter covered her with a blanket and wiped the spilled gin from the Aoor. “You’re wrong, Mom,” she whispered in the darkness, and she was right. No one robs a bank for their children’s sake unless they’re a romantic.

Because the girl grew up and had girls of her own. One monkey, one frog. She tried to be a good mom, even though she didn’t have an instruction manual. A

good wife, a good employee, a good person. She was terri1ed of failing every second of every day, but she did genuinely believe that everything was going well for a while. Fairly well, anyway. She relaxed, she wasn’t prepared, so in1delity and divorce hit her hard in the back of the head. Life knocked her Aat. That happens to most of us at some point. Maybe you, too.

A few weeks ago, on the way home from school, the elk and the monkey and the frog all got oP the bus as usual and started to walk across the bridge. Halfway across the girls stopped, their mom didn’t notice at 1rst, and when she looked back they were ten yards behind her. The monkey and the frog had bought a padlock, they’d seen people attaching them to the railings of bridges in other towns on the Internet. “If you do that, you lock the love in forever and then you never stop loving each other!”

Their mom felt crushed, because she thought the girls were worried she was going to stop loving them after the divorce. That everything was going to be diPerent now, that she’d stop being theirs. It took ten minutes of sobbing and confused explanations before the monkey and the frog patiently cupped their mom’s cheeks in their hands and whispered: “We’re not worried about losing you, Mom. We just want you to know that you’re never going to lose us.”

The lock clicked as they 1xed it in place. The monkey threw the key over the railing and it spun down toward the water, and all three of them cried. “Forever,” the mom whispered. “Forever,” the girls repeated. As they were walking away the youngest daughter admitted that when she 1rst saw that thing about the padlocks online, she thought they were doing it because they were worried someone might steal the bridge. Then she wondered if they might be worried that someone was going to steal the padlock. Her big sister had to explain it to her, but managed to do so without making her little sister feel stupid. Their mom couldn’t help thinking that she and their dad had at least gotten something right, because the girls were capable of admitting when they were wrong, and of forgiving others when they got things wrong.

They had pizza that evening, the girls’ favorite. When they’d fallen asleep on their mattresses on the Aoor of the little apartment that cost six thousand 1ve hundred a month, and which she at that particular moment had no idea how she was going to pay the next month’s rent on, the mom sat up on her own in the

darkness. It wasn’t long to Christmas, then it would be New Year, she knew how much the girls were looking forward to the 1reworks. It was tearing her apart that they still trusted her, unaware of how many things she’d failed at. When dawn came she packed their backpacks, and a notebook fell out of her eldest daughter’s. She was about to put it back, but it fell open at a page that began with the words: “The Pvincess mith Tmo Mingdoms.” At 1rst the mom felt annoyed, because she had spent their whole lives trying to persuade her daughters not to want to be princesses—she hoped they’d want to be warriors. And because the girls loved their mom, of course they did as she wanted, or at least pretended to, then did the exact opposite, because it’s the duty of children not to pay the slightest bit of attention to their parents. The eldest daughter had been told to write a fairy tale of her own for school, so she wrote “The Princess with Two Kingdoms.” It was about a princess who lived in a big, beautiful castle, and one night the princess found a hole in the Aoor under her bed, and down inside the hole was a secret, magical world full of strange, fantastical creatures, dragons and trolls and other things her daughter must have thought up herself. Things so fantastical that the imagination and Aight from reality that lay behind them crushed the mother, because all she kept thinking was: Hom tevvible must youv veal life feel to vequive this much… esca9e? All the creatures were happy, they lived in peace, and there was no pain in their little world. But the princess in the story soon uncovered a terrible truth: that the magical realm she had found, where all her new friends lived, was actually located between two castles in two diPerent kingdoms. One of them was ruled by a king, the other by a queen, and they were 1ghting a horrible war against each other. They sent their armies to 1ght and 1re terrible weapons, but the walls of both kingdoms were too tall and strong to give way, and in the end the girl realized that the war wasn’t going to destroy either of them. It would just ruin and kill everything that lay between them. And that was when she learned the truth: that the king and queen were her parents. She was their princess, and the entire war was about her, they were each trying to beat the other with the sole aim of winning her back. When the mom read the last words of the story, her daughters were just starting to wake up on their mattresses, and everything that was worth anything inside her shattered. The story ended with the princess saying good-bye to all her new friends and

setting oP, alone. She disappeared into the darkness one night and never came back again. Because she knew that if she disappeared, there would be nothing left to 1ght over. That way she would be able to save both kingdoms and the realm in between.


When her daughters had gotten up, the mom had breakfast with them, trying to act as if nothing were wrong. She dropped them oP at school, then walked all the way back, out onto the bridge, and stood there in the middle of it, holding on to the padlock as tightly as she could.

She didn’t 1ght her ex-husband for her old home, she didn’t argue with her former boss about her job, she didn’t clash with their lawyer, didn’t 1re any weapons, didn’t cause chaos. For the sake of the children. She did all she could to prevent any of the adults’ mistakes from aPecting them. That doesn’t explain why she tried to rob a bank. It doesn’t excuse it. But maybe you’ve had the occasional really bad idea, too. Maybe you deserved a second chance. Maybe you’re not alone in that.


On the morning of the day before New Year’s Eve she left home with a pistol. That same evening, right now, she is walking back. A few hours after the hostage drama that the town will be talking about for many, many years to come, the mom picks up her daughters and asks: “Have you had a nice time at Dad’s?”

“Yes, Mom! How about you?” the youngest daughter asks.

The mom smiles, thinks for a moment, then shrugs: “Oh, you know… nothing much has happened. Everything’s been the same as usual.”

But as they cross the bridge the mom puts one hand gently on her eldest daughter’s shoulder and whispers quickly into her ear: “You’re my princess, and my warrior, you can be both at the same time—promise me that you’ll never forget that. I know I’m not always such a great mom, but the fact that your dad and I are getting divorced isn’t you… you must never think, even for a single second that this is… youv…” The eldest daughter nods, blinking away tears. The

younger calls to them to hurry up and they run after her, their mom wipes her face and asks if they’d like pizza for supper, and the younger one cries out: “Do bears poop in the woods, or what?!”

Just after they fall asleep that night, in their mom’s new home in the apartment of a kind and just-crazy-enough old lady called Estelle, the eldest daughter takes hold of her mom’s hand and whispers: “You’re a good mom, Mom. Don’t worry so much. It’s okay.”


And there they 1nd it, at last: peace for the realm between the two kingdoms. All the magical, wonderful, made-up creatures can sleep safe and sound. Monkeys, frogs, elks, old ladies, everyone.

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