Benjamin Sweetwine / Dad Quotes in I’ll Give You the Sun
[Jude] scoots over so we’re shoulder to shoulder. This is us. Our pose. The smush. It’s even how we are in the ultrasound photo they took of us inside Mom and how I had us in the picture Fry ripped up yesterday. Unlike most everyone else on earth, from the very first cells of us, we were together, we came here together. This is why no one hardly notices that Jude does most of the talking for both of us, why we can only play piano with all four of our hands on the keyboard and not at all alone, why we can never do Rochambeau because not once in thirteen years have we chosen differently. It’s always: two rocks, two papers, two scissors. When I don’t draw us like this, I draw us as half-people.
The calm of the smush floods me. She breathes in and I join her. Maybe we’re too old to still do this, but whatever. I can see her smiling even though I’m looking straight ahead. We exhale together, then inhale together, exhale, inhale, in and out, out and in, until not even the trees remember what happened in the woods yesterday, until Mom’s and Dad’s voices turn from mad to music, until we’re not only one age, but one complete and whole person.
A week after Dad’s forgotten birthday, with the rain beating the crap out of the house, Mom and Dad seat Jude and me in the frozen part the living room no one ever sits in to inform us that Dad’s temporarily moving down to the Lost Cove Hotel. […] Mom tells us he’ll be renting a studio apartment by the week until they can work out some issues they’re having.
Even though we haven’t spoken in forever, I can feel Jude’s heart clenching and unclenching inside my chest with mine.
“What issues?” she asks, but after that the rain gets so loud I can’t hear what anyone’s saying anymore. I’m convinced the storm’s going to bust down the walls. Then it does and I’m remembering Dad’s dream because it’s happening. I watch as the wind sweeps everything off the shelves: knickknacks, books, a vase of purple flowers. No one else notices. I grip the armrests of the chair tight.
(Family Portrait: Assume the Crash Position)
I can hear Mom’s voice again. It’s calm, too calm, yellow fluttering birds that don’t belong in this life-bucking tempest. “We still love each other very much,” she says. “We just both need some space right now.” She looks at Dad. “Benjamin?”
Dad drove us to the post office to mail off the applications. We couldn’t find a parking spot so Dad and Noah waited in the car while I went in. That’s when I did it. I just did it.
I only mailed mine.
I took from my brother the thing he wanted most in the world. What kind of person does that?
Not that it matters, but I went back to the post office the next day, ran all the way there, but the garbage had been emptied. All his dreams got taken out with the trash. Mine went straight to CSA.
I kept telling myself I would tell Noah and Dad. I would tell them at breakfast, after school, at dinner, tomorrow, on Wednesday. I would tell Noah in time so he could reapply, but I didn’t. I was so ashamed—the kind that feels like suffocating—and the longer I waited, the more the shame grew and the more impossible it got to admit what I’d done. Guilt grew too, like a disease, like every disease. There weren’t enough diseases in Dad’s library. Days kept passing, then weeks, and then, it was too late. I was too scared if I confessed, I’d lose Dad and Noah forever, too cowardly to face it, to fix it, to make it right.
This is why my mother destroys everything I make. This is why she can’t forgive me.
“How do you feel about moving? Not out of Lost Cove but to another house. […] A houseboat.” I can’t decide what’s more amazing: the words coming out of Dad’s mouth or the expression on his face. […] “I think we need an adventure. The three of us together.”
“You want us to live on a boat?” I ask.
“He wants us to live on an ark, ” Noah answers, awe in his voice.
“I do!” Dad laughs. “That’s exactly right. I’ve always wanted to do this.” Really? News to me. Um, who is this man? “I just did some research and you will not believe what’s for sale down by the marina.” He goes to his briefcase and pulls out some pictures he must’ve printed from the Internet.
“Oh wow,” I say. This is no rowboat. It is an ark.
“An architect owned it previously,” Dad tells us. “Renovated the whole thing, did all the woodwork and stained glass herself. Incredible, isn’t it? Two stories, three bedrooms, two baths, great kitchen, skylights, wraparound decks on both floors. It’s a floating paradise.”
Noah and I must register the name of the floating paradise at the exact same moment, because we both blurt out, imitating Mom, “Embrace the mystery, Professor.”
The name of this houseboat is The Mystery.
I glance around the room, sensing Mom so much, certain this is what she wanted. She knew we each held an essential part of the story that needed to be shared. She wanted me to know she saw the sculptures and only Guillermo could tell me that. She wanted Guillermo and Dad to hear the truth from Noah. She wanted me to tell Noah about CSA and maybe I wouldn’t have found the courage if I hadn’t come to Guillermo, if I hadn’t picked up a chisel and hammer. She wanted us in Guillermo’s life, and he in ours, because we are, each one of us for the other, a key to a door that otherwise would’ve remained locked forever.
Our connection is still so natural, though now, for me, it’s tinged with guilt because of Dad. I turn back to my clay model, start caressing my mother’s shoulder into shape, her upper arm. “It’s like some part of me knew,” I tell him, working the bend of her elbow. “I don’t know what I knew, but I knew I was supposed to be here. You made me feel better too. So much better. I was so locked in.”
“This is what I think,” he says. “I think maybe Dianna, she break your bowls, so you come find a stone carver.”
I look at him. “Yeah,” I say, the back of my neck tingling. “Me too.”
Because who knows? Who knows anything? Who knows who’s pulling the strings? Or what is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life? Another son might not have heard his mother’s last words as a prophecy but as drug-induced gibberish, forgotten soon after. Another girl might not have told herself a love story about a drawing her brother made. Who knows if Grandma really thought the first daffodils of spring were lucky or if she just wanted to go on walks with me through the woods? Who knows if she even believed in her bible at all or if she just preferred a world where hope and creativity and faith trump reason? Who knows if there are ghosts (sorry, Grandma) or just the living, breathing memories of your loved ones inside you, speaking to you, trying to get your attention by any means necessary? Who knows where the hell Ralph is? (Sorry, Oscar.) No one knows.
So we grapple with the mysteries, each in our own way.