She held the lightly crumpled paper in her hands, looking at it with a mixture of melancholy and bemusement and pride and, oddly, satisfaction. On the top was written, in immature script, “MY FAMILY,” all caps, the “F” slightly eschew, the “y” two lines barely intersecting. My Family. Beneath this proclamation two people, though you could hardly call them human. Figures, really. Two nearly human figures. The first an ovular torso upon which two black, lidless eyes rested, and beneath them a thin wide mouth. Too wide. Wider than the torso even. Like an anthropophagus from an old illuminated manuscript. Extending from this face, this face-body, two spindly legs from the bottom, horizontal lines at the ends suggesting feet, and two overlong arms from the sides with fingers, too many fingers; 7, 8 maybe, protruding out from small circular hands. Next to this grotesquerie was another figure, this one more recognizably humanoid. This one had a head at the very least, a small smiling, long haired circle sitting atop a larger one, from which the appendages extended in much the same fashion; fingers over-long and winding -- too many, far too many, for a normal hand. The fingers reached, reached toward the worm-like digits of the other figure. My Family.
Perhaps for Him she drew different figures. Or perhaps they were the same. Did she draw HER too when she drew “Family?” She didn’t want to think about it. Her Family was She and her. What her daughter thought of Him and of Her, Other, she didn’t care. Or maybe she did. Maybe she cared quite a bit. But the teacher had said draw your family and she had drawn two, just two, just She and her. At that She had smiled, smiled wide...wide, too wide. Wide like the strange thin smile her daughter had drawn for herself, extending almost beyond the reaches of her own face. She thought about other pictures. Pictures from before. Pictures of three. She still sometimes found pictures of three that the girl had drawn. He was always largest, largest. He was taller, true, but it bothered her still Him so large on the page, towering like he did. Big. It was strange to have feelings about circles and lines. They were pigments on paper, that was all, that was all. Was it? My Family.
It was just two, just two. There were others, of course: her mother, her father, her sisters, her aunts and uncles. But really it was just two. The others were far away and it wasn’t the same. They were family, not Family. My Family. She had Family, big F, around places too, but then they were Family big f only not both little and big, not family And Family. Sometimes it was just one, when she was with Him… Him and HER. Just She. And She had hims and some hers too for good measure some for longer than others. Was this enough? For a long time she wasn’t sure. She remembered a time when she needed so much more, when the loneliness ached at her, fresh and raw, a single circle on a page, hollow. But lately the circle had started to mean something different, something new. It was complete and whole and went on forever. It was unyielding, impenetrable, solid. A smiling face inside a circle, with fingers, many fingers, to hold and grab, and another circle beside it. Maybe that WAS enough. My Family.
It wasn’t that She still loved Him. In fact, quite the opposite. She remembered loving Him, though. No, that isn’t precisely true either. She remembered that once she loved Him. There’s a difference in that. Because as time went on, She found it harder and harder to remember WHY precisely She had loved Him, what the love had felt like. When She tried to recreate the love in her imagination, tried to remember the three and even before that the two, THEM, She couldn’t. She wasn’t sure if she had done it on purpose, if some part of her circle had grown hard as iron, or whether like magicians’ rings pulled apart, She simply saw that the two entwined circles that They had once appeared to be were revealed as false in the end. That they had only appeared whole together when the magician held them in his hand, but when the magic was gone all that was left was one whole circle and one circle that was broken. She was the whole circle. She knew that now. Perhaps she had known that his circle was broken the whole time, but played along with the illusion like a knowing adult watching a magic show at a child’s birthday party: clapping politely and smiling, albeit somewhat superciliously, so as not to ruin it. For the children. The child. My Family.
Was there any harm in it, She had rationalized. Her circle was whole and it was fun to believe in magic. That magic was a lie, She knew. No not Magic, but magic, the little magic, the false magic, the illusion. That magic was a lie. The real Magic She knew was true but Magic didn’t have a place in her life anymore than He did. If She could have used her Magic, the Magic that was now lost to her, the Magic she had turned her back upon, to make both circles whole, would She have? That was the real question. The question that had plagued her for months after the circles were broken, or after the broken circle had separated from the whole one at any rate. Maybe Magic could have kept the illusion going for a little bit longer, but a broken circle can’t be fixed by something as fickle as Magic. Her Mother had tried to tell her that. Her True Mother, Màthair. My Family.
Màthair had said once that it was pointless to love anyone who wasn’t Family. That was right before she had left her with her new family, the family She called family but never Family, the family who had raised her and loved her with the kind of love a family but not Family can give. Family could only ever be blood. She knew it. Màthair had known it even as she left her with her new family for reasons that always changed after every telling, and were never quite clear. Hers was a Family of blood, a Family of Magic. Her daughter would have it too, She knew. Of course He didn’t know about Magic. How could He? It wasn’t His to know. My Family, mine.
Things were different years ago, eons ago, worlds long gone. They didn’t have things like joint custody and state law to infringe on the supreme authority of the Family. One day, She had always known, her daughter would meet her Family, would be with her Family, but that day was a long way away. Still the question of it had niggled at the back of her brain since the day she looked at a urine stained piece of plastic and her life was changed. Was that the reason why the circles came apart in the end? Perhaps it was the other women? No, she knew that no such a simple answer could be found in a complicated question like this one. They say that it takes two to make a marriage and to break one, so perhaps her circle was broken just as His was and it was only pride that made her think it was otherwise. But no, no it was more than just pride. She was whole and he was not. He had never been whole the entirety of their relationship and She knew it now. Not just knew it, but KNEW it, Kenned it.
“Do you Ken him?” Màthair asked her once years ago and she had said that she had. No not that she had.
She had said, “I know Him mom! I wouldn’t be marrying Him if I didn’t know Him,” indignantly, petulantly, a child’s answer to a mother’s question.
She had not answered the question. Màthair had asked “Do you Ken him?” and she had answered that she knew, not that she Kenned, do you see? Màthair had asked a question about Magic and gotten an answer of the mundane. Sometimes you lie to the ones you love. My Family.
The truth was she hadn’t used Magic to Ken him because this was a time when she had left Magic behind and the only magic she believed in was love. False magic, illusion. Magic scared her. That was a truth. It was as true today as it was when she shouted at her Màthair. Magic required a price. Sometimes the price to Ken a person was more Kenning. This doesn’t seem such a heavy price to pay unless you have felt the weight of knowing another man’s soul, which is what Kenning is. To Ken a man is to know them inside and out, to know every detail of their past, present, and, sometimes, future, things even they themselves have forgotten: the smell of their grandmother’s casket on the day she was buried. It is a terrible burden to Ken a person, it is a Magic that is not performed lightly. Too much Kenning, among many other things, had driven her away from Magic in the first place. Too much Kenning is one of the things that had made her leave them. My Family.
He had been with others when they were married, He had hit her once or twice, He had shouted at her more times than She could count. But in the end, in the very end, She knew that it wasn’t any of these things that had caused their final separation. Silly her, foolish her, would have stayed with Him for the sake of the girl, their daughter, determined not to be like her Màthair, not to just leave, would have stayed if not for one night, angry at the way He yelled at her, spiteful, She had Kenned Him. In Kenning Him, She had seen the broken circle She thought was a man: permanently, irreparably broken. She had seen things of His childhood that He had mentioned in passing with no real emotional weight. She had assumed that the emotion had been drained from Him after years of neglect and abuse at the hands of His father, but the truth was more horrible than that. She had imagined that her love was enough magic to make Him whole, but She hadn’t had a clue how broken the circle was. No amount of magic or Magic or therapy even can repair some holes. It wasn’t that He had strayed even though He loved her because He couldn’t control his sexual desires, it wasn’t that He hit her even though He loved her because He had been hit and violence begets violence, it wasn’t that He shouted at her even though He loved her because He was never taught how to communicate, it was that He had never loved her at all. My…
Not only had He had never loved her, He was incapable of love. The love He had shown her was love that He had learned how to emulate, to perform. The person He had become was a performance. He wasn’t real at all. The real Him, the Him she had Kenned, was nothing, nothing at all. An empty shell, a hollow bowl, a broken circle. A psychologist would have a name for it: sociopath. She knew the word, but felt uncomfortable using it. The other term: antisocial personality disorder, She couldn’t abide by either. It felt very clinical and Hollywood. But there it was. She had been on the internet a lot in the days following the Kenning. Learning words, learning names for the things she had experienced, the things She had seen. He was very good. Good in that He had never been diagnosed, even as He had developed an awareness to what He was. Good in that He had conned His way out of situations that would have otherwise looked bad to those who would conduct a conventional background check. He was clean. When the court counselor said they would recommend joint custody to the judge, something that was standard procedure, She was not surprised, nor did She try to fight it. There was nothing, NOTHING in any record that could convince any family, not Family, court to rule in her favor. She couldn’t exactly submit Kenning into evidence. So her time with her daughter would be split, for now. Half and half, balanced just as he liked it, cold and impersonal, numbers on a page: 50/50. For now her daughter would have two homes. My Family.
It took him 6 months after they separated to find Her, Other, though He had fucked so many in between. They married two months after the divorce was final a year later. She sometimes wondered how long He would keep Her, how long she would stick around. Their daughter loved Her, that was evident. For her daughter’s sake She hoped that she would stick around. He was better when He had someone there to take care of Him. It was also true that in the back of her mind She knew that though it seemed a long way off, it was only 11 more years. In 11 years her daughter would be told of her Family. In 11 years She and her daughter would go back to them. In 11 years she would give up the life She had now and return to the life She had before. She knew it. She had known it since the day She found out She was pregnant. It had come as a surprise to her, the child. She knew what having a child meant and She wasn’t ready, not yet. She had assumed it was her own fault, that She must have missed a pill. Kenning had shown her He had switched them.. She had thought him so helpful bringing her the pills in the morning, so considerate. He had known all along what He was doing. Building trust. He wanted a child to carry on His name, a son. A girl was alright too. Just one. One was fiscally responsible, He thought. Just one. A daughter. My Family.
Four hands, long fingers stretching, stretching. Two circles, whole and complete side by side: one large and one small. My Family.