In May, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Amanda Caverzasi's essay A New Picture. We asked readers to tell us about a time they decided to "fake it until you make it." Below is Sarah Turner's response.
Fake It Till You Break
by Sarah Turner
One Saturday morning, a few months after my separation, I insisted we go to the beach. My sons were grumpy and restless, bouncing balls off the walls, arguing about nothing. I looked outside: never mind the wind, the clouds covered the sky like a soft grey wool. I packed the cooler and dragged my children out of the house.
I hadn't slept through the night in months, falling apart as soon as the boys were in bed, wondering what kind of a mess I'd made of our lives. Still, I thought, we needed to have some fun. If I didn't feel happy, at least I could fake it. I could pretend for the boys' sake.
The boys bickered in the back seat for the entire one hour drive, all the way from the suburbs, along the curving highway, to the wide, log-strewn beach.
At the start of our separation, their dad and I had rented a second apartment. We took turns being at the house with the kids and being alone in the sparse basement suite a few blocks away. This seemed like the least disruptive way for us to have the time apart we needed.
I'm happier, I told myself, lying stunned on the cold, white tiles of the kitchen floor in the new apartment. This is better, I said as I tried to fill my empty hours. I took up jogging, filled journals, drank wine with my friends. The weeks with the kids felt overwhelmingly busy and hard. We were all trying to learn the steps to a new and complicated choreography, and we were all stumbling.
The beach parking lot was nearly empty when we pulled in. I popped the trunk. "Let's do this!" I said with false gaiety. I tried to divvy up the load. "You carry the cooler," I said to my eight-year-old, but he was already off, having found a wooden railing to climb on. The five-year-old carried the chips, burrowing his hand up to his elbow. I carried everything else.
This is fun, I repeated to myself, weighed down with the backpack and the lunch and the beach blanket and the plastic buckets and shovels. Wind whipped around us. Whitecaps glittered on the grey sea.
My older son tried to grab the chip bag from the younger. In slow motion the chips and the bag and the boys tumbled into the sand.
I tripped over a log, fell hard on my butt. The cooler landed upside down. The beach ball blew away. We watched it bounce down the sandy beach. I started to cry. The boys looked at me, at each other, hesitant.
Until now, I had promised myself that I wouldn't burden them with my grief. Yet here I was, crying on the beach, unable to hold it in anymore. "This is really sad," I said, my voice unsteady. Wind rustled the long grass that grew up from the sandy banks.
The boys came closer.
"I think we all miss Dad," I said.
"We're not even a family anymore," my eight-year-old said, tearing up. My heart shattered. He came close enough to hug. I wanted to correct him: of course we're still a family. Sometimes families live in two houses. But I knew what he meant. Life as we had known it—the four of us around the dinner table, two even teams for card games, divide-and-conquer parenting—that was over.
"You know," I said, "It's okay to be sad about sad things." As I said it I felt the truth of it hit me. I had thought it was easier, or better, to try to fake happiness. As if we could somehow bypass the grief and go straight to a new, brighter future. But the truth of what we'd lost was always there, tugging at the corners of our busy lives. Desperate to be acknowledged. Faking it was not going to get us through this. Honesty was.
And so there, on that windy beach, we began.
Months later we went to the beach again, just the three of us, on a perfect sunny day. The boys carried things without me asking. We waded in the shallows, hunted for silver dollars, shrieked and ran from tiny scuttling crabs. We ate ice cream in the sun and collapsed together on the beach blanket, tired and sun-baked. A new, true kind of happy.
Sarah Turner's writing has been published in EVENT: Poetry and Prose, Utne Reader and the anthology Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food. She is a graduate of the Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University and lives in Port Moody, British Columbia.