Pretending

by Marlena Chertock

Revision:

Let’s go back to when I was five,
with imagination games and make-believing we get along.
I’ll be the lion cub hiding in the bed, you’ll be the lion tamer
wanting to get rid of the suspicious lumps my body made as I hid under the covers.
I see lumps in my bed, but I’m really tired. And you’d press part of your weight on the bed,
so I’d know you were really pretending
to sleep.  Then I’d shift my shoulders or give a kick.  These lumps are
making noises!  These lumps are moving!
I better check what they are. You’d pull the covers off quick and say, It’s a baby
lion cub, and I’d pretend along, growling and licking my paws.

Let’s go back to when I was crawling on the couch, running away
from you stomping with your knees and fists, the rumbling of an alligator.
I swam through the mats you put on the floor, but was caught in your tight alligator-arm-claws.
Tickle claw, you’d say, trapping and tickling me,
and I couldn’t get away.  I didn’t want to.
Let’s go back to when you wouldn’t sit me down and reprimand, demand I listen
and repeat yourself like you couldn’t get enough, trapping me
like an alligator catches smaller animals.  Don’t listen to your mom,
she brainwashes you.  I hope you stand up to her. You thought the more you said that
the more you shone in my eyes.  But you were trying
to brainwash me too.

Now I visit places you want me, or you, to see,
driving hours instead of climbing sofas, hiding
in the seat next to you instead of underneath your covers.  It’s those rare moments
when you’re not fully aware of yourself,
when you’re not yelling or trying out a new form of blame
that I can bear to be around you.  But then you ask your wife, Where’d you put the keys
this time? It’s never your fault.
I tell you about school, my friends, but never me.
I want it easier and full of pretend games,
make-believe we get along, that’s it, pretend.
Until I can’t play along anymore, and I wait out your anger episode
in the bathroom, because I can’t explain how it makes me feel, fear, maybe,
and the tears plop onto the gray bathroom tiles,
my dog licks them up, looks up, waits for more.

***

Let’s go back to when I was five, with
make-believe games and that we got
along. I’ll be the lion cub hiding
in the bed, the fish
lay-swimming on the water-mat, you’ll be the lion tamer
wanting to get rid of the suspicious lumps
my body made as I hid under the covers, or the fisherman
catching me as a fish. I see lumps in my bed,
but I’m really tired. And you’d press part of your weight on the bed,
so I’d know you were really pretending
to sleep. Then I’d shift my shoulders or give a kick. These lumps are
making noises! These lumps are moving!
I better check
what they are. You’d pull the covers off quick and say, It’s a baby
lion cub, and I’d pretend along, growling
and licking my paws. Who was playing
with who?

Let’s go back
to when you wouldn’t sit me down
and reprimand, demand I listen and
repeat yourself like you couldn’t get enough
of your argument, the more you repeated it
the more it made it right. The more you insulted my mom
in front of me, the more
you felt you shone
in my eyes. Let’s go back
to when I was crawling
on the couch, running away
from you stomping
on your knees and fists, the rumbling of an alligator.
I swam through the mats on the floor, but was caught
in your tight alligator-arm-claws. Tickle
claw, you’d say, and I couldn’t get away.
I didn’t want to.

Now I visit places you want me, or you, to see,
driving hours instead of climbing sofas, hiding
in the seat next to you instead of
underneath your covers. It’s those rare moments
when you’re not fully aware of yourself, when
you can’t focus on yourself or your actions,
that I can bear to be around
you. I tell you
about school, my friends, but never
me. I want it easier
and full of pretend
games, make-
believe we get along, that’s it, pretend.

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