Tearing Away the Plastic
by Theresa Reichman
I love fireflies. Or, as I always called them as a child, “lightning bugs.” Like any good Pennsylvanian girl, I can clearly recall my first time catching them. I was young. Probably around 4 years old. I sprinted barefoot through my yard, chasing the blips of light – pausing like a cat about to pounce when their lights flickered out – and then scooping them out of the air when that golden light reappeared. I had a mason jar with a makeshift lid of Saran wrap with toothpick air holes to ensure viability.
I remember telling my sister that I was going to set them on my nightstand and use them as a nightlight. And I remember my horror when she informed me that if I did that, they would wither away and die. And I remember — tearfully — I unscrewed the cap and peeled away the plastic. I watched as the fireflies took flight into the endless sky and I took solace knowing that tomorrow would bring new fireflies.
I’ve been told that I have a rose-tinted view of divorce.
I don’t think that’s true. I know how painful the process can be. I have seven solid years of childhood spent watching my parents slowly tear at the stitches that bound them together. I saw the tears, the pain, the resentment. I felt the heat of angry words and felt the old scars ripped fresh again. I cried. I hid. I hurt. There is no glory in divorce. There is only ugliness and emptiness.
I used to tell my mom that I wanted to paint the house white. It was a reoccurring request that I made only after the worst fights had reigned over our house.
“Can we please paint the house white? Can we please have a clean canvas?”
While I don’t recall when things returned to good again with the clarity of my first time catching lightning bugs, I know that happiness returned.
Today, I have two wonderful stepparents who fit my respective parents with all the ease they never found with each other. I have a creative and insightful stepmother who always finds clever ways to circumnavigate my father’s smartass side and always manages to see the humor in it. I have a sensitive and respectful stepfather who can calmly pat my mom on the shoulder and reminds her to breathe because the sky is not in fact falling.
I have memories of my daughter’s first birthday where my parents and stepparents meshed beautifully into four grandparents who doted on my girl. Four grandparents who talked and laughed well after the little one was asleep. Four parents who danced at weddings and marveled at growing children. Four people who bid each other farewell and genuinely couldn’t wait until they could all meet again.
And don’t get me started on the stepsiblings. I have one biological sister whom I adore. Now I have four very different and very wonderful stepsiblings, too. We play beer pong, we talk long into the night, we laugh over our parents’ cheesy jokes. We’re family.
A broken home can be a beautiful, colorful home. A broken home can be more whole than it ever was before. And perhaps the most peace-bearing aspect of all… I know my parents love each other. I know because I watched as they tearfully peeled away the plastic and they set each other free.