When we don’t think we can control some things we take charge of what we can. This is why the functionary fastidiously maintains a constant distance between his stapler and his tape dispenser, and why the abused child has a ritual for pajamas and tooth-brushing and curling up tight that he enacts like the body’s incantation against a doorknob turned in the gathered dark.
I am gone from them most days now and this is how it will be, and so when I am home I make bread. Isaac has stomachaches all the time. This is probably because he isn’t able to pretend, like his older brothers, that the divorce hasn’t torn him straight down the middle.
He probably hurts because his parents are no longer married, but all I know to do is make bread. Isaac helps me. He measures out the flour, he stirs in salt and yeast, he drizzles water over my kneading hands. Many hours later, after the first and second risings, he helps me bake it. I take a small solace in knowing that it is gluten-free and easier on his gut. Mostly I give thanks that something from my hands nourishes him, since so much else I have done has wounded him.
I was so proud, after the first edible loaf (it is a simpler recipe, but I am simpler), that I must have asked over and over, as my boys wolfed down sandwiches made with its thick, warm slices, if it’s good. “Dad,” four year-old Isaiah admonished, “stop asking if it’s good. I told you that already.”
Of course I want not just the bread but all of it to be good. Man does not live by bread alone. Christ said that and so it must be true, though it makes no sense to us now, what with most bread being a ruinous mix of sugar and gut-clinging gluten and bleached flour. This bread is good, and so I turn it into a Bible lesson, and explain that we really could live on this bread.
(I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t know if most things I say are true. If I wait to find out, my sons will write memoirs lamenting that their father never spoke to them.)
Our bodies could live on this bread, I say, but there’s more to us than these bodies, more that we need. I have to tell them what we need is the word of God, the God-breathed word, the theopneustos, the Word. I have to tell them this because it is true, but the thing is that I have no grounds to say it, because most of my life I haven’t lived it. God hates divorce. Where were those Bible words when you consented to the judge’s decree, mister?
But somebody has to tell them, and it might as well be their father.
So I tell them and we hold hands and pray and I feel like a filthy hypocrite, which is how I’ve felt for years when I pray, though at least it’s out in the open now, which is like slicing open an infection. It hurts worse than you imagine it will, but at least its on the outside of you now, splayed open, and any pain is worth that, to have the bloody rot outside and drying.
It would give some people satisfaction — perhaps me most of all — were I to pour salt in it, but I need that salt for the bread. It can’t alone sustain them, or take away the bellyaches, but if nothing else it will keep them going one more day.
One more day is all any of us has right now, and so it will have to do, and maybe that’s the point of that verse anyway, that the daily dose of bread is not alone enough to carry you the one more day you’re stumbling through, not without a word or two or three from God whispered over it.