By James Seals
On a Monday morning, my girlfriend and I sat in my car, staring out the driver’s side window, scrutinizing a rainbow. No rain fell and the sun had abandoned the sky. But still, a rainbow appeared. I wondered what the phenomenon looked like to my girlfriend. Nationalgeographic.com (NG) states that every person sees their own rainbow because light bounces off raindrops and reflects at different angles so no two people see it exactly the same.
I found the end of a rainbow, once, I said.
My girlfriend’s big, brilliant eyes widened and her smile gleamed. Tell me, tell me, she said.
One high school day when on the football field practicing, I noticed a rainbow inside a wooded area 100 yards away. A few of my teamates and I still believed in the old Irish leprechaun’s secret: a pot of gold waiting inside at the rainbow's end. I wanted those riches. We raced toward the gold. Our cleats flung dirt. A defensive linemen tossed an offensive player to the ground. A running back stiff-armed facemasks. I hurdled a diving player. Hoots resounded.
I entered the woods first and stood within the rays--although NG says that nobody can ever reach the end of a rainbow because as you move the rainbow moves too. But I was inside of it. My friends told me so. I had no reason to disagree other than having failed to find riches. I had searched everywhere: I turned leaves; I flipped logs; I dug my fingernails deep into the black soil; I found no gold, no evidence of the German myth of God’s bowl--nor did I transform into a woman, as early Europeans believed happened when one passes beneath a rainbow.
For years I felt annoyance; I was cheated out of treasure. How many people find the end of a rainbow? I had stood upon Greenland’s belief of the hem of God’s garment. I had stood in God’s promise that terrestrial life would never again be destroyed by flood (Genesis 9.13-15). I had destroyed insects’ homes within the gates opened by Saint Peter to allow another soul into heaven. But I have lived an emotional kind of hell without my treasure.
"My rainbow should have shown me how to make marriage my top priority: wife first, children second, work last. My rainbow should have told me to not keep score, to play with my partner, to forget ifs and buts."
The treasure that I really needed in high school was the knowledge of how to cope with my father. How to manage his swinging hands and slashing belts. How to hide the bruises and cuts. How to overcome his pushing, choking, grabbing, and kicking my mother and sisters. Today I can simply visit kidshealth.org to read: How to Handle Abuse. But that article has come too late for me as I now fight my own temptations to use these learned tactics.
In early adulthood, I needed advice on ways to keep my first then second wife happy. My rainbow should have shown me how to make marriage my top priority: wife first, children second, work last. My rainbow should have told me to not keep score, to play with my partner, to forget ifs and buts. Men can visit menshealth.com for such advice: 8 Simple Ways to Make Your Marriage Last. Perhaps my wife would not have sought a better partner during our marriage if I had read that piece.
Today, I wish my rainbow had taught me to deal with grief. There are about 644,000,000 web results that can assist in handling loss. I have struggled with the emotional suffering in being an absent father. I may never truly know my kids. They live in different parts of the country, near their mother. I have missed their first day of school--their first crush, dance, driver’s test. So much more. I know our distance is because of me. I have promised to make things right. But I have failed at that too. Though I have accepted all blame for our detachment, I still have bouts of sadness; I have tears.
On Saturday after scrutinizing the rainbow, I pondered my missed treasure. My conclusion: I hope nobody happens upon a pot of gold, some secrect stash of riches. I believe the absence of something material gave me the strength to deal with life events. Riches would have allowed for me to buy something to mask pain, like many people I know do. My treasure-less rainbow has forced me to grow. It has now become the same representation as the 16th-century German Peasants’ War rainbow flag: a sign of a new era, of hope, and of change.
James Seals is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. He currently teaches adult education in Austin, Texas.