by Andrew Fort
When my first son was less than a year old, that first January came as the capper to an exhausting year. It was cold and miserable. We were iced in, and all I wanted to do was get out of the house and go somewhere. Somewhere new, that I hadn’t been before. I was tired of being stuck at home with this little stranger, who had dropped into my life seemingly out of nowhere. But he was sick. Really sick.
If you’ve never had kids, you might not know how alarmingly high their fevers can get when their sick. If you’ve had kids, you may have forgotten. It’s alarmingly high. Days are measured off by the amount of time between ibuprofen doses, which most often seem to interrupt the blessed oblivion of nap time. Very young children with high fevers either wail constantly, causing you to rue your existence, or lie in your arms in limp, soggy contortions with the disturbing heft of a Ziploc bag filled with liquified leftovers. You worry about the permanent brain damage a high fever can cause, to them and to you. You worry about dehydration. The worry and self-doubt are constant.
For whatever reason, around the first of that most dismal of years, I had decided to challenge my listening habits by trying Chinese Opera. I don’t know what sickness of mind or constitution caused me to set up that particular challenge for myself at that particular time—maybe I was hoping it would be the thing that would simply push me over the edge. Maybe I imagined my son growing up to tell his friends, “Yeah, my dad? He hanged himself because of Chinese Opera.” I have a feeling I wouldn’t be the first.
But whatever the reason, I was determined that I was going to listen to this stuff. My life was tedious and devoid of adventure, and I wanted to send myself somewhere totally foreign. Chinese Opera is pretty foreign. It was a grueling experience.
This particular opera I remember listening to was called Unicorn Purse. It’s a story of poetic justice. In short, a wealthy woman kindly helps a stranger, a poor young bride who describes dismal future full of poverty and worry, by giving her a Unicorn Purse—essentially a bride’s dowry purse full of jewels—to help her get started in life. Later, after a disastrous flood during which she loses everything, the once-wealthy woman takes a job as a nanny in a posh home. One day she sees her Unicorn Purse hanging in one of the rooms. The two women each realize who the other is, and they become lifelong best friends.
At the time, I didn’t know this. I only knew that Unicorn Purse was confusing, tedious, and full of strange whining sounds and weird rhythms. Just like raising children.
But the thing was, I kind of came to like it. The opera, that is. And now, instead of my children annoying and unnerving me with all of their whining and mewling, I am able to annoy them with what seems to be the poetic justice of Chinese Opera. And the gifts these little strangers have given me have more than compensated for the years of poverty and worry.
Dare you listen to Unicorn Purse? Here’s Aria D: