After she hops off the bus, before she mentions the dead boy, my daughter says “I got moved to the front of the bus, daddy, but don’t worry. I’m not in trouble.” This is how my daughter usually begins a story about being in trouble. But today is different. Everything is different. “I’m in charge of putting my arm up like this,” she creates a rigid barrier with her little arm, “and blocking the big kids until the kindergarteners get off.”
“Oh that’s cool,” I reply, “Look at you. Protecting little kids. Keeping them safe. That’s a pretty important job.” She shrugs, preoccupied by death.
“Here’s a note from the principal,” she says, handing me a piece of yellow paper, “Sully died.”
“He died. They won’t tell us why. Or how, I mean. The note tells about how it’s always a tragedy when a young life is taken and to help me process my feelings and monitor my behavior because every little kid is different about dead people.”
My daughter and I are walking on a sidewalk, holding hands, and there are people and cars and birds. Scattered bones of various beings from various times are buried in the earth. The sky is crowded with spirits. Who could count all the people waiting in line to be born? The rest of us just stumble around and starve to death for love.
I scan the yellow document and give my daughter a once over. “Your behavior’s checking out fine. How do you feel?”
“I feel like some chow mein and honey walnut shrimp.”
I snagged an extra fortune cookie from the Panda Express lady and, after we took turns opening and reading ours, I told my daughter to crack open Sully’s. It said Everything will soon come your way.
“Hardly!” my son chirped and I stared him down with irritated slits. “Or maybe,” he fumbled for recovery, “life is just a big long coma and when you die, you wake up and what you thought was your life was actually just a coma hallucination.” My son is 14 and he’s unusually obsessed with comas. My daughter, on principle, disagrees with every word he says.
“Yesterday,” she pauses here as if she trips in the difference between yesterday and today, “um, yesterday, me and Sully were partners and our job was to write a topic sentence but it couldn’t be boring. It had to have a hook. Our teacher calls them Grabber Sentences.”
“Yeah? What was your Grabber sentence.”
She laughs as she says “‘I will never forget the time I set the woods on fire.’ Sully thought of it. Sully is SO funny.” She stops laughing. “Or was so funny?”
No one trained me in the art of processing my daughter’s grieving feelings or monitoring her behavior to discern her unique reaction to death. I want to engulf her in my arms while all the bad guys riddle my body with bullets. I want to build her a castle. I want to write her a song.
“Do you remember the last thing Sully told you, sweetie.”
“Yeah. He said ‘See you tomorrow’ and then ran away.”
Me and my kids sit in Panda Express and silently wrestle with Sully’s last words. No one is crying. No one is visibly upset. But we sit together in a richer, more vibrant way, together, today, eating chow mein. Everything, every last bit of it, will soon come our way. We will never forget the time we set the woods on fire.
Read more from me at Black Hockey Jesus,
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