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Death, Faith And That Fat Bastard In Red

April 19, 2011

      Sarah is dressed for the snow.  Pink jacket, matching gloves and hat.   Snow boots that light up as she walks.  She’s waiting impatiently at the door, I’ll be seeing the look she’s giving me quite a bit when she’s a teenager.
     The phone rings and I go to pick it up and I hear her sigh.  I almost laugh at how adult she seems.
     “Adam?”  It’s Denise.  Her voice seems strange.  More strained then normal, at least normal for me.
     “What’s wrong?”
     “I thought you should know that Lily died today.”  Her voice sounds tight, controlled.  She doesn’t want to sound upset.
     “Oh.”  The old family pet was gone.  We got her out of the pound the first year we were married.  When I was dumb enough to think a pet would make someone happy.  I feel a sense of loss.  A sentimental connection to something is gone.
     “Just thought I should tell you.”  She repeats.
     “Do you want me to tell Sarah?”
     “That’s up to you.”  Typical.  Not saying that she wants me to do it, and will resent it either way.
     “I’ll tell her.”
     “I’ll take care of telling Sarah.  Goodbye.”  I don’t wait for her to answer as I hang up. 
     Sarah is watching me carefully.  I’m not sure how much she understands.  More than I realize.  I kneel down until my face is level with her.  I reach out a hand and touch her face and her shoulder.  She smiles, but it’s a puzzled expression.
     “I need to tell you something, sweetheart.”
     I haven’t thought about how to say this and I can’t think of any way that makes sense.  A euphemism would be a mistake.  Out with it.  “Your cat, Lily, died.”
     Her reaction is not what I expected.  It takes just a moment and she smiles and hugs me.  She squeals.  “She’s an angel kitty now!”
     Faith.  True faith.  I realize this is what true faith is, what no adult has. If we truly believed, our sense of loss would be buoyed by the knowledge that it is but a moment, a moment of wonder that a loved one is now with something greater and someday we will be with them.
     Sarah is humming again.
     As we head out the door and that tiny, gloved hand takes mine she looks up at me and says, “Can we get a telescope?”
     The question catches me, I look down at that happy, expectant face and I realize I’ve missed something.  “Why?”
    “So we can see Lily in the sky.”
    Sarah doesn’t understand that Lily dying is something final, that whatever transformation there is, if there is one, we do not see it.  Do not share in it until we die.
    I hate dispelling this idea of hers, but there isn’t any choice.  I look at her hope, that expectant face, and hate what I say.  “Sarah, sweetheart, we can’t see Lily.   It doesn’t work that way.”
    The smile fades just a bit, her brow knots a little.  “I can’t see her?”
    “No.  Do you remember in church the bit about the seen and unseen world?”
    Her brow furrows, hesitates.  “No.”
    “Well, there are two worlds.  The one we live in, and the one that we normally don’t see.  Lily is in the unseen world now.”
    “Like spirits and faeries?”
    “Oh.”  We crunch through the snow to the bug.  The lock is hard to turn because of the cold.  I pull back the front seat and help Sarah into her booster.  It takes a moment to strap her in.  I turn the car on and then scrape the windows before getting in to head out of the lot.
    The Beatle has two heat setting: off and melt the bottom of your soles.  I have to open the window to try to regulate the heat some.   It doesn’t work well.
    I glance in the mirror at my daughter.  She’s looking outside through the fogged windows.  I can tell she’s thinking before she asks.  “Will you die some day?”
    “Yes I will, but not for a long time.”  I hope that isn’t hubris, but I don’t want her worrying about that.
    “Will I die?” That comes out too quickly.
    I nod and feel a pang that I didn’t realize I would feel.  “Yes.”  My voice sounds hushed. 
    “Then someday I will get to be with Lily.”  She says that with hope and a sense of relief.
    “Yes you will.”  I force myself to smile at her through the mirror.  I can accept my parents dying.  I accept that I will die, but the idea of my daughter dying bothers me.  I don’t want her to die.  Ever.  She’s too precious.  The idea hurts.  I never thought about it until now.  Probably, and I qualify that and don’t make an absolute statement because I don’t want the opposite to happen (a superstition on my part -not wanting to tempt fate, but when you think of you own child, you become superstitious), I will have passed long before she dies.  I don’t want her to die before me, I don’t want her to die, but I hate the idea that I will be unable to comfort her at that moment – the ultimate abandonment of a parent of their child. 
     “Look, Daddy, snowmen!”  Sarah says with excitement.  The topic has changed.  “Can we make a snowman?”
     “Sure, Sweetheart.”
     “There’s a Santa.”  Her voice sounds flat.
     “Yes there is.”
     “I don’t want any presents from Santa.”  I look in the mirror, but she isn’t looking at me and she looks unhappy.
     Sarah kicks her feet.  “I don’t want any presents from him.  He didn’t bring any to me last year.”
     I hate Santa.  I hate him, not because he’s usurped Christ’s birthday.  Frankly, you put a holiday over a pagan one and the pagan seeps through what do you expect?  A thin veneer of Christianity overlays the older celebrations and rituals meant to stop perpetual night from engulfing the world.  The Christmas tree, Yule log, festivals of light and the advent wreath all existed before Christ’s birth.  So I don’t hate him because of that. I hate him because you can’t escape the bastard.  You’re forced to lie to your children.  Some people think it’s just fun, but really it’s the first lesson a child learns to not trust you.
     “I’m sure he did, sweetheart.”
     “No he didn’t.”
     I try to list gifts; she just shakes her head and names the person that gave it to her.  She has a remarkable memory. 
     I realize something a bit too late, “Honey, I’m sure you got a present from him, you’re a good girl.  You know that.  I’m sure you get one from him this year because you’ve been good.”  I really hate that fucker for being an enforcer like that.
     “Really?”  She sounds sad, close to tears. 
     “Truly, sweetie.”
     “O.k.”   She looks away again.  Shifts her body toward the small window beside her seat.
     This is going to be a long day.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 2:49 am

    Our older cat died around the same time as my elder saw “Up.” She didn’t notice her absence for a strangely long time. I’d tried to think of a lie I could tell this 3 year old, but when she asked I hadn’t thought of an acceptable one and just said, “She died. She went to heaven.”

    “She went to Kevin? Izzy’s in Kevin?”

    “Yes honey, she’s with Kevin now.”

    She still talks about going to Kevin.


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