The car in front of us hits a jaywalking squirrel and as I swerve to not roll over the destroyed, twitching little body, Flora bursts into tears.
“Can we stop, can we save it?”
There is nothing to save; it is too dangerous to stop. I shake my head. She weeps all the way to the library. I reach out and hold her hand and let tears well up in my eyes.
(The mother I was two years ago, would have told her to control herself, to get a grip, to stop.)
It’s 8:30 p.m., and the sun is low even here, and so the lake beach is deserted and the lake water, never warm, freezing cold. Flora and I are swimming through it, to the floating dock. There was a dead fish floating there earlier that she really, really wanted to examine… I promised we’d come back when all the other children—who were so grossed out by her zoologist’s desire to see what the fish was, how it died, where its wounds were they screeched and screamed and called for their parents—were gone.
The children are gone, and so is the fish.
Flora, disappointed, lets tears come. Then lets them dry up. We swim through the cold water, back to the shore.
(That’s the mother I want to be: the kind who goes back to the beach at sunset and swims through ice cold water to look for a dead fish with my child. Write that on my tombstone.)
I can’t remember why they start planning my funeral, exactly—Flora and Cinder, I mean. I think it’s because we’re talking about the suicides of various famous people, and of course that naturally segues to burials and funeral rites and wakes, and I say how I really don’t want to have a funeral, but I realize it’s not about me—I’ll be dead, what do I care—it’s about the other people. And Flora, party planner extra-ordinaire, says,
“We’ll make it a big, big party! Who do you want to invite?”
“I don’t fucking care; I’ll be dead. All the people who want to come: all the people who love me.”
“We should invite all the people who hate you too; they’ll be really happy to dance at your funeral. Do you keep a list of those?”
I don’t. But apparently, I should, for my funeral.
Cinder prepares the song list. He’s going to lead with “Highway to Hell.” Follow up with “Staying Alive.”
Flora adds “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” (“Especially if you’re murdered,” she says. WTF? I think.) Also, the Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory Theme Song.” She pauses. “We end with Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ It’ll be kind of ironic, get it?”
I suggest the “Macarena” instead. They don’t get it.
(The human I want to be doesn’t want to be afraid of dying. And I don’t think, if I lead the full life I want to lead, I will be. Will I? So hard to know what will be. Hard enough to be aware, appreciative of what is.)
Ender’s favourite bedtime book right now is I’m A Seed, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Judith Moffatt.
“How many books are you going to read me tonight, Mama?”
he asks. I consult the level of exhaustion in my body.
He asks me to read I’m A Seed four times.
I raise my eyebrows. Feel “No” and rebellion rising in my chest, and then pause. What is the difference between reading the one book I’ve already read him dozens of times four times tonight… and reading four books I’ve already read him dozens of times?”
“I’m a seed!”
Four times. Treat it as meditation.
(That’s the mother-human I always aspire to be; too often fail. Today, I achieve. Kiss his sweaty head as he falls asleep. Realize I’ve forgotten to brush his teeth. Fuck.)
“Mom? Are you still thinking about the dead squirrel?”
No. Not even a little bit. But that’s not what she wants to hear.
I hold her tight.