I am irrationally upset by this. I was beginning to post about life and death, then got a natural example. Leo is headed to the bay now to retrieve salt water to revive the dead fish. That will likely not go well. He is sure “porky” is still alive. I don’t know how long minnows live. Perhaps this death was not premature.
For most of the year our family is slotted in to our elementary school life. I see 30-50 somethings plus 0-12 somethings. Steve sees a broader age range of engineers at IBM. From what I can tell they don’t talk about health, aging and life stages, just test phases, and bizarre alphanumeric codes.
In the summer we host open house parties in Vermont with neighbors, friends, and visiting families. I see grandmas with toddlers, new boats for empty nesters, pregnant bellies. While we are in Truro we see my mom’s friends. They are approaching retirement. They are blowing past retirement. A strange concept for another era. What would retirement mean? Wondering about how to fill their days, where to live, whether to smooth their foreheads.
Leo is sitting outside with his dead minnow in a bucket singing to him. My mom is walking restlessly around the room tidying coffee mugs. Visiting friends are packing to leave. Oliver is dropping toast crumbs. A regular vacation morning.
Somewhere a family friend’s son deals with the sores of chemo recently ended. My 2nd cousin lies in a coma with brain stem involvement, my mother in law wakes up still a widow a year after Steve’s dad’s death. My uncle raises funds for a grief center in CO to make something of the death of his younger son.
Leo is at my elbow now. Asking. “What if he’s not dead?” He is still in the age of magic. Where fish come back to life. Recently we discussed our summer plans. “What day are we going to see Crawford?” he asked. “Wait.” he said “I don’t even really understand my days of the week, so I don’t know why I asked that.” In and out he goes. Between knowing what tomorrow brings and knowing what tomorrow is.
At the end of his life my father had so much morphine that space and time became elastic again. Early on he would ask, what day, what time? Trying to get his bearings…then not. At the end he remained in that world, stacking blocks of stone to remake himself, re sculpt himself whole, minutes and hours, nights, and days indistinguishable. For my too mom it became impossible to look ahead, predict anything. We imagined bringing his hospital bed with us to the cape that summer. Parked in the middle of the open space. He hadn’t had anything to eat in some number of days, the cape was months away, and still it seemed he would live forever, in this interior world of indeterminate time.
It is like that for Leo still. “I have been waiting 27 and one half days to go to the pond.” He pleads this morning. What he means is a while. I can translate. “Ollie will die before me.” He tells me. “I will always be younger than him, but he will die before me and then I won’t be younger.” I answer that it is likely. That we don’t know exactly when our time is up, but if everyone followed exactly the averages Oliver will die 17 months before him. Excluding eating habits, smoking habits, interest in motorcycles, exposure to toxins, and unpredictable encounters with drunk drivers. I don’t say that last part.
He doesn’t even know when Wednesday is.