Monday, May 17, 2010

I was lying next to Lula on her bed a little while ago; in the semidarkness, she hugged Wolfie and Ottie, her stuffed animal friends, and remarked that Lapis (lying on her legs, vying for my attention) wasn't going to get Wolfie like last time, when he tried to bite Wolfie's neck and it looked like he was trying to carry him, the way a mother cat carries her kittens.

She looked at me. "Like Lapis tried to do with Gato, remember? Do you remember Gato, our little cat in Costa Rica?"

"Of course I remember Gato!" I said cheerily, trying to steer the conversation away from a potentially depressing topic. She'd been a little hyper in the evening, and I didn't want to disrupt an already precarious mood with talk of the sick, blind kitten we'd found next to a pile of trash and brought home, tried to care for, and discovered dead a few days later. Although the little orange cat had impressed me with his liveliness, with his sheer catness--despite being just a handful of fur-covered bones--there wasn't much to say about him that wasn't sad.

"Remember when we were in the bathroom, Maman, and he fell off the bed? We found him under the bed?"

Um, yes--I remembered. The tiny, fragile, sick kitten fell off the bed. Onto the hard tile floor. I could hardly find him under Lula's bed, he was so still and small, and as I scooped him gently, gently into my fingers I wondered what exactly he was doing, walking all the way from the middle of the bed to the edge. Was he looking for his mother? For food? For Diablo, who'd decided he was the kitten's surrogate mother? Was he just being a curious little cat?

"I love Gato," Lula said, and, hearing a tremor in her voice, I pulled her closer. "I love Gato too," I said. "It was good he had us for a family, don't you think? He had people and animals who loved him..."--how could I avoid it?--" the end of his life, when he died. He was lucky to have us, and we were lucky to have him, you know?"

"Yeah," she said, but she didn't sound convinced; tears seemed to be threatening. "I wish we had him still though. I wish he had been able to grow up and be a big cat like Lapis. I wish he didn't die and be all alone somewhere...where did you put him again?"

I lied: I couldn't tell her about the plastic bag, the trash can, and the bugs. "I put him under a tree in the forest next to our house. Remember the forest? I put some leaves over him and soon his body fell apart and went into the earth. Remember how I told you that when we die our bodies become part of the earth? Gato's body did the same thing--it sort of melted into a bunch of tiny pieces and went into the dirt, and when worms ate some of that dirt he went into the worms, and when birds ate the worms he went into the birds. He went into plants and water, into all kinds of different things. He got to be all these different parts of nature."

I thought I was starting to sound cheesy, so I stopped. Lula was quiet, and I looked at her face, trying to read her feelings. Her eyebrows were raised and the corners of her mouth were turned down, and though there were shadows around her eyes I knew they were open, staring sadly ahead. Tears weren't coming after all, but the deep, empty sadness I recognized in her was worse: I didn't want her, only a few days into her sixth year (she's still so little!), preoccupied with thoughts about death and loss, about the undeniable fact of life that life, well, always ends. I didn't want her to turn, so soon, into the gloomy person her mother can so often be...

She continued lying there silently and after a while I caved, tossing the "ain't-death-a-beautiful-part-of-life" spin out the window. Maybe what she really needed was honesty. "The sad thing, Lula," I continued, cringing at what I was about to say, "is that animals die all the time. I've had lots of pets that have died, and it's just sad. It really is. It's really, really sad..." I was coming close to choking up, so I stopped again, feeling lame.

She was quiet a while longer and then she asked if Gato was "still ours." "Yes," I said, "Gato will always be ours--he'll always be our cat. Even though he's not with us, he'll always be part of our family." I didn't really know what I was saying--I just wanted her to be happy again, and was glad she looked less stricken. Smoothing her hair, I asked, "Are you ok now, Lula?"

She nodded yes, and I could tell it was true. Getting up, I blew her a kiss from the door, relieved and a little amazed that everything was fine. We'd talked about death. I'd admitted it's mostly sad, that there's nothing you can do about it, and she was...blowing a kiss back to me.

Phew. We made it.

1 comment:

kmika said...

oh-oh... Wow! :)

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