It started with the mouse in the grass by the sidewalk, ants
crawling on its face. Aidan wanted to touch it. I drew him back
and held him. We talked about the gray fur and the tiny ants. He asked
if the mouse was going to go home to his mama and daddy.
No, I told him, the mouse won’t get to go home again. Maybe he goes
to play with his friends. No, I said again, the mouse won’t
get to play with his friends. He asked, another time,
from the back seat as we were driving to the grocery store, how come
his friend Siddharth has two grandmas and he only has one. I told him about
the one he never met, my mama, Grandma Billie, how she died, and we don’t
get to see her anymore. Where is she? he wondered, and my faith
and credulity were tested as I told him, I hope she’s with God,
which did little to clear things up, for him or for me. Outside the library,
after the rain, he splashed in the water of the drainage ditch in his
dark-blue rain boots with orange, yellow, and green dinosaurs
printed on them. I held his hand as the muddy water climbed his jeans,
and he laughed. He let go and sprinted to a concrete tunnel
that burrows into the bank. I told him not to go into the tunnel,
that he could drown. It’s been two months since
Siddharth’s mother, Sapna, died. My wife weeps a flood of grief every day.
The night we told Aidan, he said to us as we cried, It’s OK,
Mama, it’s OK, Daddy, I’ll go get her. I’ll go in the tunnel
and bring her back. He asks everyone we know if their mama
and daddy are alive. Strangers, teachers at day care, every neighbor we talk to:
Is your mama alive? Is your daddy alive? Our friend, whose mother
is in a memory-care facility, answers that her mama is alive, but her daddy
is with Jesus. Where’s Jesus? Aidan wonders. He’s with God, we say.
And with Grandma Billie and with Sapna? he asks. Yes, we respond. And he asks
again where that is. Heaven, we suppose, and in our hearts, too, somehow.
I don’t know what else to say. We mostly want to ignore the question or change
the subject, but secretly, at night, as I think about Sapna,
as I think about her husband and their sons, I want to go into the tunnel,
hold my breath, and swim into the dark, diving down through
the mucky water to some open place below. I want to call out
for our friend and for my mama, to take them by the hands and bring them
back through the tunnel, back to this place where we miss them so.