Your Child's Favorite Pet Died. Now What?
"I don't like him being in a plastic bag."
"You don't like him being in a plastic bag."
"No. I don't."
Here, I remember my prenatal breathing. Those long deep breaths may have been useless during labor, but they sure do come in handy years down the road when you want to whack your kids but know that you can't. "Why don't you go to the terrace and pick some flowers we can put on the grave?"
"Because I don't like him being in a plastic bag."
Okay. I give up. I don't know what to do. On one hand, I want to write. I really want to write. I want to write because I love it—the searching for words, the tapping them out, the truly near-sexual thrill of a sentence coming out right—and because it's important. It's important to work. Important to make money. Important to honor the promise I made to my mother, my grandmother, my professors at Barnard, and myself to be a new kind of woman. A woman who was a good mother, yes, but who also had a life of her own, who did not cave so utterly and wimpily into the callings of her hormones. On the other hand, look at those eyes! That face. Those little crimson lips quivering down at the edges. Does nature do it on purpose, since they are too little to advocate for themselves? Give them these big gooey features to advocate for them? I give up. I give in. I surrender my work and go to my son. Not because I decide to, but because I can't not.
"Come," I say softly, shutting my computer. "Come here."
Aidan, who has been standing hesitantly at the door, rushes over, looking so suddenly well that I wonder whether I might get away with turning my computer back on. "Do you think we should bury Zebra now?" I ask instead.
"I'll go get the flowers!" Aidan cries, running out the door.
We make an unlikely sight on the hot, chaotic street—me and my little son carrying flowers, a shovel, and a turtle named Zebra in a Ziploc bag. An ancient street-sweeper with a round straw hat looks up at us and smiles.
Aidan scours the beach for a good burial spot. He settles on an elevated patch of sand at the base of a palm tree whose trunk strikes him as being striped like a zebra. I help him dig a hole. He lays the turtle down. He fills the hole with sand and arranges the flowers on top. Then he sits down in my lap.
At this point there's a long silence, which my chatty nature feels it should fill up. But I recall one of my favorite parenting lessons (illustrated with the story of little Johnny asking his parents where little Bobby comes from, his parents launching into a painstakingly sensitive explanation of sex, and Johnny replying, "Oh, that's funny, I thought he came from Chicago"), and I bite my tongue. This conversation will not be any bigger than Aidan wants it to be.
"He was a good pet," he finally says.
"And you were a good owner."
"I feel so sad."
"Of course you feel sad."
"That's normal. I know how you feel. When I was a little girl and my cat Shadow died, I felt very sad, too."
"Did you bury him?"
"In the garden. We had a garden."
"Did he go to cat heaven?"
"I think he did."
"Will Zebra go to turtle heaven?"
"I think he will."