Today is many things. It is my half birthday. It is the day my father died nine years ago. It is a day of lavender mountains at sunset, of queen annes lace in the fields fluttering like cut-out snowflakes, of crickets chirring their endless message: that summer is on the wane.
It is also the day that Cookie S. Fish died. This morning he was still swimming, barely. We don’t know why his brief life was so fleeting.
Maybe he was old from the start, when we carried him home in a plastic container at the beginning of the summer. Maybe the heat wave we just had was too much for him: indoor temperatures were in the low eighties for nearly a week. Or maybe inexplicably, it was simply the right time for this tiny collection of gills and bones and fins to die.
Whatever the reason, when T saw that he was dead, we were eating raspberry sorbet after dinner. The boys had rosy mustaches. Bean paused mid spoonful, and looked at the tank with wide eyes and said,
“Maybe can burry him and write a sign that says Cookie Sandwich Fish so that we know where he is.”
“Ok,” I said, “we can do that.”
“What, what happened?” Sprout asked. “What happened to Cookie Fish?”
He scooted off his stool and climbed up by the tank.
“What happened to Cookie Fish?” He repeated. “Why he not up der?” Why he not up a da top?”
“Because he died,” T told him, tousling his hair.
“Dat make me sad,” he said softly. Still looking at the tank.
How he could even know that it was sad, I’m not sure. It’s the first time anything has died in his small life. His brother was still scooping raspberry sorbet, the reality of what had happened hadn’t yet fully hit him, and T and I were both rather neutral. We didn't say that it was something to feel sad about.
Sprout just gets things like this. I’m not sure why. He been like this from the day he was born. I can’t explain what I mean, except to say he’s always been incredibly tender and loving. He's always been exceptionally dialed into our emotional states. He is soulful, and loving with every cell in his body.
After dinner I carried a small shovel up to the rocky bank at the back of the house and dug a small hole. Bean carried the tiny tank out, and suddenly he was in tears. I helped him pour the tank water and pebbles and the small blue fish into the hole, covering it with more pebbles, and then a smooth flat rock.
Bean began to sob, and if sensing his brother needed some space, Sprout backed off, and quietly occupied himself exploring along the rock wall while I held Bean. T and I both told Bean that he’d been a wonderful fish owner, and that we were proud of him.
“So it wasn’t because of me?” He asked.
“No, no honey. You did everything right.” I assured him. Because it’s true. He was awesome. He changed the tank water, and fed him the requisite number of pellets and not a single extra, and he watched him every day. When the fish was well, it would respond to Bean putting his finger on the tank. It would swim up, following the movement of his hand.
“I want to get that crystal rock there, and put it on his grave,” Bean said.
He’s been through this before. One of the amazing blessings of being in a Waldorf kindergarten for two years is that he’s gotten to work on a working farm every week. There, they celebrate and honor the lives and deaths of the animals. It’s a gift to have those experiences, I think. Because it gives them some tools to later turn to, when grief will find them as adults, and it will.
As he wrote on the crystal rock with a sharpie, sobs still coming, I felt my own hot tears on my cheeks.
We’re never ready to lose the things we love.
After T and Sprout had gone inside to brush teeth, Bean and I stayed on the back stoop.
“How come it took so long for him to die Mama?” he asked me, looking up at the sky above us.
“Because his spirit was taking a while to let go of his little body, I think.” I said.
“People are like that too,” he said. “Our spirits don’t want to let go either.”
“I think your right,” I said.
“But I think for fish and for every animal, and for people too, there is a time that’s the right time to let go and then your spirit knows.“
He looked at my face earnestly.He’d heard me talking about my dad while T and I were making dinner.
“Do you still miss your daddy?” He asked.
“Yes, I still do.” I told him.
But it’s different now. Nine years is a span of time that has transformed me. I wish that I could talk to him now because I see bits of him in who I am becoming. He’d be so fascinated by the program I’m in. We’d have the best conversations about it. And he’d be proud, I think, that I’m finding my voice as a writer + artist. That this is my calling now. That my book and art and stories are coming to fruition.
I carry Bean inside.
His legs are suddenly so long. They wrap around my hips, wiry and muscular.
This is time passing. These boys. This love. These moments.