May 23, 2012
Zach barrels through the front door, whips off his shoes, and runs pell-mell into our rec room, intent on making sure all of his transformers are exactly where he left them before we went to the park. My husband is there to greet us, and as Jeff says a “hi Zach” to the blur rushing by, I look up and see a solemn expression on my spouse’s face. That look is unusual enough these days for me to stop my attempts to slough off my sneakers, and instead I focus on him. “What happened?” I ask, holding my breath a bit that whatever has transpired is only a mini-tragedy, and short-lived. “Sarah went to goldfish heaven” Jeff responds, and we both look at each other with resignation, because we’re anticipating the drama that is about to unfold.
It will be Zach’s first brush with “personal death”. I’m pretty sure he is not going to like it.
Ironically, the first time I recall losing anyone or anything in my life also had to do with a gilled entity, specifically one named Grace, whom my mom one day found floating unceremoniously at the top of our tank. I do remember some minor histrionics on my part (which is not unusual for me, Zach comes by his drama honestly), and a proper burial replete with popsicle stick bearing her name in our own backyard. If I remember correctly I insisted on placing her under what I considered “my tree”, and was quite emotional about the entire ordeal. Two days later I trampled her grave marker into the dirt, having completely forgotten the location of her eternal resting place.
Ah, the cruelty of small children.
We remind Zach that we had explained to him that goldfish don’t live very long, and told him gently that Sarah had gone to her final swimming hole. We both brace ourselves for tears, weeping, and an overload of grief. Instead, Zach asks us quickly if Louie, her companion, is still on earth, and we assure him he is. He asks if he can see Sarah, and I look up at my husband hoping that he hasn’t disposed of the body yet, and he looks down at my son and says “sure”. The three of us trudge upstairs together, and Zach enters the guest bathroom quietly, regarding Sarah thoughtfully as he views her laid out on her coffin of Kleenex.
Jeff asks Zach if he’d like to either bury her in the backyard or flush her down the toilet to play with Nemo (that’s how we got him to pee in the proper place, don’t knock that strategy), and he chooses the latter. I tell Zach that when someone dies we usually say some nice things about the person (fish), and tell them what they meant to us. He says Sarah was a “good fish”, and he listens as Jeff and I mumble something about friendship and loss and good times that probably went completely over the head of our five-year-old. Finally, it’s time to send her on her way, and Jeff leans down to my small son and asks him if he’d like to say anything else, or has any questions. He hesitates for a moment, then looks up at Jeff earnestly and asks only one thing.
“Can we eat her?”
Clearly, drama averted.