On Friday, as I was heading from the car to my office, I passed a dead baby bird lying right smack in the middle of the concrete path. It was already in a somewhat sad state of decay, its bony wings spread out, as if it were still trying to flap its way off the ground, and I didn't know what to do. On Tuesday it was still there, and on Wednesday, too, except by then the carcass appeared to be rapidly melting in the heat. That afternoon L. and I walked together from my office, to the car.
"Watch out for that poor dead bird," I told L.
He looked at it, and sidestepped around, making a face. "Poor bird," he said. "I hope someone moves it." (Maybe that someone should have been me, I don't know. But I could never figure out how to move it, and with what, and moving a bird carcass at 7:30 am is just not something I can do.)
On Thursday, the bird was still there.
"Oh no!" L. said, and he did a little dance again to side-step it, turning his head to avoid looking at it.
By Thursday, of course, the bird carcass was in a very sad state indeed. Still, you could make out the baby-birdness of it--large eyes, scrawny elongated neck, gaping mouth.
"You know Mama," L. said thoughtfully as we climbed into the car. "I guess all living things turn into the ground eventually, don't they?"
"I guess they do," I answered.
"Hm" was all he said
We've had pets from the time L. was a baby. When he came into the world, we had our old cat Izzy, and my gray bunny--my little buddy who I had bought on a whim after a bad breakup with a boyfriend. By the time L. was born he was almost 13 years old. He died when L. was just three or four months old, so the bunny's death didn't leave much of a hole in his life, even if it did in ours. We adopted our dog from the pound when L. was just 13 months old. We liked the idea of our boy growing up with a dog--it seemed romantic and fitting, somehow--a boy and his dog. But L. never paid much attention to the pets. He liked them, sure enough, but he always had a take-them-or-leave-them attitude as far as they were concerned, and they certainly did not figure too prominently in his life. But when we adopted our cat Annie from the pound last September, all that changed. I don't know what happened, but from Day 1 that cat and L. formed a bond. He loves her, and when they're together, his hand idly petting Annie's fur, or rubbing her belly, they seem kindred spirits.
"You know Mama," L. said to me once. "Annie and I are kind of alike."
I thought immediately of that wonderful picture book out there: All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome. L. hasn't read it, but I wondered if he should--especially when he proceeded to make a checklist of sorts about the things they had in common.
1. Need for personal space. Check.
2. Sensitive to environment. Check.
3. Prefers company of self. Check.
4. Quirky, introverted, and curious. Check.
With his newfound attachment to Annie, though, he's also been thinking about the eventuality of her death. It's my fault--sort of. I checked out this book from the library for L. I read it, deemed it okay for him (it really is a wonderful book), and passed it on. He devoured it in one morning's read but then the rest of the day he was a mess: cranky, angry, prickly, and just plain mean. To everyone. A sure sign he was having trouble processing something emotionally.
I was bothered about L.'s behavior for most of Saturday. I cried privately when L. called me names. We sent him to his room when he pushed T. to the ground. But then, I thought about Dewey, the quirky, character-filled library cat. I thought about how the book is a celebration of Dewey's life, but it's also, of course, a story of his death, at the ripe old age of nineteen. I knew then that L. had realized that in welcoming Annie into his world, he was also opening the door, some day, to having to process her death--because you just can't love, can you, without also accepting loss.
L. won't talk about how he feels when he thinks about Annie and her death, some day rooted in the future. "Please don't ask me about it," he said to us, after we had finally drawn him out of his room. On Saturday night he appeared in the doorway of the living room, and set a piece of paper on the couch and darted away. On it, he had drawn a picture of his feelings about the day, and the book, and Annie.
It was a cloud of scribbles, like a dust cloud--confused and dark and messy, all lines crossing over each other again, and again.
Chaos. Love and life and loss, tangled together the way they always are.