I know we’re not supposed to say so, but I never liked that kid.
He is my son’s age and lives in our neighborhood. And he wants to play. That alone was enough to win Devin over.
I’m not as easy to please.
He lacked the manners that you’d expect of an 8 year old. Basics, like please and thank you and not getting into the refrigerator in someone else’s house. I was annoyed by the odd times he would show up at my door step – often ringing the doorbell as the kids were getting into bed, or staying long into the evening without a phone call to or from home.
“Matthew, we’re going to have dinner now, it’s probably time for everyone to go home for the night and you guys can play tomorrow.”
“I’ll just wait while you eat.”
“No, you should head home now. Your parents are probably wondering where you are.”
I suspected this wasn’t true. I’d often see Matthew and his brothers playing in the middle of the street when I drove by and I would remind Devin “you don’t ever, ever play in the street like that. That’s not safe.”
I was nervous about the idea of my son getting too close with this kid. Every stereotype and judgment I’d picked up over the last twenty years screamed that he wasn’t going to be a good influence. Something about him just seemed… off.
A few nights ago Matthew showed up at my doorstep awkwardly late as usual. And as usual, he stayed long after you’d expect a third grader to stay at your house on a school night. When it was clear he wasn’t going to come to the decision on his own, I let him know it was time to head home for the night.
“Will you walk me home?”
No problem. Devin and I got our shoes on and headed down the street beside Matthew’s bicycle.
I tried to make small talk along the way. I suck at kid small talk. “Are your parents going to be worried you were out this late?”
“No, they aren’t home.”
“Oh, are they at work?”
“Yeah, they get home after I’m asleep.”
I made a mental note never to let Devin go over to his house. Ever. “Is anyone home with you?”
“My brother. He’s 15 and crabby.”
“He must be a pretty responsible 15 year old. Does he make good stuff for dinner for you guys?” because at this point I am curious. And more than a little self righteous.
“No. He doesn’t make stuff really.”
“So….” I’m spinning through the Rolodex of searching questions I could ask that will give me a clearer picture of what the hell is going on in this kid’s house, “where do your mom and dad work?”
“Well, my mom is dead and my dad works at -”
I have no idea how that sentence ended. My heart and my brain seized up at “Dead”. His voice was flat and unapologetic, his words direct. She didn’t pass away. She wasn’t in heaven or not here.
She was – she is – dead.
My desire to ask questions vanished. Not because I didn’t have a million of them running through my head, but I couldn’t stand the thought of pushing them on him, poking at his reality with my own morbid curiosity.
In the space where my silence lay, between the three of us on the empty sidewalk, Matthew began to talk. I have no idea why. He couldn’t have chosen a less qualified pair of ears to unleash on.
“Who made God?”
“Well, I know God made everything and stuff. So who made God?”
I’m sorry kid, can we go back to Your Mom Is Dead? I am certain I am much more equipped to discuss that.
“Um… er… well… see… we believe…”
I have no fucking clue what I told him. Something about eternity and omega and foreverness and OUR ITTY BITTY HUMAN BRAINS ARE JUST TOO STUPID TO KNOW, so please don’t ask me these questions. Apparently it sounded like bullshit.
“Everything has a beginning and an end. God must too.”
“Well, um, er,” how do I say this without coming off as the pushy Catholic lady – because I so don’t want to be the pushy Catholic lady and we respect other people’s views in this family. Really. We’re democrats. But, well, you asked.
“Well, some people believe, we believe that we don’t really have an end. When you die you go to heaven and.. um… er…”
“I don’t believe that,” Matthew cut me off. “I think you’re born, you die, and you just get born again someone else. And it happens over and over again and you never remember.”
Shit. Ouch. Damn.
Matthew’s mom is dead. Matthew’s mom is dead and he believes that people who die are just dead until they’re born again as someone else. Matthew’s mom is dead and he believes she doesn’t remember who he is.
I wanted to tell him that wasn’t true. Standing there under the streetlight in front of Matthew’s house, I wanted to put his face in my hands and look in his eyes and insist that his mother still knew him. I wanted to make him believe in a soul and a heaven and a love that would never, ever forget.
But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
“They call that reincarnation,” I told him instead. “A lot of people believe that.”
“See you tomorrow!” Matthew waved and ran into his house. No one came out to greet him or inquire where he’d been. No face peeked out the windows to stare at the strange woman and child who’d walked him home. He disappeared into the still house and Devin and I turned back towards home.
I find myself waiting for Matthew now.
I look for his bike as I drive up the street after work each night. I listen for the doorbell in the evening after other kids have gone home. I save some dessert for when he rings it. I let him come inside and wait while Devin finishes up his chores or his homework. I walk him home when he tells me he doesn’t want to go alone.
And maybe it’s ridiculous. Maybe none of it makes up for the resentment I harbored before. Maybe none of it makes any difference at all.
But I do it anyway. I want to. I have to. Because Matthew’s mom is dead.