September 29th, 2008
Yeah, I know it’s been awhile. I’ve been busy.
It’s not you, it’s me.
I just needed some time.
Time to ponder why I voluntarily agreed to get on a plane in two weeks when everyone knows I’m terrified to fly and I can’t sleep, concentrate, focus, talk normally, or write until I am back on the ground safely after my trip.
And that’s the way it is.
So I’ll try to shut up about that now.
Let’s talk about happierish things.
Shimmer meant a lot to this family. For me, she embodied graceful acceptance of a life that revolved around…well. It just revolved. For the girls, she replaced the dog or the cat or (per Toots: the rattlesnake) they’d originally wanted. Either way, we all knew we could count of seeing Shimmer floating in her own excrement every morning, eating and barfing, eating and barfing. It was like death and taxes. A sure damn thing.
Until it wasn’t.
I’m the one who found her. And I really almost cried. Poor, innocent Shimmer. Lonely. Always lonely. Circling a small bowl for days on end. No sand castle for sport. Just her and the poopy water. It was tragic. I kept my mouth shut for awhile, and just let her float on the bowl’s surface while I pondered what to do. For several minutes, I thought I’d get a decoy fish, and no one would be the wiser.
Then, I thought I’d just “bury” her, leave the bowl there, and feign surprise when the girls pointed out that she’d disappeared.
I’ve just been so frazzled and loopy lately that I didn’t think I had the mental energy to explain death to the kids. So for two days, I didn’t.
Then, in a fit of parental responsibility, I told Toots. Shimmer still floated in the bowl so I showed it to Toots as I explained, sort of, what had happened, leaving out the part where I’m pretty sure I killed her by feeding her too much.
Toots ran through the gamut of emotions before my eyes. Matter-of-fact acceptance, curiosity, grief, humor, mild sadness, mania, surprise, fright, wonder, garment-rending.
She just had to frame the situation, so proffered reason after reason for Shimmer’s expiration. Of course, there was the burglar-sneaking-in-and-murdering-Shimmer scenario I alluded to earlier, then there was flesh-eating disease, boredom, and old water.
When I offered to bury Shimmer in a lavish ceremony, Toots snorted and said, “Why? She’s just a fish.”
But she did want to know all about fish heaven and what Shimmer would do up there. Several minutes later, Toots burst into tears and wanted to know if Grandma Angela would take care of Shimmer in heaven. Then she wanted a sandwich (no mustard). A couple hours later, she sat quietly in a corner and sobbed.
So I don’t know. Toots inherited my popcorn emotional state, and I’m quite well versed in the way of the feelings roller coaster, but I’m kinda unsure as to how to address this.
I remembered how when I was in the 8th grade, a girl named Peggy Burns died of leukemia. She’d been a year older than I, and I didn’t know her well, but I just couldn’t shake my sadness. I still see her memorial card with Peggy’s graduation picture, and I often gazed at it, trying to understand that she wasn’t coming back.
I begged my Dad to take me to her wake. I’d never seen a dead body and it’s like my eyes needed to take it in to understand that the person was really gone. He quietly (for once) agreed and we got dressed up and went to the memorial. I truly don’t recall anything beyond that. I don’t even know if I ever got the guts to look into the coffin. But death haunted me after that. I wondered how it could snatch someone so beautiful, young, vibrant. It scared me, and I never got over it.
So, then my mom. I watched her soul leave her and saw with my own eyes that the body is just a body, and in a small way, that helped. But not really.
Anyway, Shimmer’s death hit me. I hate when anyone goes, even a fish. The extinguishing light gets me every time.
And when I watched Toots grapple with it, I knew my answers would possibly frame her idea of death and what it means. So, I said that Shimmer’s spirit lived elsewhere now, and her body had been a shell. Or something like that.
In the end, I threw Shimmer in the backyard. Not out of disrespect, or because I don’t think the dead should be memorialized and remembered, but because we all were drained and you can’t bury spirit.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
So see? I start a lighthearted post and it goes to death ponderings. I’m telling you, this about-to-get-on-a-plane thing is mucking up my head.
Pray for me.