The period of blissfully ignorant childhood lasted about a year. Upon returning from Colorado, my father's funeral, I showed Rhys a picture of myself holding my childhood dog, Ginger. The picture was one my father had left out on his dresser, found by chance by me just before returning home.
The boy marveled at the image when I showed him, understanding that it was me when I was a boy, just a little bit older than he is now.
Then, he came to my house last night and the real questions started.
Where is Ginger? Are you still a boy? What happened to Grandpa? What is dying?
Not all at the same time, not all in that order, and some were repeated. But the curiosity made the real question clear. I did pretty well, up to a point with these questions. I explained, little boys become big boys, then eventually they stop growing, like Daddy now. One day you'll stop growing, too, and you'll probably be even bigger than Daddy.
I pointed out how much bigger Rhys had already become. When we were putting groceries in the car I showed him that very soon he would be able to see his own reflection in the car window, and then I picked him up just enough that he could see his eyes looking back at himself.
I said, Who's that?
We giggled and giggled.
Then, we got to my house and he wanted to know why Ginger wasn't there, and where was Ginger, from when I was a boy. He wanted to know why if I was a boy, like him, then why did I stop growing. These were easy enough. I explained that puppies grow up, just like boys, and then one day they stop growing.
He asked if I was still a boy. Sort of, I explained. When a boy stops growing he becomes a man. You'll be a man one day, too. You'll keep growing and growing, then one day you'll stop growing and you'll be a man. But you are always part boy, too.
Easy street. I could answer these riddles all day long, no problem.
Where is Ginger now?
Here was a slight tactical error on my part:
Ginger was from a long time ago, when Daddy was a boy, so now we have Barkley.
Where's Grandpa Bill?
Okay, this was the important part, and I hadn't really given it too much pre-thought. I used the easiest line of logic I could come up with on the spot.
That's where Daddy just was. I was visiting Grandpa Bill's family. Grandpa Bill had finally stopped growing.
Not perfect, I knew, but not entirely imperfect, either. He went back to eating his chicken and green beans. We had had quite a fun time at the store previously, picking out potential dinners and hopefully matching veggies. He asked if he could see the picture of me when I was a boy again. I pulled it from the envelope and showed him.
Where's Ginger now?
Before I could even stop myself I heard the craziest thing just pop out of my mouth, as if it had been waiting there all along to jump mutiny on my mind.
Ginger is with Grandpa Bill.
What the fuck! Did I really just drop that nonsense on a three year old child.
I couldn't believe it. I knew that I wasn't about to propose any atheisms, existentialisms, or any pseudo-meaningful concepts of death on a three year old, but still.... "Ginger is with Grandpa Bill"? Now I was trapped on the Eckhart Tolle merry-go-round. I felt as if I had eaten acid at a Dutch carnival.
Another two sentences and I'd be trying to have this kid pray to the Easter Bunny, to promise his heart to Batman, and showing him how to break into his Thomas the Train piggy-bank for religious emergencies. There was no way back, no way out. I knew it was coming next. The kid had me snared. My mind twitched like a wet rat in a wine bottle.
Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus... what had I done?
Now I was completely adrift among the great unanswerable questions. This kid was good, no question about it, he's a bright youngster. He knows the right questions to ask. I was prepared to toss all manner of complicated nonsense at this poor boy. To get him to accept any answer that didn't provoke another question would be thematic victory. I cursed myself for not remembering more about shamanism, paganism, druidism... any-ism. My mind leaped back and forth from the esoteric to the pragmatic, both mutually sinking ships. I felt like I had fleas.
Ginger and Grandpa Bill will always be with their families, in our hearts.
Fuck, FUCK, FUCK... Why hadn't I bought ice cream at the store? How else does an atheist get out of this mess? They should sell Emergency-Jesus ice cream. I knew those two fat fuckers from Vermont would let me down when I really needed them.
Ben and Jerry's needs a flavor called "Caramel Christ Answers," with broken waffle cones and fudged philosophy.
I knew that one wrong step here would result in a rather difficult conversation with Mommy, the overlordess of disbelief. I could hear her voice floating in the aether above me, "You said what?..." She had even warned me that the boy had been asking questions lately, wanting to know more about why I was away, and had even been using the "D" word in sentences.
Maybe "Dark Cherry Death and Dying Sorbet." That seems a flavor for more advanced tastes, though.
It's also possible to go super simple: "Batman's Blueberry Parents"
I don't know... I'm not really much of a marketing, nor idea, guy.