The valentines were scattered across the dining room table in what passed for tidy as far as Zane was concerned. He had spent the last hour signing his name and inserting an eraser shaped like a cartoon platypus into each small envelope. His writing had lost focus with every passing minute.
There was a pause, than a moment of thought, and when he continued the scale of his signature had more than doubled in size.
“Why did you write that one so big?” asked my wife.
“It’s for J—,” he said. “He can’t see very well.”
J— also has a peanut allergy, which is why, days before, when Zane was picking the birthday cupcake design of his choice from a book full of colorful temptations, that he had asked his big brother to carefully read the recipe for every last one lest there be any trace of peanut oil. His brother did so without question, because empathy runs thick between them, and the idea of doing otherwise was not to be considered.
Zane turns seven today, and frankly, I’m against it. He was only six for such a short time, and I fail to see the value in his hurry. However, I do see the direction that he is headed, and it is full of promise, love, and dimples. He will do well there, of that there is no doubt, but there is still plenty for him to do here, in this place, where my arms wrap around him twice and he needs me nearly as much as I do him.
It was only a few nights ago that I was standing in the bathroom watching my hair retreat from my head to my ankles when he appeared in the doorway without a single thought about my hairline or its sprawling southern border—for he was stuck in the middle of too many tears, and we both understood that the pangs of his moment were far greater than the waning of my lifetime.
“Atticus found this under my bed,” he said through broken breaths and a flood of flashbacks.
He held out the severed arm of splintered fluff that once belonged to a small, stuffed mouse, gone all these months ago. He held it in front of me until he saw the recognition in my eyes, and then he clutched it against his chest so tight that I could feel it crushing mine.
“I miss him so much,” he cried, and I picked him up, tiny arms, tears, and all. Together we walked from the depths of my vanity into the soft, sullen shadows of a little boys’ room grown suddenly lost and lonely.
His brother was there, waiting in his own bed, covered in quilts and sadness. I caught his gaze just before it fell away into what must have seemed forever; then he turned his back toward our direction, covered his head, and surrendered to the sleep that would find him there, full of loss and ready for the taking. He was not willing to face such moments again.
I placed Zane upon his bed, tucked him in, and whispered words recalled from the wounds of my youth. I told him of my own fallen friends, and how they will never be forgotten. I told him that moving forward is not an insult to the past, and that tomorrow holds promise, not slights, fights, or grudges. I explained the power and subsequent responsibility of being a boy with dimples. He fell asleep believing every word I tried to.
Zane turns seven today, and there is nothing I can give him greater than the pride that I am taking, but I am wrapping it in laughter and I doubt that he will notice.
Happy birthday, Zaners.
For the entire story of Zane and the loss of his Mickey Mouse doll please read When Stuffed Animals Die (a BlogHer Voices of the Year winner).