My son sets aside his happy meal toy, a yellow car still in its plastic packaging. “I’m going to save it for them, Mama,” he says, naming two of his friends. I tell him okay, and that I’ll put it with the other one that’s been sitting inside a bucket in our house for the last few months. I wonder how many more months it will be before he’s forgotten, before I can pull them out for him to play with or consign them to the Goodwill pile.
I want him to stop asking me questions I don’t understand the answers to myself. I want him to stop asking me questions for which the only kinds of answers I have are the ones that rattle around inside my ribcage, knocking things loose, so that things inside there hurt. I don’t want him to know some of the things he’s going to have to learn, some of the things he’s already learned. That there are people who don’t come back. That there are people who can’t stay and still others who just won’t.
I don’t want to teach him this, and I don’t wish to know this. I don’t want to teach him how I have learned to love even the trees best when they are bare, admire the way their limbs can hold onto nothing and still seem whole. How I have learned to love the trees best when they are but branches, when they have let go of leaves, learned to love the trees best when they are but bark, when they are spindly and snow covered and standing in winter. How I have learned to love the trees best when they are empty, yet still stay.
I don’t want to teach him anything more about loss. Haven’t we already learned enough?
Inside the bucket, the little toy cars are encased in their plastic packaging, unused, undamaged, the small yellow car and the bright blue one side by side. Still there, still waiting.