He is cursed with my gift of remembering things we might otherwise wish to forget, this son of mine. The first time we pass the exit on the road north we might have otherwise taken, he notes it. So too when the other boy’s birthday passes in August, though it has been months since he’s seen him. “He’s five now, Mama. Can he come to my birthday when I turn five?” Two people. That’s all he’s asked be invited to his birthday, and I can’t give him one of them.
Nor can I give him the other thing he asks for, the thing he wants most—his father. “I want him to be here all day and all night. I just want him.” And later, “Mama, can we take the brown stuff from the treasure box and put it around the tree out front so it’s like he’s here with us always?”
“Do you mean his ashes buddy?”
“Yes, Mama. And your brother too? I want to put both of them there.”
He’s breaking my heart. I can’t give him what he wants, not the dead man back. Nor can I give him back his friendship with the boy. I wonder if the boy’s father understood this, when he gave me his silence, what he was giving my son too.
This weekend we rode around on tiny trains, the first place he met the boy. He is bigger this time, and so I don’t need to hold him on my lap or sit with my arms around him to ensure he stays still and safe as the small trains go around the track, up the hills, over bridges and through the tunnels. He sits on the car ahead of me, hands on his hips, face straight ahead, perfectly balanced. The breeze blows his hair around, and when we go through the last tunnel and come out the other side his red shirt is like some kind of beacon.
I can’t give him the forgetting. But I can give him the ceremony with the tree, his hand shaking out the small ash bits. I can promise him that those who leave are never really gone from us, not as long as we hold them in our hearts, not as long as we love them. As we, as I, still do.