I spin a pinata in the living room, spin, too, the boy in his tissue paper blindfold, and he hits and hits, determined, until the pinata is open and the small candies fly. A “chocolate scavenger hunt,” he tells me. The pinata’s a small cactus on a green string running from the front door to the stairs, for I’ve no tree outside to tie it to, and though it’s nobody’s birthday, though it’s only a Tuesday, there is also cake on the table, two boxes of pizza, some novelty tablecloth with a whimsical mouse.
Another day there is dirt on the counter and small succulents we are potting, lettuce seeds sprouting under lights, the outdoors coming in. There are stacks of books and pillows in a tent in the living room and bright green foam balls I buy for the slingshot we aim at windows, and during the day we work side by side on our matching desks—the 7-year-old at his computer and me at mine.
If I am better at this than some, at making the world seem normal when it is not, of feeling normal when everything is not, perhaps I’ve merely had too much practice, that year of the dead brother or the one with the unborn child, that year too of the dead husband, or all the ones after, the years I spent making the small boy believe not everyone would leave him, even when some still do.
If I am better at this than some it is only because tragedy has become normal in a way it should not, while normal itself is a thing I find suspect, fail repeatedly at. As a parent the rules in the aftermath of tragedy are simple—it is enough for you to just survive, as long as one of you thrives, and you are always choosing him.
And so even before the pandemic there were already days of bright balloons bought because he liked their color, 7 bouquets of flowers just because we could, because I wanted him to have beauty, there was, too, that countertop volcano, the side by side canvases in the dining room and matching shades of paint. Before school closures and store closures and everything closures there were still all those I love yous.
All those I love yous we said, unhindered, for no reason except that we were alive to say it. For no other reason except that we should.
All those simple I love yous, the ones we said just because we meant them.
Just because we meant every single word.