Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday, Meditation

When the Matron was but a Wee Miss--9 or 10--a neighborhood Boy died.  This Boy had been routinely mean to Wee Miss, herself relatively new to the neighborhood, a locale decidedly on the 'wrong' side of the tracks.

The neighborhood was called The Prairie and kids who lived there, Rats.   Prairie Rats.   This would be why her very-fine-but-sadly-unpublished first novel is called Prairie Rat.  Lots stuff happened there, some of it bad.

In the elementary caste system, Prairie Rats were the garbage scavengers, the lowest of the low. They were utterly dispensable.  

Wee Miss was just learning to lace up that boot when the Boy died.  He fell while riding his bike down a really big hill -- or something.  Nobody really talked much about him.

There was no funeral.  

He was a foster child.  

The family that housed him sort of cleaned out his stuff and ordered another.  That's the way they paid the rent.

Between her new low social status as a Rat, the move to Mankato and the permanent unarguable absence of her father, Wee Miss was in the throes of truly understanding just how expendable she herself was.   

Then she saw this Boy's life, tossed, and forgotten.  Like garbage.

A few days after the Boy died and any talk of a funeral had been thoroughly laughed off, Wee Miss stayed awake throughout much of the night.    Her bed jutted up against a second-floor window that opened right into the pop and mystery of an enormous weeping willow.  The branches swept againt the glass.  She could open the window--high!--and gather the wispy branches into her room. 

She did.  And it was black night, full of the secrets sounds--coming from houses, between blades of grass, on branches.

Wee Miss kept that window open to feel the cooling air and tried her hardest, for as many hours as her body would allow, to reproduce--to understand--what it felt like to not be.  To have no mind.  Death.

In solidarity and as experiment.

That night changed Wee Miss and really, set the Youngish Miss and the Matron herself into motion.  

Because Wee Miss could not imagine not thinking.  Could not reproduce not being.  And the thought of not being?  Made her feel like she needed to vomit.  That's the kind of night that ten-year old child had.

And she kept thinking of the Boy, sitting on the school bus, four seats back.   He would be staring out the window with a face that was always a little bit mad, a little bit sad, and surprised.  Wee Miss wondered what he had been thinking and was crippled with grief to know that he would never think again.

Wee Miss wanted God for the Boy and for her own frail self.

But God, as she had known Him, had died for her just two weeks prior.

Here's how.

Wee Miss:  "Mom?  Can I ask you something really important?"

Mother (who is now Grandma Mary):  "Uh-huh."

please forgive her un-PCness but this is how the words went down in the seventies-- Wee Miss:  "Okay.  If you're a pygmy and you're not a Catholic because you've never ever heard of Jesus or the Virgin Mary or anything like that - but if you're the BEST pygmy that's ever lived--wait!  You're the BEST person on the planet and the reason you're dying is that you have given all your food to the starving CHILDREN pygmies and then you die?  But you've also saved ten thousand lives and never committed a single sin?  If this pygmy dies, does he get to go to Heaven or because he's not Catholic -- and remember, he's never even HEARD of being Catholic but probably would be one once he knows it is the only one real and true religion -- okay, if all this happens, can he get to go to Heaven or is he in Purgatory or Limbo for all of eternity?"

Mother, without missing a beat:  "Limbo.   Not Heaven." 

Wee Miss:  "For sure really and truly?  Even though he was the perfect human being?"

"Limbo.  Not Heaven.  For absolute sure for Eternity."

Children have a fresh, nose-to-the-bone sense of Justice.    Wee Miss shrugged her shoulders and an entire world view fell off of them, just like that.

So that new nonbeliever sat up all night in mourning for the Boy whose life was so expendable that he didn't warrant a funeral.  Nobody wept over that child.   In fact, nobody even talked about the Boy.  Not at school, not at the bus stop where he used to stand, not in Wee Miss's own home--where he had lived about five doors down.

Poof.   It's as if he had never existed. 

Wee Miss vowed right then to never ever forget.    The one tiny shred of wisdom she took away from that dark, sleepless night?  Even if nobody really knows who--what, where--we are after death, memory is the toehold onto this planet.    The dead exist in the minds and hearts of people who love them, in their good work and lasting deeds in this fleeting temporal world.

So Wee Miss pledged to the brown-haired Boy who liked bicycles and carried a grease-stained brown lunch bag along with a yellow backpack--the Boy forever without a family, who spent his last year in a house where he was Rent and Grocery--the Boy who nobody cared enough about to honor and remember:  Wee Miss picked up that lost life and draped it over her shoulders.

Nearly every day, the Matron thinks of this child.  He was here.  He had long legs, tummy aches at night sometimes and a huge vast Universe inside his own soul and psyche--just like you and she.   She thinks of the Boy when she watches her own sons, and marvels that as strong and might as they are--and hope to be-- they are shaped by vulnerability and need.  

That's how she sees him.  Soft.

His name was Steve.  And now he has a Mama.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Oh wow. So many things going on in this piece. You're remembering him made a difference--I'm sure of it.

cndymkr / jean said...

I too was told that only Catholics went to Heaven. I probably would have believed it if only my Aunt and her family hadn't been Jewish. They were truly good people. How could a god, my God, not let them enter Heaven. Especially when his son had been a Jew?

I'm glad you've kept that little boy with you all these years. It sounds like you are the only one who cared, still cares. Thank you for that.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

How heartbreakingly lovely. It is a relief to know other people can & do take pieces of the broken and hold them carefully; this matters.

Bless you, and Steve.

Who asked you? said...

And now because of your beautiful yet haunting story he lives in me and all your other readers. I think I'll go hug my kids and tell thing for the millionth time how much they mean to me.

The Gossamer Woman said...

You obviously were not your every day ordinary little girl to have thought all these things, which have made you the extraordinary woman you are today. It's a sad story about Steve, a toss away boy. Maybe you felt like a toss away girl. You proved everybody wrong and see how far it got you. Good for you!

TexasDeb said...

Beautifully written. Thanks for throwing that nighttime bedroom window open to the rest of us.

So sad to think Steve the boy was not cared for in life nearly as well as he is now, by your memory keeping after his death.

I am thinking his last ride down the hill was truly exhilarating and his soul flew out of that damaged little body right THEN.

Former Minnesota maiden said...

One remarkable part of your story is that at the age of 10, in order to go through that complex thinking process, you must have forgiven him for being mean to you. At 10, a neighborhood boy who was mean to me moved away and I was thrilled. At that age, I'm not sure I would have felt any differently if he had died.

Lynda said...

What a an account - thank you so much for sharing this.

MJ said...

He lives in my memory too.

Anonymous said...

Good writing. It makes me think.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That story makes me ache.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the world truly sucks. And sometimes someone does or says or writes something that makes it better. Thank you.

Ree said...

Your children are very, very lucky.

Michele Renee said...

I couldn't comment earlier because I was at work and got teary eyed. Thank you for sharing.

JCK said...

Wow. Lovely. And he's being remembered here beautifully!

The Other Laura said...

I think most of us have these ghosts in our heart from childhood. Thanks for reminding me about mine.

Beautifully written.

Heather said...

That is such a heartbreaking story. That poor boy.

thefirecat said...

The good news is, they decided that Limbo was a mistake. They announced within my lifetime that all the babies they'd formerly consigned to Limbo were, in fact, in heaven all along!

So Steve went to Heaven. Even your mother said so, though she didn't realise it at the time.

Sunder said...

A similar thing happened to me at 11 and I become a child in search of changed me and the way I looked at love, life and all that's inbetween. Thank you for sharing and how lovely the way you decided to tell it.

Anonymous said...

Ah Matron. Sometimes you truly astonish me. This is one of those times. Thank you.