I had the best day today. I am sick with grief. Both are true.
It is Friday. I am covered in sand. And I am sunburnt. The sand will flow away down the drain and the sunburn will fade and fade. I am trying to hang onto something. This day. This afternoon. This sunlight and sand. Children in the water. The smell of sunblock. The screech of their voices. The shimmer of skin. Their hard-muscled bodies launching into the sky.
And I am getting ahead of myself.
My daughters left just before lunch to do a bible study with their grandpa (it is one of his great joys at this stage of his life: those two beautiful girls; the mysteries of the Universe bound in text and paper; the certainty of limitless love) and my son and I were left to our own devices. We had already had breakfast, made banana bread, explored the storm damage along the swollen creek and looked for frogs.
“I’m bored,” Leo said the second the girls left.
“Let’s walk to the beach,” I said.
He looked at the sky. It was still gray and damp with a little bit of post-storm chill lingering in the air. “Really?” he said. Then he shrugged, slid into his swimtrunks and we walked to the lake.
(I am trying to cling to something precious. I cannot hold on. It vanishes the moment my fingers clasp around it. I am grasping at smoke; I am trying to snag starlight with a string.)
We were the only ones there, save for three lifeguards who lounged on the grass reading novels. One sighed as we arrived, hoisted himself off his blanket and summited the guard chair. The sky was gray. The lake was gray. A mama duck shepherded her bright-tufted babies through a red-buoy obstacle course. Leo eased himself into the waves.
“It’s cold,” he complained.
“Come in if you’re cold,” I said.
“No. I like it.”
The water at his knees. His trunks. His belly button. The water lapping his shoulders, then his neck, and then he was swimming, every once in a while shooting me a gleam of teeth over the wave.
“Do you see me mom? Do you see me?” A spurt of water. A joyous splash.
Of course I see you. You’re the only kid here.
We planned to stay for an hour at most. But the sun came out and the day grew steamy. And then kids from the neighborhood showed up. Kids that I have known since they kicked in their watery worlds within their mothers expanding middles. Kids who I love as much as my own. And their mothers, who I also love.
An hour became two.
Then three and a half.
The children covered themselves in mucky sand. They wrestled in the mud and grass. They washed themselves new and clean in the water. They swam out to the diving dock and plunged into the deep again and again. They were bright birds, slippery fish, creatures made of fire and water and star. They were magic things.
Do you see me?
Of course I see you. You have swallowed the Universe. My eyes are your eyes and my skin is your skin and my heart is your heart. It will be so until you go into the wild world and leave me behind.
(I am grasping at vanishing things. Each moment is like a bead of water on sun-soaked skin, each ghosted remains scattering like dusty pebbles on a dry, dry river bed.)
I smiled and waved and swallowed a sob.
On the walk home, he took one step for every two of mine. He was barefoot, shirtless, holding his towel to his shoulders like a cape.
He asked about different kinds of rocks. He wanted to know the difference between a paleontologist and an archaeologist (he wants to be both when he grows up). He told me the story about a flying dog who fights crime and who shows up in his dreams most nights. He wondered about june bugs. He wanted to know if he could go to college with his two best friends. He wondered if it was possible to hold your breath for a year.
We scanned the sidewalk for lost pennies and priceless artifacts. We estimated the weight of dinosaur bones. I rested my palm on his thistledown head. He let me keep it there. He smelled of sun and algae and sunblock and boy.
“Did you have a good day, buddy?” I asked.
“I had the best day.”
“The very best?”
“Of course. I always have the very best day. Don’t you?”
I wound my hand in his hand and held on tight.
“I do believe I do, buddy,” I said.
And I swallowed a sob.