Five year olds ask a lot of questions. These days your brother is all about the questions, and the comparisons.
Who runs faster, you or Daddy?
When Dominic is ten will I still be older?
Who has a bigger brain, squirrels or frogs?
Do I have more hair than baby Teagan?
Recently I was bombarded in the car, yet again, by a series of inquiries most definitely tied to his observations that day. His last question, or rather, his response to my response hasn't left me since.
"Who do you love more, your school kids or me?"
I love you more.
"That's not nice to say."
It's okay for mommies to say that.
"But you love Josie most of all."
I glanced back to see him then, eyes out the window and his hand pointed up. To the sky.
It must be a parent's worst nightmare. The thought that one of their children might feel less loved than another. Only of course I know what their worst nightmare really is, because I've lived it.
Still, it's definitely within the nightmare realm, that thought, and it got me thinking. I want him to know things about love. I want him to know that it can be limitless, it can be unconditional. I want him to know that there is no substitute for love, not money or words or things. I want him to know that love is sometimes painful and always risky. That it can be jarring and complicated but almost always leaves you better. I want him to understand that you can love someone more than yourself, and I want him to feel that from your father and me. But I never want him to feel unloved, or less loved. I never want them to feel like they aren't enough for me and I fear that they will sometimes, in your memory. I fear that so much and today it manifested in my slanted rearview.
I wonder what the balance is. I want them to speak of you. I want them to know that it's okay to talk about you despite the stares and the cringes they are too young to understand now, but will most certainly understand later and I want them not to stop. I want them to keep talking. But I wonder if they will ever ask themselves why there's no mantle for them in our living room. Why I get angry when your footprint frame falls over but not when they brake the vase. Why it's your name on my wrist and not theirs.
When they ask me I will assure them of the truth: which happens to be that I love you all the same and that it happens to be more than life. I will tell them that a love that big can be scary. Petrifying and that you have to be brave to live it, brave to give that kind of love to someone.
I will tell them how a love like that never quits. Doesn't stop when a heart does. Doesn't waver when we do. How I watched it grow on flickering screens, black and white photos that clung to my insides and shiny refrigerator doors. How I watched it move my skin and cotton t-shirts. How a love like that changes the mind and the marrow and how I cradled that love. How it spoke to me and how I sang it. How I knew it.
I'll tell them what I realized when you died. How it pained me and stretched me in every possible way, and molded me into someone else. To touch the visible parts of that love, so deprived and blue and dead, but how I still felt the other parts so completely. How the bigger parts never left me. That love so intact, as though nothing had changed.
And they will see that your mantle is the memory, the picture in my mind of the most beautiful girl who taught the most beautiful lesson. And how the ink is the reminder that a life can end with death but that a love doesn't have to.
Love doesn't have to.