spirits in the material world

Mommy.

(we are in the dark)

The kids at school say I have an imaginary friend. I tell them Liam is in all the leaves on all the trees and the sunshine and the grass and the fish. I tell them that if he was here he would be in my class and I would sit next to him and he would sit next to me.

You know what, Ben? Imaginary friends are just as important as real friends. If that's what they think Liam is, it's really alright. Even if you feel like he's more.

(he smiles) You know what else mommy?

Yes love.

I think we should thank Liam.

For what, sweetness?

(his whisper gets whisperier) For giving his birth to us.

... ... ... Oh yes, baby. We are lucky that we had him with us for a little while. It was sad too, because we all wanted him to be okay, but you know what he is, right now?

What?

He's okay. He's just not here.

I wish he was here.

Me too, love.

(we are quiet for a while)

Mommy?

Yes love.

When me and Liam came out of your belly, what were we wearing?

Little purple suits and bright red socks.

(he giggles) Did we match?

Of course!

Mommy?

Yes love.

What's an Eggo waffle?

Frozen.

What is moose poop called?

Moose poop.

(we are quiet for a while)

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He has everything he needs, already tapped into a memory and mysticism lost to grown-ups. He is my teacher. I'd never dare presume to train it out of him, this story, or take it upon myself to shape it, though it happens to fit. How is that? Does it steep, like a tea? Is is inherited, bred, overheard? Is it just as much in his air as shakti or holy ghosts or 99 names of god are in the air of others? His gospel is mine, but I'd like to think of it as conjured rather than coached. But who knows? I suppose I am coaching, if only to nudge him away from prescribed values and towards imagination.

That said, if he decided that Jesus Christ took his brother, I wouldn't mind. I'd ask him if Jesus Christ likes slowly toasted marshmallows or quick-blown burnt ones. Because lord knows I can't abide a deity hanging out with my kid who does that whole 'This Will Take Twenty Minutes Because It Is Ungodly To Light Food On Fire' thing.

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There are a hundred gods, a thousand. One for caterpillars crossing sidewalks; one for the daddy longlegs trapped in a bathtub puddle; one for every empty belly, tightrope walker, contracting uterus; one for every yellowfin tuna's gaping mouth; one for every screaming mackerel; one for every tin can.

From one angle, the gods fail every day. From another, the baby swallow's god tumbles alongside her from nest to ground and curls around her in the grass, dying with her, fulfilling everything.

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I only recently realized the thread that connects everything I have done since Liam and I don't mean to make it profound, because it was just a small insight, but I appreciated it. It was on the radio. Not so much in what I said but it ran through my head then, the suggestion: that I have needed there to be beauty in every horror, in every bad deed, in every nightmare, in every villain, in every unbearable failure. Writing pulls it out. The protein in a slug jam sandwich. The boy in the incubator, his brain swelling beyond repair. He'd just had his first bath, clean for the first and last time in his life. The inside of me washed away along with adhesive, morphine, old blood, sweat, antiseptic. He was fresh and soft and he slept, and he was doomed, and so was I, and it was beautiful.

Perhaps I've written this before, or bits of it, but it's here again like this, so I write it down. Ben is old enough now to want to put Liam in a proper place, and he's actively carrying him, wondering, talking—to kids at school, to teachers and parents, in the middle of a hot dog, on the trampoline. I watch him story-tell.

Has something ever seemed that way for you—perfect in peril? Little gifts when you were afraid, respites in the middle of a trial? It doesn't have to be death. Just any shock and change, and then something small and warm and clean. Can you tell me about it?