Thanksgiving started out awesome.
It was, like, the best holiday, and we all went to Erin’s and had an obscenely delicious meal, and I took a camerafull of photos, and gorged until I could barely move. The kids ate just enough to gain energy for screaming, chasing, hiding, and playing EXTREMELY ENTHUSIASTIC rounds of Fruit Ninja on the Kinect.
Erin asked if I wanted to go to Walmart with her for Black Friday shopping. When? I asked. I was thinking of leaving around eight, she said. I agreed– somehow missing that she wanted to go THAT NIGHT at eight, not the next morning. When I suggested packing the kids up at seven-ish, she was like, Why don’t you just hang out till we leave? I side-eyed her. A sleepover seemed kind of unnecessary.
And then she was all WE’RE LEAVING IN HALF AN HOUR, and I was all OHHH. It was one of those moments of extreme clarity. It was like in a movie where the detective uncovers a single clue and every scene in the movie SUDDENLY MAKES SENSE. All those random moments earlier– like when I told J he could take the year off and sleep in while I did the sales, and he said he had no idea what I was talking about, and I assumed it was weird humor– yeah. No. I was just a moron. I’d be the worst movie detective ever.
Neither Erin or I had ever done Black Friday sales. I’d never done any in person, at least– the last few years, I handled online deals while J braved the crowds. I always heard the news stories about people being trampled or shanked, and had no desire to deal with any of that ish. Why start the holiday with being stabbed, that’s what I want to know.
But Erin wanted to get a Wii, and Walmart had an awesome deal. And I already blindly agreed. Heh. Plus, I love Erin. This is a woman who both defined “handling business”, and has ripped someone’s hair out in a brawl before. I knew she’d have a map of the store with locations of items (she did) AND she could return fire if it got ugly.
It didn’t. It was a truly delightful shopping experience. I looked at the circular, found a couple of things I’d like to pick up, and managed to get EVERY SINGLE ONE (including a tiny vacuum for $8– sounds lame, but I’ve been wanting a handvac for months– and the last copy of Epic Mickey for $15). Erin got that Wii. There was an orderly line that formed for them, and we were third in it. So we hung out for about two hours, taking turns leaving the cart– walking around the store, picking up Black Friday items– and bringing them back. Basically, the rule was we couldn’t BUY the items till 10 PM. But they were out. So you just put them in your cart and waited.
Everyone was extraordinarily polite. The staff, the other customers. You’d think Walmart during Christmas sales would be Hell on Earth, but besides being crowded, the experience was amazing. No pushing, no shoving, nobody was angry. Everyone in that store was BFFs. We were all people with the same goal: save money, live better.
A perfect example of this is a woman who walked by me as I was carrying a Paper Jamz guitar and she was carrying the handvac. We paused for two seconds.
HER: GIRL, where are those Paper Jamz? I’ve been looking all over.
ME: GIRL, you need to turn and go right in front of the CDS. There were like twelve left. Where’d you get that handvac?
HER: Straight down this row, in front of children’s. If you move, girl, you can grab one. Good luck!
ME: YOU TOO GIRL.
And: impromptu air high five.
I’ve never been so thankful to be tiny and light as I was last night. I could get from one end of the supercenter to the other in about thirty seconds– and I could squeeze between almost anything and anyone. When the adrenaline kicked in, dude, I was tearing that store up. Running through hundreds of people and dodging carts, pallets, and hand trolleys was one of the most awesome video-game like experiences EVER.
ANYWAY. Erin and I both had a Christmas budget, and we both spent about half of it, and are almost totally done with shopping. So it was a huge success. We were on Cloud Nine: “We have to do this EVERY YEAR!” she enthused. “Like a new tradition!”
So she drops me off around midnight-ish with my bags of stuff. Go inside. Jason is awake and waiting. We hang out on the couch, being really silly in this sweet way that hasn’t happened in awhile. It’s almost like Dating Cute. I pull out his middle school yearbook to show him the awful things he wrote inside. “Elias showed me the F word in here!” I scolded him. Jason was adamant: “That must be Jacob’s yearbook. I would never.”
I flipped it over. JASON KIMBEL was emblazoned in the cover. He raised a brow. Then I opened it up (Property of JASON KIMBEL) with fifty personalized messages from friends (“JASON KIMBEL THANKS FOR LETTING ME SIGN YOUR YEARBOOK THAT BELONGS TO YOU!”).
JASON: Well, I still don’t believe you about the F word.
Open it up to a drawing– totally Jason circa freshman year– of Beavis and Butthead with a speech balloon announcing THIS GUY IS A FAT F***ER. The look on Jason’s face. Oh my gosh. I couldn’t stop laughing. “And HERE!” I continue, showing various other insults of every swear variety that he wrote in margins and over faces.
ME: You were such a mean little boy!
JASON: No, I wasn’t.
ME: You were. Your son showed this to me, Jason. He was horrified.
We both start laughing over that. Elias is the most upright and easily offended child in the world. (One time he saw another child having a tantrum, and pulled me aside to whisper, “Where did they learn that behavior? I would be so ashamed.”)
I’m still laughing, and J’s stretched out on the couch and he has his legs kind of wrapped around me, and I climb onto his waist and sit there, flipping through the book till I land on the picture of Jason himself, in which he has– I kid you not– given himself a HALO.
I lose it. I show it to Jason, and he does the greatest rolling laugh ever. I tickle him and he laughs more. “You awful kid,” I tease.
Somehow– probably to get the spotlight off himself and his juvenile vocabulary– he starts asking about our shopping trip, and I tell him Erin got a bunch of Wii games along with the console. “Which ones?” he asks.
ME: Um, I think– Just Dance 3… a Rio game… Cars 2, which is racing… A Madagascar one, I think it’s racing too… a Bakugan one…
JASON: Is it also racing?
ME: Bwahaha– no. Yeah, they’re all variations of racing. She had a theme.
JASON: Super Monkey Ball Track Stars.
ME: Biggest Loser Driving Challenge.
And then he goes, “Jeopardy Alex Trebek All-Star Racing.” and I’m back in a fit of laughter. I’m in tears.
He grins at me. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs.”
I wipe my cheeks and nod. “Hold on,” I said. “Let me check in on the kids. I’ll meet you.”
Lola follows us up the steps. At the top, we diverge. I creep into Eli’s room, where he and Addie have had a sleepover. Kiss them both on the head. Tiptoe to the guinea pig cage. Bend down, open up the gate. I see Ivan.
“Ivan!” I whisper happily. “Come here, boo.” He’s huddled in the corner but lets me pet his side.
I look for Mike. He’s in the igloo. I can see him through the side; it’s semi-transparent. One foot is visible from the igloo entrance. It registers as strange– he’s on his side, I’ve never seen that before– but I reach into the igloo to stroke him anyway.
He’s cold. Freezing. I’ve never touched a dead thing before, and in a creepy way, I knew it: instantaneously, in a gut sense.
My heart dropped. I don’t remember leaving their bedroom, I just remember being in the doorway of ours and saying Jason please come I think I need you to please look at Mike I’m worried I think he’s not moving and he’s really cold I think Mike might have there might be something wrong.
Then we’re back in Eli’s room, and I’m watching Jason crouched over the cage. His back muscles are moving as he feels around. The igloo comes out. He’s still doing something. I know. He would be talking: he talks to all our animals, like little people. But Jason now is silent.
He finally turns and mouths: He’s dead.
I shook my head, eyes welling: Are you sure?
Jason nods. He comes out of the room, slowly, and whispers he’s been dead a while. The body is stiff. “Are you sure?” I ask again, barely breathing. “Are you sure? He’s not sleeping?”
“There’s no heartbeat,” Jason murmurs. “I’m sorry.”
The next hour is awful. AWFUL. We take Mike out and put him in the little box the store gave us, and we don’t know what to do with him– we don’t want the kids to find him– so we put him in the garage for the night. I’m bawling. He was okay that morning. He looked sleepy, and he was a little sluggish, but I thought he had a bad night’s rest. I was wracked with guilt. Was this my doing? I changed his cage every day, made sure they had plenty of food and water and vitamins, gave them fresh veggies, let them out for floor time for hours. You did everything right, Jason assured me in bed, but it didn’t matter. I sobbed and sobbed. Poor Mike. He was a member of our family so briefly but EVERYONE adored him. He was cuddly and adorable and friendly and warm and he had that little gingery cowlick that was just– you had to rub it, every time you saw it. He was so lovable.
I’d never lost a pet before. All my pets were given away, or passed on after I moved out of the house. I’d never found one. I’d never seen one. They’d never been my responsibility when it happened. I never had to ask myself if I failed another living creature.
I knew we’d have to tell Elias, and Jason offered to. Jason was such a champ– he handled Mike the entire time, both physically and when it came to tackling the subject. We brought both kids into the room this morning, and J broke the news. Addie didn’t react at all. She has no idea what death means: she thought Mike went back to the pet store.
Elias, though. His whole face crumpled. First he just said no, and then he crawled into my arms and cried Why? Why didn’t God let me keep him? And then, I loved Mike with my whole heart. My heart is broken.
I just rocked him and said I didn’t know, and I know, I know, I loved Mike too, and it sucks and it isn’t fair and I’m sad too.
We prayed together. It helped.
The rest of the day was spent with Jason dealing with the remains of Mike, and me trying to keep the kids occupied so they didn’t dwell on it too much. I brought them to Erin’s. We let them run around in the sunny backyard. Then I brought all five kids back to our house, fed them snacks, and had them help me put up Christmas decorations.
I think that helped a little too. Ornament hanging. Stockings. The promise of happy times still to come. When the cousins left, we ate dinner, and they passed out mid-evening-viewing of “The Neverending Story”.
We decided to move the kids off the couch and into their own beds. Jason picked Addie, and carried her upstairs. I had Eli. Cradled him as best I could (kid is half my size now), and transported him to his newly illuminated, seasonal bed.
He stirred a bit while we moved up the ladder together. I waited. One blue eye opened and saw me.
“You okay?” I whispered.
Eli yawned. “Yeah,” he whispered hoarsely. “I can handle this. I’ll be fine.” And he crawled out of my arms, under the covers, and went back to dreaming.