It happens like this. – one day you believe in Santa Claus, that he’s an old, fat but happy man living with reindeer and tiny men that love hammers and nails, building things just for you, never mind the other children in other countries that don’t even have food, the children in the women’s magazines where you stare at the black and white photographs and their distended bellies and rib cages that look like brittle sticks.
Sally Struthers is trying to get the attention of your mother in Redbook magazine, so she will send money to a child with brown eyes like Mozart’s Requiem.
The mother is more interested in articles about how to keep your father from fucking the woman next door – the German woman with red lipstick and strappy high heels and toes that don’t spill over the edge of her shoes. The woman who has key parties and wants to trade her husband for your dad, anyone’s dad, everyone’s dad.
You decide Santa doesn’t like starving children, they are not worthy of gifts or food – he only flies over the suburbs with kids who already have a red bike, scooters, pogo sticks and a mother who doesn’t cry.
That’s when the concept of “other” comes to you.
You ask your mother to do something about the starving girl in the magazine, but when she doesn’t do anything, you cut out photographs of the children with dark skin and brown eyes and tape them to your mother’s mirror so she can’t see their suffering herself when she brushes her teeth.
Your father asks you to stop worrying about other children, because they live really far away anyway, and there isn’t enough money for everyone in your own home.
Not having enough becomes a mantra, a creed, an ode – and you hear it everywhere – in church when the shove the basket toward your father, in your home, your friend’s homes, businesses, relatives, the women in line at the bank with small pieces of paper, numbers not adding up to need.
One day your mother asks you to keep the old woman who lives at the bend in the road company because her husband died. You don’t want to go because she smells and everything in her home is dusty.
But you do go, every day after school, walking by your own home and to the bend in the road.
You open the thick wooden doors and make her a sandwich every day the same thing – ham and cheese, and together you sit on her brown sofa and look at the Song Sparrow and the Red Bellied Woodpecker in the bird feeders hanging from the oak trees and splashing in the concrete birth bath.
You pass the binoculars back and forth, and feign interest until you become interested, because her walls are made of glass so that the inside and the outside are almost the same and you have never felt more connected.
On her sofa, you don’t think about not enough anymore.
You discuss migratory patterns and life cycles of the double-crested Cormorants.
One day you open the heavy oak door and she’s not waiting for you on the sofa in her thin blue nightgown. You find her in bed and she doesn’t answer when you call her name, so you go home and get your mother. Your mother says she is dead, that she knew she was dying – she needed to taste life one last time.
You hate your mother for making you stare at death.
Later you will love your mother for making you stare at death through life.
The woman leaves you her binoculars so you can always see.
For years you will write this story seven different ways.
Now you can name all the birds on the island of Kauai and learn their migratory patterns, and take your granddaughter to the bird sanctuary at the end of the road to hear the Shearwater’s moan in the edge of the cliff at night, then swoop down to touch your hair.
You carry an injured Shearwater to the Fire station one morning after singing to it all night in your bathtub and locking your cat outside.
You have more small moments like this, where you straddle life and honor death – they string together like an AIDS quilt, and you live for the thread and the stitching.
Now your mother is dead and your father is dead and just this week, your oldest brother died suddenly, much too young to be gone.
You don’t think about more. Instead, you think about less. How we can all have less.
You began giving things away long ago so now it’s easy – even your mother’s necklace to someone who said they were looking for a gold locket.
Now you are standing on Rock Quarry Road watching the yellow Hunter’s moon rise over the abandoned car on the red dirt road that leads to the river.
The full moon reminds you that you are still tasting life, just with less, and less feels like the branches of a barren tree in winter, waiting for spring and knowing it will come again.
Because time is not progressive, it’s circular. The Greeks call it Kairos.
Life is ripe on your tongue, because though you may not be able to help everyone in the world, you know the Albatross will return to Sea Cliff for nesting, and sometimes that knowledge is enough.