A ballad by Simply Red sparked this memory,
Of a time not long after I was just a baby,
Sometimes we must learn things the hard way,
No sugarcoating or soft landing, much to our dismay.
It was a typical Saturday morning in the suburbs. The streets, normally chaotic on an average weekday morning, was empty and barren and homes were closed shut while their inhabitants caught up on much-needed sleep, that precious and necessary part of healthy living often taken for granted due to the demands and pressures of working life.
I was very much a member of the weekend sleep-in brigade. I could more than hold my own with the best of them but in my defense I was a four-year old child. The need to get up and make money wouldn’t apply to me for many years to come and my young body needed all the sleep it could get. Saturdays for me were spent in the playroom acting as a one-man instigator of traffic chaos and endless violent car crashes for my toy vehicles and the promoter of some rather crude yet epic battles between Batman, Superman and the other superheroes that resided in my toy box before my younger sister and I summoned our inner Leonardo DaVinci with the playroom walls as our canvas, much to our parents’ chagrin.
I guess you could say that I was your typical playful and spirited child. God I miss that kid!
My education was limited at this point to the very basics; the alphabet, counting from one to ten (the number one hundred in my still-limited mind was the biggest number in the world, nigh on impossible to count towards and the end of the numerical system), learning all about shapes, colors and basic grammar, learning how to color in pictures without straying from the lines and all that jazz.
As far as I was concerned, ‘work’ was some mythical place that all adults went to every day, except for my teachers and the parish priest who, for some odd reason, were exempt. I also had an extremely limited grasp of the ageing process and still found it hard to believe that everybody was a child once, too. I believed that all the adults around me never had childhoods and were somehow born as adults.
Nice, huh? Such is the perspective of a young child.
There was also another concept that I still did not completely understand, and that was of life and death. I was aware that people died, that they went to sleep forever before their ghosts headed off to the afterlife or stuck around to play tricks on people. But never in a million years would I have guessed that death was an inevitable part of life that touched everyone.
Finding out the truth was a massive blow. And a silly story.
We had just finished dinner as a family and afterwards I sat on the living room sofa with my father where I proceeded to bombard him with an endless fuselage of questions in addition to anecdotes about the little adventures that my sister and I got up to in the play room during the day. My mother washed dishes in the kitchen while my sister, seated to me, played with her toys, totally uninterested in my conversation with Dad.
Somewhere in between questions and my own brand of storytelling, the subject of one of our deceased relatives found its way into the conversation. Having assaulted him at all angles with my inane chatter the topic of conversation was bound to wind up in a weird place eventually. My father went on to gently explain my late uncle’s cause of death, eschewing the graphic details in favor of keeping it short and concise. I don’t remember my follow-up question word-for-word but it did involve being amazed that so many ‘famous people’ were dead and wondering if it would happen to me. Like I said, I didn’t think of death as inevitable and was hopeful that I would be spared from it. It probably would have been better for me not to dig too deep but alas, youthful curiosity killed the damn cat and then some.
I’m pretty sure that my father was dreading the day that he would have to explain this to me but knew that it would happen eventually. There was no easy way to do it, so he opted for keeping it honest and and straight to the point.
“Everybody dies, Son,” he replied, “It’s a part of life.”
My eyes widened with disbelief.
“So does that mean you and Mom will die?”
Wide eyes were now accompanied by a knot in my throat.
“Does that mean me and my sister will die!?”
Sensing the fear on my face he added, “but not for a long time if you’re careful.”
Yeah, that didn’t help at all. Me and my big mouth!
Once my mother had finished up in the kitchen we as a family climbed upstairs where the sprawling bedroom and play room were located. Man, I can still remember that bedroom, it was the biggest room in the home and housed two beds. My sister and I slept on the bigger bed while my parents shared a bed nearby. A television set sat in front of the room, next to the wardrobe. A massive shelf along one of the walls housed photo albums, books, my parents’ cassette collection (it was the 1980’s, baby! Retro, huh?) and one of those old-school stereos that you would often see in early 1990s hip hop music videos.
Our parents helped us wash up before bedtime. My sister promptly fell asleep but I stayed awake for a while, still reeling from the conversation that I had with my father. As my parents laughed intermittently at the TV program they were watching, I reflected on the concept of death and how one day it would come for me. I was still in disbelief when I finally nodded off.
I would be dead one day, just like the others, huh? Wonderful.
But it was an important and necessary thing to learn, I guess. Had to happen sooner or later.