“My dear children,” said Mrs. Barrable. “I am most dreadfully sorry.”
Barnaby learned how to draw stars today. His substitute teacher showed him.
“She was grading my paper and she leaned over like this and drew a star because I got the answer right and I said, ‘How do you draw a star?’ and she said, ‘You make a tent, go up to the left, over to the right, and down to the left to connect and you have a star.'”
And then he made a dozen. He informed me that he added stars to his friends’ homework pages, too, whether or not they’d gotten the answers right. Sweet boy. “I am going to be a teacher over the whole world and draw stars on everyone’s paper.”
My grandfather was the one who taught me how to draw stars. I remember drawing stars on a steamy window while rain came down outside.
It is odd to have been an only child and then to think about my kids, none of whom are alone very often. Only children spend lots of time alone. It’s nice. It’s quiet, and no one hits you, and rarely does an adult answer with only half an ear, and no one interrupts your somersaults, which seemed to be tonight’s most frequent method of annoying your brother. But also, siblings make you resilient. They help hone your mind and reactions to a finer point.
The man who died was 97. I’d only met him once or twice. My great uncle, my grandmother’s brother. His other sister, a mere 92 years, gave me a ride back to my parents’ house after the service. She drove exactly as well as I drive. The day was wet and windy, perfect weather for a funeral. My parents’ house was full of siblings and cousins and baked ziti. Umbrellas dripped in the hall closet.
I asked another of the elderly sisters what she remembered about my grandmother. “She was studious. She was always reading books. And giggling. Gosh, I can hear her giggling even now.”
Here is what I want to ask the dead: Is there a point at which you discover the point? Is there a point at which you realize there isn’t one?
Driving home the day after the funeral, I encountered even worse weather. It was windy, and pouring, and I spotted not a few snowflakes. I was ridiculously content in my steamy minivan, just me and those crazy loud pop songs. “I gotta lump in my throat, cuz she’s gonna sing the words wrong…” If my car had swerved and crumpled me into its metal folds, I’d have died happy. But it didn’t! Even better! I arrived home to tousled boys in shorts pretending to throw out our television. And the whole world got a gigantic gold star.