Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Observe. Notice that pause platform, that attosecond of time between the end of the in-breath and start of the out-breath, that neglected, imperceptible space that’s part of the most basic, automatic and essential functions of the body — breathing.
Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.
Ben’s got curly blonde hair and big blue eyes and is curious about the world and when he smiles he looks like a cherub or a four-year-old angel and proof that you cannot judge by appearance alone because when you get to know him it’s quite apparent that he isn’t an angel. He fights with his older brother. He’s pouty. Crazy exuberant. Moody. And he doesn’t want to go school. Ben is his own person, in his own world. His father yells and yells and yells. His mother does not yell. She is kind and understanding, if not a little exasperated.
More often than not Ben is down on his knees, in the dirt, looking at bugs and arguing with his parents, fighting with his brother and making up stories. He recently discovered sidewalk chalk. Now, we have chalk glyphs of creatures that Ben has dreamed up in a line halfway down the street. They are quite inventive and appealing. After it rains we get new drawings. I’ve taken pictures of his complete body of work (to date) that I plan to catalogue and keep for when he gets famous. I can say I knew him way back when.
Gia and I were coming back from the park.
Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Notice the attosecond, that pause between breaths. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.
There’s a whole series of chalk glyphs on the street between Ben’s house and my house.
“Hey Ben, whatchya doin?”
“Where’s your big dog..?
I look to Ben’s mother. She knows. She sees the water in my eyes. I look away a second to mentally shake my head, prepare it, attending deeply to my breath. When I look back at her, she nods.
I will my voice to evenness, letting grief be where it wants to be in my heart, in my body as I crouch down beside Ben to explain where Parker is.
“Parker’s not here Ben. He died.”
Ben keeps drawing on the sidewalk with his stick of yellow chalk. I stand up and look at his mother. I notice that her eyes are watery too. She liked Parker. All of the neighbours liked Parker. Even people who didn’t like dogs liked Parker.
Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in…attosecond…breathing out, I’m aware I’m breathing out.
No response from Ben, but it seems as if his little lean body has tightened slightly. He is drawing.
He doesn’t raise his head as his mother says, “Parker’s gone to doggy heaven, Ben.”
It seems as if Ben’s mother and I are waiting for him to say something, words of universal wisdom or kid logic or some cute kid thing because that’s what kids do when adults share parts of the human condition with them.
Silence. Ben’s mother giving me a sympathetic smile, Ben still crouched down on the sidewalk, drawing. Gia sitting by my right foot, attentive, wary of Ben. I’m listening, hearing, aching. Breathing with awareness, feeling my feet in my shoes, my shoes on the ground. Noticing with awareness the hole in my life, in my house, in my heart, in my world that was once filled by a big black poodle.
“My mummy killed him,” said Ben in his out-loud voice.
Her eyes widen. “Ben!!”
Perhaps I can offer a simple explanation. “No, Ben. Parker was really sick. Remember how we talked about that? Nobody killed him. Honest.”
He does raise his head.
“Oh,” he says and stands up, holding his stick of chalk. “There’s your big dog and your little dog.”
I look at his drawing. Big Parker. Little Gia.
Except for the tails and the eyes and the missing ears and the shape of the bodies and the legs and the faces and noses it is an exact likeness of something about my dogs as expressed by a four-year old and because it is an exact likeness of something about my dogs, my eyes water again. Is Parker in doggy heaven? It takes a moment before I can say anything.
“Thank you, Ben. It’s a beautiful drawing of Parker and Gia.”
Gia, hearing her name, stands and looks up at me, wagging her tail. My heart is in my throat.
Ben nods, furrows his brows and crouches down again to draw something else on the sidewalk.
“Time to go,” says his mother.
Ben doesn’t argue. Doesn’t ask for more time or explain what he wants to do next or why he can’t go home right now. He stands up, sticks his hand inside his mother’s hand, looks at Gia then at me and silently walks away.
Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Attosecond pause. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.