Over the weekend a blogger friend posted a photo of a boy, perhaps age ten, who had died of cancer. The boy, and his family, were friends of her family and she was sharing his picture as a tribute.
I stared at the boy’s face, which reminded me of the face I had seen a week earlier, when I was jogging through my neighborhood. As I was approaching one of my favorite houses, painted rust with blue shutters, I saw parents, and a child, by the front steps of the walkway. The parents were talking to their son, who was crouched down, weeding.
Before the boy turned towards me, I knew he was ill. His head was nearly bald, covered only by downy tufts of hair. His skin was tinged yellow, blue veins showing just beneath the surface. I guessed he was around ten.
He must have heard my footsteps because he turned towards me before I reached him. We locked eyes for a moment. I can still see his expression. It said so many things. Resigned. Poignant. Tired. I’m used to people staring at me.
I glanced at his parents, who seemed not to notice me. They stood on the other side of the steps, watching their son yank weeds from the earth, telling him he was doing a good job. I noted how calm they looked, how accepting. I wondered if that’s the space you get to, when your child is dying of cancer. I wondered if I would have that kind of grace.
I passed the house and headed to the end of the block. It was a stunning early summer afternoon. Clear blue sky, sunshine glinting off the grass. A glorious day, perfect, except for a child dying young.
Maybe he wouldn’t die, I thought, as I crossed the street, rounding the corner towards home. Maybe he would recover.
When I got home, I hugged Franny.
* * *
Last Sunday, shortly after I saw my friend’s blog post with the photo of the boy, I took another jog. My usual route, through the pocket of Victorian and Craftsman homes on wide lawns. It was another stunning summer afternoon. Clear blue overhead, sun kissing the trees.
As I passed the rust-colored house, I looked at the vast front lawn, empty today. I spotted a vase of flowers on the doorstep. It was a small, round glass container and it held yellow blooms. I could just make out an envelope taped to the glass. It was an odd sight, really. This massive house, with a tiny, delicate globe of flowers perched in front.
The size, the simplicity of the offering, was just right for a child.
* * *
Yesterday morning I sent a Facebook message to my blogger friend. I told her about the house, and the boy, and the flowers. I asked her if the child she posted about had lived in my neighborhood. Yes, she said. That was him. She told me his name.
I thought of the house, and the lawn, and the flowers. That particular pocket where the house stands is Rockwellian. Rambling, old homes built for big families. Wide, tree-lined streets. I remembered how quiet it had been when I jogged past, how deceptively normal.
I started to cry. I didn’t know him, or his family. But one week he was there, yanking weeds. And the next week he was gone.