My first run in with death, I was probably eight years old. I had a grandfather, the reason my family is where they are today, die from lung cancer a few years earlier, but I didn’t understand what that meant. In the years that followed, mortality was explained better, whether through school or simply understanding life itself better, and one day, in a Burger King, I was witness to the end of it.
I only vaguely remember the set-up. My family lived behind the BK and would go in lieu of cooking for most meals. It was day time, probably summer, and as I sat, eating the double cheeseburger I never finished, I heard a boy whimpering. He must have been older, sitting in the booth adjacent near the window, his little brother next to him with his mother and youngest sister across. They were all blonde. The kind of blonde that you expect to see in JC Penny catalogues, wearing the clothes you would expect such people to be wearing. Khakis, casual vests, the mom in Chino’s, that sort of thing. The kids were all eating kids meals, the bags or boxes that they came in crammed into the corners of their trays, the toys still wrapped but placed on the table, yet un opened. The eldest, the one whimpering, had something extra as well. Something white and furry, a small ball that he had placed on his tray on top of the burger wrapper, half of the sandwich still sitting there. He stroked it with his fingers, the tears welling up in his eyes, his face going red, and his muttering becoming more and more audible, “Please don’t die. Please don’t. Please. Please?” until his mother (and the rest of the restaurant) could hear. His mother started yelling, chastising him for bringing the pet with him. Her bob slashed around her face as she reminded him how she told him to leave it at home, and how the dear pet’s death was his own fault. He didn’t raise a water eye, instead his face slid like old glass, the tears running, dropping on the tiny corpse. My family finished their meals at this point, my mother walking to the counter to tell the manager of the health risk at the boy’s table, and I didn’t take my eyes off of my peer as he cried and mourned the death of his ward, friend, and plaything.
Of course, I can only assume many of the details. His family may have forgotten all of the details. My family hasn’t ever brought it up. We’ve dealt with deaths since then, real deaths of loved ones, some well before their time. My own mortality has become something I understand and think about, yet in the face of all of this, I still wonder what that boy thought at the moment that death was in his hands. To be the one who caused it. I once cut down one of my grandmother’s roses. I cried, not wanting the flower to die. Not knowing that, with flowers, death is a continual occurrence, with rebirth always following. It’s nature’s way of showing us how fleeting we human’s really are.