Grief is not a straight line. Before bed she asks, What will happen when Riley gets old? and I know she means to ask, Will he die?
He will probably sleep a lot more and fart a lot more, I say, to tread lightly. It makes her laugh.
But then she gets real quiet and she’s thinking hard. What will happen to Sam? If they get old, then we will have no more pets and I will be sad.
Oh, baby, I say. Collect her in my arms. Oh, love.
I don’t want you to die, Mommy.
I know, I say. I don’t want to die either. I plan to stick around a long time, okay? We have a lot to do.
The balance between comforting her and not making promises I can’t keep.
Stay with me, Mommy.
So for a little while longer, I do.
But thinking about the future makes me dream of the past. Old friends and exes who are suddenly committed and supportive and there.
I have a plane to catch. I’m running late.
Don’t worry, they say, even though every other stranger shrugs when I ask for directions. We’ll help get you where you need to go.
And I wake up before my alarm, shake off the layers of sleep. The room is quiet. Everything is uncertain except this: I am exactly where I need to be.