Everyone thinks about death, but a few of us think about it too much.
“Well, I’m gonna die at age 88 of a machine gun attack through my window while I’m finishing a puzzle,” said my middleborn son over a plate of French fries.
I raised my eyebrows at Middleborn. “A machine gun attack? Why?”
Middleborn dragged a knuckle through his ketchup and squished it between his pursed, pensive lips.
“Because it would just be a cool way to die,” said he.
I didn’t feel like cooking that night, so we braved a blizzard to visit that cozy little restaurant. The moon and Jupiter were just sliding from the fog when our truck trundled between heaped snow gargoyles and down the plowed roads.
We shook the snow from our shoulders and tromped into the restaurant. Most of us ordered cheeseburgers. But Middleborn ordered French fries only.
We drank all the tiny half ‘n’ half cups while waiting for our food. I slugged back half a pitcher of coffee just to warm up, which we all regretted later when I wanted to stay up late reading tongue-twister poems.
My firstborn son piped up. He’s the kid who won’t speak softly no matter where he is.
“Well I’M gonna die at 106 while MINI GOLFING,” bellowed Firstborn.
“What makes you so sure?” I asked.
“Kelton had a vision of it while he was playing Minecraft,” said Firstborn.
Kelton is a 13-year-old trombonist in the middle school band who thinks that trombones are better than saxophones.
A windswept straggler two tables over craned his neck to get a better look at us. I guzzled the last of the coffee.
“I don’t want a machine gunner to take me out,” Firstborn continued. “’Cause that would be defeat, which is dishonor.”
Firstborn was nervous to be sitting with his back to the restaurant entrance. He glanced over his shoulder to check for assassins.
In that moment I remembered that Firstborn is my height, my size. A nascent mustache fought for recognition on his pale upper lip.
My twin sons weren’t as certain about death. The big, sweet twin flashed his blue eyes at me.
“What about you, sweetie?” I asked. “Any thoughts on this?”
Big-Sweet shrugged. When death comes for him, he’ll melt it.
The little feisty twin tugged a ball cap onto his head and gritted his teeth. “I’ll just go when I’m ready,” he said.
When death comes for Little-Feisty, he’ll punch it in the nose.
It was a weird dinner conversation, I won’t lie. But everything around us is dead. The harsh winter swept in and obscured not just life, but our faintest memories of it, burying the thirsty earth; zapping the loamy warm cells of our lungs. Frigid crystals imprison our sunbeams and icicles curl away from the pained night winds that scream, like goblins, in our chimney.
Will the cold earth ever wake? Will we ever run barefoot outside? We wondered.
“I’ll probably die when I’m 92,” said Big-Sweet. He scrunched his nose. “But how long DO boys live?”
“I dunno,” said caffeinated me. “I’mma Google it.”
My smartphone says American men live to be about 76.1 and women live to be about 81.1.
“Oh is that it?” said Firstborn. “I bet the lifespan will be at least 900 when I’m grown up.”
“How’s that?” asked The Husband, who ordered a dinner he didn’t really want because it came with free chili.
“Because science,” said Firstborn, absently licking a dot of mustard from his coat sleeve.
Maybe one day science will have a cure for mustard stains, too.
But even in the darkest winter, there are little glimmers of hope. Nearly every time I’ve gone for a run since December, someone has pulled over and asked me if I’m running because I’ve got a stuck car somewhere and need help.
Our saint of a neighbor Charlie has dragged his tractor plow over our driveway more times than I can count.
The Husband and his brother towed my car out of a snowbank in the exact moment I got another car stuck elsewhere.
And Firstborn, bless his feeble mustache, has learned to chop wood again and again, driving momentum through his sternum, into his shoulders and down, arcing, to the heart of gravity curled somewhere deep beneath the chopping stump.
The days are evil, says our Bible. That means the days will sneak up on you, play tricks on you and leave you behind. Not even winter lasts forever.
But every day is a little fuller, a little brighter, when we cuddle up in a restaurant booth together and remember that someday, they’ll end.