A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved. —Kurt Vonnegut
“We are getting a puppy!” my 9- year-old niece announced to me on facetime, brimming rosy- cheek to rosy-cheek with elation.
“We are naming him Charlie!”
“That’s so exciting!”
Annabelle is blooming into a beautiful, strong-minded young girl with her own thoughts about many things.
She likes when I send her make-up, which got me into a little trouble with Grandma recently.
“Why did your aunt send you grown-up make-up?” Grandma asked.
“I love it!” she exclaimed.
I assured Grandma it was just a phase, and she’d eventually get bored of it.
Sure enough, last time I spoke to her, Annabelle confessed,
“Sometimes it’s annoying when it comes off onto my glass when I drink.”
“That’s the trouble with lipstick,” I empathize.
“But you look good, at least,” she says matter-of-factly.
Someone has to teach her what really matters in life.
Why not her crazy LA aunt?
As she shows me a picture of her soon-to-be brand new golden-doodle puppy, with his doe-eyes and floppy ears, I can’t help the dark places my mind goes. (Comedians always go to the darkest places, mostly because nothing terrifies us more than joy).
Oh no…what happens when the dog gets old, and sick, and eventually she has to say goodbye to this friend she’s learned how to cherish. Will she be ok?
They already lost two other dogs, but she was too young to notice the sheer heartbreak.
Having lost my Dad recently, I am all too familiar with the gaping hole that’s left when someone you love is no longer there.
I remember when Annabelle was 5 and got a balloon for her Birthday. Upon waking, she was overcome with grief at the sight of it, deflated, lying lifeless on her floor.
My sister said Annabelle sobbed over this friend she had perceived as more than an inanimate object.
How will she handle a greater loss?
She’s so sensitive and caring. Sometimes, she still holds back tears if you bring up Grandpa.
Then I check myself.
First of all, I’m just the aunt. My main job is to send gifts and be cool.
Second of all, it’s not really anyone’s job to teach kids about loss. The only lesson to teach is about love.
How to love their balloons, their dogs, their friends, and when the time comes to learn the next lesson, that’s for life to teach.
When you wake up, and the balloon is no longer floating, the dog is no longer barking, your father is no longer laughing, that’s when you learn the most important lesson on your own: how to keep loving them when they’re no longer there.
“I can’t wait to meet your new puppy!” I say, dismissing any semblance of anxiety from my face.
“Me too!” Annabelle says, her big blue eyes, bright with excitement and innocence, and all the things we want to remember being ourselves.
“You are going to be a very good mommy to him.”
“I know!” she agrees confidently.
She’s going to be just fine, I think.
“I love you” I say.
She pauses, thinking a moment. (She’s recently decided not to just arbitrarily say it, because she wants to know she means it first, a decision I greatly respect).
I wait patiently as she squints her eyes, thoughtfully playing with her purple scrunchy on her wrist.
I love you too!” she finally blurts out, “I love you. I love you. I love you!” the words ring out like a grand finale of fireworks, celebrating all that’s right in the world.
Then she hangs up the phone with gusto.
I take a sip of my coffee, my lipstick staining my cup.
“At least I look good,” I say to myself, laughing.
Then, as though becoming a nine year old myself for a second, I scribble down this little poem:
We all leave our mark.
How we love,
How we lose,
How we kiss,
Or how we bruise.
But for now, smile with your lipstick-stained teeth, kid.
The future isn’t ours to choose.
Then I grow up again, wipe the rim of my cup,
and finish my coffee.