I cried when G.T. died. “G.T.” was short for Growl-Tiger. He went back to way before I grew too old to cry - in fact, he was older than me. He had not done much lately. He liked to follow the sun through the house. Most mornings, he lay in a bright spot on my bed; around lunchtime, he dozed in the kitchen window; and in the afternoons he usually slept in a sunbeam on the living room rug. Then one night this spring when I came home from ball practice, I found him still on my pillow. When I picked him up, his legs stuck out stiff, and he was cold.
We buried him under a pear tree he had once loved to climb. “He had a good, long life,” said Dad. “He was a hundred and twelve.” I knew people say one year in a cat's life is equal to seven human years. G.T. had been sixteen.
“Would you like to say a prayer, Tommy?" asked Mother.
I found one in her prayer book, but it asked God to forgive the sins of those who had departed. I did not think G.T. was guilty of any sins. He killed birds when he was young, but that was just his instinct.
Mother read some words by 'Abdu'l-Baha: “A love you have for anyone will not be forgotten in the Kingdom.”
I thought of the Kingdom – Heaven – Paradise - and of everything I had heard about it. The Kingdom, I knew, is where our spirits will go when we die, but it is not a place. It is past anything we can imagine - too bright and shiny and fine. I felt sure that when I got there I would meet my grandfather, who had died before I was born. There would be no sickness, no fighting or hurt or hate. “I wonder if animals go to the Kingdom,” I said.
“I don't know,” replied Mother. I did not know the answer myself, but I knew that loving G.T. would not be forgotten. That made me feel better.
“Tommy!" Adam Miller called as I walked back to the house. I answered, “Yeah,” bending over to tie my left shoe and to make sure I had no tears left.
“My mom went back in the hospital,” Adam said.
The Millers live across the street. Adam and his sister had been eating breakfast and catching the school bus with me when their mother was in the hospital. That had been most of the time lately. I had not seen Mrs. Miller much since she got sick, but she was our den leader year before last - the year we earned our Wolf Scout badges and made kites. Mrs. Miller had helped us spread out newspaper and plastic and gift-wrap in her basement, with string and hobby-store sticks and green switches. We made circle kites and box kites and dragon-tailed kites. They all flew.
Mrs. Miller stayed in ~ the hospital all this spring. Adam said she was getting treatments that made her hair fall out. He played at my house most afternoons. We were building a fort, chasing his sister away when she came to bug us. One day I mentioned, “When school lets out, Mom and Dad are taking me to Eight Miles' Thrills.” That is a park that has the fastest roller-coaster in the world."
I was going to ask, “Want to come?” - but Adam said, “Be quiet, dodo.” I kicked him, just a light kick. He knocked me down so hard I scraped my nose and both knees. Before I got up he was out of sight.
“Some friend!" I said while Mother put peroxide on my knees, and a drop on my nose.
“Adam must feel very unhappy,” said Mother.
“Ouch!" I cried, because the peroxide stung.
“Tommy,” Mother continued, “the doctors don't think Mrs. Miller will get well.”
“What does that mean?" I asked. She did not say anything. “She'll die?" I guessed. Mother nodded.
I could not make sense of that. The only people I had known who died were very old. I thought of Adam's father, a quiet, worried-looking man. The Millers' house seemed too quiet. I remembered how noisy it had been when we had the den meetings. I wondered how I might feel doing homework and going to bed in such a quiet house. Would the quiet make me feel like yelling and hitting?
I got over being mad at Adam, but he did not come back. School let out the next week. He and his sister were sent to stay with their grand-parents in another town. I did not see Adam until a month later, at the funeral home, after Mrs. Miller died.
Mother had us wear dark colors. Dad reminded me to be quiet there. “Why are people sad at funerals?" I asked on the way.
“It's sad to lose someone.”
“But Baha'u'llah said ‘death is a messenger of joy.’ You told me Mrs. Miller was very sick, and in pain. She's happy now.” I thought of kites. I could not picture the Kingdom, but when I tried, I thought about running from one shiny cloud to another, flying kites - all kinds of kites in rainbow colors, where the wind was always right and there were no trees to snag them.
In the funeral home I saw several neighbors and strangers. Mother and Dad talked quietly with Adam's father. I saw Adam's sister crying. Then I spotted Adam in a suit and tie, sitting between his grand-parents, his face like a wooden soldier. I knew I was supposed to tell him I was sorry, but I did not know how. There were heaps of flowers in the front of the room, around a large dark wooden box. I had never seen a casket before. We walked closer, and I saw Mrs. Miller. I wished I had stayed home. The times Mrs. Miller had come back from the hospital, she had looked very pale and tired. Now she had pink cheeks, and perfect hair. She looked too neat, like a mannequin in a store.
I remembered Mrs. Miller catching fly-balls when we played three to a team, and trying to lead us in a song as her car inched through bumper-to-bumper traffic on our den trip to the zoo. I knew if I touched her, she would be cold. Suddenly I seemed to be shaking all over, and my throat felt as if I had swallowed a live frog.
“Let's leave,” I whispered.
“We can't yet,” said Dad.
“Then let me wait in the car.”
I almost ran outside. I sat in the car and thought of G.T., and of all the people I had seen killed on television, and of those I had heard were killed in wars and famines and crimes and accidents on the news. I got out and walked along the top of a wall between the flowerbeds. I thought of Adam and his father and sister sitting down to supper that night, with their house so quiet. What if my mother should die? What if I knew she would never again help me with fractions, pick me up from ball practice, or even put peroxide on my skinned knees? I would know she had gone to the Kingdom, but that would seem so far away!
I felt tears coming. Just then I heard a voice: “Hey, Tom! How's the fort?"
Adam was behind me, balancing on the wall. I squeezed the tears back and answered. “I guess I haven't done any more with it. Want to try?"
“I - I'm sorry about your mom,” I stammered. “I liked her a lot.”
About a week later, after Adam's relatives all went home and his father went back to work, we started building the fort again. His sister has been coming over, too, and now we're finishing it together. It's turning out fine.
(by Chris McNett, ‘Brilliant Star’, July-August 1986, vol. 18 no. 3)