Published on February 9th, 2017 | by Richard Black0
“Daddy,” my six year old daughter asked me one night at bedtime, “are you afraid of spiders?”
“Spiders, I responded and looked at Darcy dead in the eye, “are fucking terrifying. All those legs scare the living shit out of me and those eyes? Jesus. They make me want to peel off my skin. Once when daddy was in camp and sleeping under the stars he woke up with a spider on his throat the size of an orange.”
I know. I know. Some of you may object to my approach. I realize that it’s important to project a sense of security for the sake of a child’s wellbeing but I also firmly believe that it’s just as important to be honest. Honesty, after all, is always the best policy. I’ve taken the statement to heart and I like to think that Darcy appreciates my honesty despite her occasional night terrors.
I’ve even developed a routine at night called “Daddy Calls it Like it Is” because Darcy really appreciates my honest nature. Once or twice every year when my wife is out of town I get to put Darcy to bed and let her ask me any question that happens to be on her mind. It might be something simple about whether water is alive or a subject that’s a bit more complex like “Who is God?” or “Why do you and mommy wrestle so much at night?”
Regardless of the topic I try to give my daughter an honest answer.
A few years ago when she was four or five my daughter became at bit curious about where she came from. I balked from giving her a full explanation at first but Darcy was pretty insistent and after I described the physical act of love I launched into a detailed explanation of in-vitro fertilization. I even had her watch a documentary on the subject which, for the record, prompted more questions and a court order I’m not allowed to reference but that’s beside the point.
“Sure spiders are scary,” I said and put my arm around my daughter, “but there’s a lot of other stuff out there that’s even worse.”
“Like what?” Darcy asked as her eyes saucered.
“Well when I was your age I worried that my parents were going to get divorced. Do you know what that means?” I asked.
Darcy timidly shook her head and I took the opportunity to continue.
“Divorce is when your mommy and daddy hate each other so much that they leave each other forever and live in separate houses. Of course when I was a boy and the older I got the more I worried that my parents wouldn’t leave each other,” I continued, “It wasn’t that they fought so much as the silence in the house when they weren’t fighting that got to me. That’s when I knew they were really going to leave each other,” I confided.
“Are you and mommy going to get divorced?” Darcy asked as she managed to pull the blanket that covered her head slightly past her mouth.
“Not at all. The two of us have pledged that we’ll live together despite how much we come to hate each other. Honestly,” I said and leaned in closely, “we’ll probably die before that ever happens. You know what death is right?”
Other than a slight shake of her head Darcy didn’t respond.
“So you know that when you kill a bug how it stops moving? Imagine that but with a person or a bunny or even you. That’s death. You just stop moving and breathing and everything you’ve ever known is gone. Even yourself.”
My daughter didn’t respond but I took her shivering body as sign of her unbridled enthusiasm for learning and continued.
“You know when I was your age I used to worry about death all of the time,” I said caught up in my own thoughts, “the end of my existence, the end of me was just about the most horrifying thing I could consider. Then I worried about actually dying.”
“Like someone just stepped on you?” Darcy asked hopefully.
“I wish. This germ called MRSA killed one of your great grandfathers after he broke his hip for the third time,”I responded before asking if my daughter knew what germs were. Darcy said something from behind her blanket as she curled into a fetal position that could have been a “no” but I couldn’t really tell.
“Think of them as little tiny bugs that you can’t see but that are all over you. Some of them are even inside you. Most of them don’t cause problems,” I said as I brushed my daughter’s hair over her eyelids that would take a crow bar to pry open, “but not this one. The damn thing pretty much ate your great grandfather up from this inside.”
“I love you daddy,” my daughter said although it came out as more of a plea.
“You won’t have to worry about that though sweet pea,” I said trying to give her some measure of comfort before it was time for her to go to sleep. After all I’m not a monster.
“You’re going to live a long life little girl,” I said reassuringly, “and the odds are that mommy and daddy are going to die much sooner than you.”
“You are?” Darcy asked in a voice slightly above a whisper.
“Sure,” I said kindly, “but not for a while. Although I should tell you that right now daddy has this weird pain in his side. It’s probably nothing but it could be liver cancer or the onset of early kidney failure.”
“Cancer…” Darcy began to ask.
“…is nothing you should worry about. Early detection methods will probably give me a few months or so and we’ll have plenty of time together so that you and mommy can take care of me during my slow and inevitable decline. More worrisome right now is daddy’s sleep apena which means that he stops breathing as much as a few hundred times a night. It’s usually not fatal but it can put some strain on your old man’s heart. Do you know what a heart attack is?”
Darcy didn’t respond to my question which I took to mean that she had fallen fast asleep and the tears on her cheek were simply a measure of the pure joy she felt at enlightenment. The lecture had come to an end. It was time to let my little girl rest.
“I love you very much Darcy,” I whispered as I kissed my daughter on the forehead and gave her one last piece of truth to aid her slumber, “sleep tight and know that your mother and I will most likely see you in the morning. After all less than 100,000 people die in their sleep every night and most of them aren’t even children.”