Brooke and I are in the car, on our way home.
“Do you remember when Kiki was crying in January?” she asks.
I try to call up a script, but come up dry. I’m not sure what my response is supposed to be.
“Why was Kiki crying?” I ask.
“In January,” she says.
Ah, now I know where she’s going.
“Do you mean when Ooma died, honey?” I ask.
“Uh huh. What did you tell me? About how what we’d been practicing was really happened.”
“I told you that Ooma had passed away,” I say.
“How did you say it?” she asks.
She needs to hear the words, to replay the exact conversation. It hurts, but it’s necessary. It’s how she processes – how we process together.
We repeat the words, then drive for a moment in silence.
“Do you think Ooma and Grandma Noe are baking together?” she asks.
I laugh and my voice cracks with my heart as I say, “Oh, I hope so, baby. ”
I dive headlong into an image of the two of them in some celestial kitchen, side by side, Ooma humming and Noe dancing around a center island covered in sugar and flour and love.
“I love that idea, Brooke” I say.
I can’t hide the tears. I don’t try.
In May, Brooke and I went to see Godspell at the North Shore Music Theater.
After the performance, I’d written the following.
At the end of the play, for the first time ever, Brooke began to cry when Jesus died. Tears streamed down her face as they carried him from the stage. I offered her my arm and dried her tears on my sleeve as they fell. I held her close and kissed her sweet, warm head. She cried all the way into the car and on the way home.
“Do you know why I’m crying?” she asked, as she does whenever she’s upset.
“Why, baby?” I asked.
“Because Jesus died,” she said. “Like when Ooma died and you cried, and Katie cried, and cousin M cried and everybody cried. Do you remember? when Ooma died and everyone was crying?”
I told her that I did.
“I want her back,” she said.
One month later, Noelle was gone too. It was too much to bear.
Not long afterward, Brooke declared that she was done with Godspell. As I told a friend recently, it was a very emotional thing. I didn’t write about it at the time because it felt too personal and too precious and just too damned raw to be anyone else’s business.
An autistic friend of ours happened to be with us at the moment of reckoning. She was the one who recognized it for what it was. “It isn’t easy when we lose the things we love,” she said. “It can be really hard to leave an intense interest behind.”
I was so glad she was in the car with us that day, that hour, that moment. That she could tell me why. It made so much sense. The loss.
Brooke told me later that she still loved her Godspell dolls and she would still listen to the music. It was the play that she would never see again.
“I cried when Jesus died,” she said.
“I know, baby,” I said. “I know.”
“Mom, why are you crying?” she asks.
“I miss them, baby,” I say. “I just miss them. And I’m crying for Papa too.”
“Does he miss his mama?” she asks.
“He does, my love. We all do. And he misses Grandma Noe so very much.”
Without another word, she begins to sing.
Her sweet soprano fills the car – and my soul.
Long live God.
Long live Go-o-o-d.
Long live Go-o-o-d.
Long live God.
It’s the moment in Godspell when they take Jesus off the cross and carry him through the streets of Manhattan. It’s a terribly sad, yet simultaneously triumphant scene, one in which an overwhelming sense of loss gives way to faith, to love, to a message of communal care far greater than any individual life.
It’s painful and beautiful and perfect.
“I sang of making you feel better,” she says.
She looks closely at my face.
“Do you feel better for the singing?” she asks.
Her syntax has reverted back to what it used to be. There’s comfort in that – in “for” and “of.” In a secret language just our own.
“I do, my love,” I say, “Thank you.”
I drive on. And I wonder ..
What would Ooma and Grandma Noe bake together?
Whatever it would be, Noe would make it beautiful and Ooma would insist that we take another piece.