In First Grade, we made a "Who Am I book". It was nothing, really. A conglomeration of crayoned and glued copy paper held together by punched holes laced with rainbow fading yarn. The first page was supposed to hold either a picture of us as a baby or a drawn and colored representation of it. Knowing, even then, that I was no great artist, I carefully pasted a picture of myself as an infant cradled in my mother's arms in the hospital. Our first official picture together.
The second page was titled "Where I Came From". We were supposed to give the name of the town we were born in, then name and describe the people who were our parents. As with ourselves, we were supposed to have pictures of, or draw, part of the town and both our parents. I drew purple and grey mountains - having been born in Denver - and then painstakingly arranged pictures of my mother and father caddy-cornered from one another on the page.
We were to give personal details about them (such as when they were born) and then private details that explained why our parents were the best parents. I'm ashamed to admit that the paragraph about my mom was almost three times as long as my dad's. Even at that young age, it was obvious I connected more with my mom. But I desperately loved them both.
There was an adopted girl in our class. Her name was Melody. Melody's parents had tried for ten unsuccessful years to conceive a child of their own. When that failed, they went through the long, painful process of adoption. By the time they were 43, a beautiful baby girl had taken residence in their homes and hearts. They were ecstatic, but the older Melody got, the more she realized her parents were different from the others.
In our class of 6 year olds, most of the parents were ages 25 to 30. Her parents didn't look like the other parents. And they certainly didn't act like them.
My parents were different, too. Being 36, they were certainly older than the other children's parents, but it was much less noticeable. They had aged well and looked as young as the others. They stayed current in music and clothing and always knew what was cool to a 6 year old.
But they WERE different. And it was about to be called to my attention.
Melody's adoptive mother died two days after we completed the "Where I Came From" sheet. She had a massive heart attack. Melody's father did not remove her from class. He thought the routine of it would provide a calming influence on her now tumultuous home life and that being surrounded by 6-yr old friends instead of 50-yr old mourners would help her adjust.
Mrs. Tolleson sat Melody next to me and told us to help each other finish the projects. Already good friends, we became inseparable. Playing on the see-saw or the conjoined swing at recess and laying our mats next to each other during nap. For three days, we were peas in a pod.
Until the completion of the project.
On Friday, we were each supposed to get in front of the class and tell about "Where We Came From". We all told where we were born, how old we were, who our parents were and how old they were. Mrs. Tolleson began at the back of the room and moved up. Melody and I were set to speak last.
When it came to Melody's turn, she wouldn't get up from her seat, so Mrs. Tolleson came to our desks and said, "Here, we'll let Meghan go first. That way you know you can do it. You can do anything your best friend can do."
I stood in front of the class and proudly talked about Denver, my parents and our moves to other states. At the end of my rather lengthy soliloquy, Mrs. Tolleson reminded me gently, "You didn't tell us how old you are or how old your parents are."
"I'm 6!" I exclaimed. "And momma is 36 and daddy is 37."
"Your parents are OOOOLLLLDDDD!!!" Yelled David Williams from the back of the class and the other children laughed. But not Melody.
I took my seat beside her and she looked sadly at me before saying, "Your momma's old like mine. She's gonna die, too."
I never spoke to Melody again. My 6 yr old mind reasoned that if I never heard it, never thought about it, it couldn't be true.
But that didn't stop me from crying myself to sleep every night for a week. And still today having nightmares of my mother, my best friend, dying.
That is my greatest fear. Losing my mom.
And last week, my father lost his.