Davy and I took our Noah to get a new pair of shoes after school today. Noah’s current brown suede loafers were worn out and getting smaller by the week and he wanted the very same ones, literally, except one size bigger of course. He’d be turning five this month, and it was time to upsize for sure.
But Davy and I somehow convinced him that the blue suede ones in the same exact style would be better. Different, but the same, and Noah begrudgingly agreed. It was clear he wanted the brown ones again, but really, he wanted McDonald’s for dinner more. So we walked up to the counter to pay, thinking the loafers were €50, only to discover that they were actually €80.
It turns out the blue ones were part of the “new collection” and thus ridiculously priced as such, while the brown ones were still last season’s, at a reasonable €50. Needless to say, Noah walked out of the store today with a new pair of brown loafers. Funny how some things just work out their own way, with lessons learned all around.
So with his new brown suede loafers in tow, Noah snuck in his request to be treated to McDonald’s for dinner. Davy and I obliged. We rolled up into the McDonald’s closest to home, ordered, and sat down with enough food for three including the quintessential Happy Meal. There was one other family in the PlayPlace dining area, a mom and her kids.
One of those kids, a boy just a little older than Noah, came over to our table almost immediately, wanting to compare Happy Meal Lego Batman toys and chat with Noah. His name was Jamie. Noah obliged, and I smiled. This particular McDonald’s always seemed to have some story in store for us, never a dull day…
I prepped Noah’s food for consumption, peeling open the usual condiments and unwrapping predictable bites of warm processed comfort food. That’s the thing about McDonald’s…you know exactly what you’re gonna get and that’s why you go back. The only surprises come along with the people around you at any given time.
“Mijn papa is dood.” My dad is dead.
I froze, mid-dip of my fry in the fritessaus fry sauce. I didn’t know if I’d heard that right. I looked up at Davy to see if he’d heard the same thing. This little boy Jamie, playing with Noah right next to me, had just announced clear as day that his dad was dead. Neither Noah nor Davy reacted, so I didn’t either. I honestly wasn’t even sure if it was the truth or some role playing with the Lego Batman stuff.
“Mijn papa is gestorven vrijdag. Hij is dood.” My dad passed away on Friday. He is dead.
And there it was. Jamie had repeated himself, with no emotions attached, making it very clear that this was real. I could barely swallow the fry in my mouth. It felt like styrofoam going down my throat. I wanted to hug the child, but I didn’t think I should touch him, so I told him I was very sorry to hear this news. My cynicism took over then, and I questioned the boy’s authenticity. And then his twin brother, Ike, popped up at my side. Fraternal Twin Ike joined in on the Happy Meal fun for a few seconds before announcing, too, that his papa was dead.
The whole scene felt unreal. And I noticed that Noah was chomping away at his nuggets and fries, wholly unaware, or perhaps purposely ignoring this whole thread of conversation surrounding death. I didn’t know if I should believe what I was hearing, or if I should comfort the boys in some way. But then the mother appeared and she gently scolded Jamie and Ike for interrupting our dinner and sharing too much, and she shooed them away. I told her that it was okay, that the boys could play, now or after they’d all eaten, whatever whatever whatever, my head was buzzing.
The mom apologized, but confirmed that indeed the boys’ father, her ex, had died last Friday, in a fatal motorcycle accident just nearby. And that she was trying to find some sort of normalcy in life by bringing her children – two boys and one girl – to McDonald’s, like any other day. Although she was no longer in a romantic relationship with the just-deceased father, their love for their children had always kept them close.
It turns out Davy had read the newspaper article about the whole tragedy, and knew of what she spoke. And all of a sudden so many questions were answered, at least for me. Those boys repeating out loud that their father was dead was less about those around them listening, and more for themselves. When would it actually sink in for them?
I excused myself at one point to go to the bathroom – to cry. I’ve never cried in the bathroom of a McDonald’s before in my life. There’s always a first for everything I guess.
I realized that I could relate in some way to this mother. I could see myself in her shoes somehow. I could have even been her on many occasions. Because there I was sitting there with my son and my estranged husband, feeling anything but normal in what looked like a normal family meal at McDonald’s.
Davy and I have been separated, for the second time in the last year, for a little over a month now. Today was our first real prolonged peaceful time together with Noah, for the purposes of doing something solely for Noah, in a long time. But it was way more than I asked for in many ways, and at close to midnight, I’m still grappling with things that prevent me from sleep.
But I’m relieved that I can share some of what’s been going on in my life after months and months of silence and personal turmoil…
I found the article eventually, link, detailing the sad truth about it all. It shook me. It made me think about my own life.
My future. My present. My past.
Noah. Davy. My dad.
Fries turned out to be very complicated today.
I tried my best to convey what I could to that mom, my own way.
But I forgot to thank her, most of all, for her strength in everything, today.
Because, one day at a time.