It was the best shark I'd ever drawn. Not perfect, mind you, but it had some three dimensional qualities, noticeable roundness in the right parts. The gills looked like gills instead of inverse letter Cs. The tail appeared to be, in a less than overbearing way, pointing out at the viewer of the picture.
Drawn by a 9 year old, on college ruled paper with an old Ticonderoga number 2 pencil.
As good as that shark, (which I had been trying to draw since my interest in the Great White had been peaked by movies like "Jaws" and "The Deep"), appeared on the paper, my mind wasn't on it.
I was thinking about the strange place my parents had taken me to early in the day. A foggy memory today, I still remember it enough for it to disturb me. I sat in a room with my mother and a strange guy. In a fold up chair, scrunched down, I face him as he leaned forward, elbows on knees and asked me that question.
"Are you afraid your father is going to die?"
I felt a cold raindrop roll down my spine, and lied through my heavy metal teeth.
This chap, who I now assume was a child psychologist, looked over his right shoulder at my mother, and told her we could leave. She nodded back, and that's exactly what we did.
As I was penciling this Great White, trying to model it after a shark drawn by Neal Adams in a pocket Batman compendium I owned and treasured, this day's event was what I thought about. The shark, as good as it looked, was a secondary value.
I had to do this now, before my balls backed up any further into my anatomy than they already were. Mockingly, a picture of "The Last Supper", a mirror painting I would steadily lose faith in over the next few years, hung over the entryway to the kitchen, the same influx my Mother would have to go through to answer the question I was now aching to ask, before I couldn't hold the guts to do it anymore.
I called her into the room. She sat across from me as I added unnecessary touches to the Great White, never looking up at her.
I cleared my throat. It was getting hard to breathe.
"Today, when we went to see that guy and he asked if I thought Dad was gonna die? I lied to him. Is he?"
Mom looked at me long and hard, and the eyes started to glisten with wetness. I didn't need to hear the answer for I now knew it. Finally, she nodded. As much as I expected that response, it was like a 2X4 to the testicles. Breathing became rushed. My dear mother was only 3 feet away, but getting there took an eternity. I stood, and instantly my knees locked, my calves tingled and became weak as I stumbled that horrible distance, huffing breath, finally falling into her arms.
I was crying that awful cry, that indescribable weeping, where breathing is not an option, where your chest feels like an anvil is resting on it. Screaming feels like the only way out. Crying so hard your body is as sore as your soul.
Even at nine, I still knew this was mile marker number one, in what would be many landmarks, that would act as chapter number pages in my life. How I knew that at nine is beyond me.
This was, and still is the most painful moment of my life. Going to Dad to answer his question of whether or not I understood, was not worse. Watching Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" on TV while absorbing this disease of a piece of information was not worse.
I cried that awful cry off and on for several hours. Mom did what she could to soften the blow, made me a strawberry shake in a big Superman glass, told me I could stay home from school tomorrow, even called my dear aunt over to try to talk me through this. This was wisdom, my first experience with awful, acidic wisdom. Not the death of a pet, not a fish that gets flushed down the toilet, this was the fucking crash course in black knowledge.
Later that night, at the table, suffering with a bout of insomnia, I found that shark still sitting in the kitchen, swimming in what appearing to be puckered paper from my tears. In the same room as the mirror/picture of "The Last Supper", I took my last look at that excellent Great White.
I would never cry that hard, or for this reason again.
I stood in the dark slowly ripping it to shreds. I wafted the confetti into the trash can and closed the lid. It was late, and I would try sleep again. Switching off the light in the kitchen, I walked back through the entryway to the hallway that led to my bedroom, completely ignoring "The Last Supper"
For Jesus held no comfort.