He asks if I’ve heard about the tragedy, though, at 10, he slightly mispronounces the word. I don’t correct him, already chilled by the fact he has been told too much any child his age should ever have to know, or try to comprehend.
I nod my head knowing that his parents (I’m the grandparent) have already shared what they think he can handle, but, in truth, only what they want him to know. They have never had to do this before, and so quickly, before he hears it on the bus, playground or outside the safety of his home. But how do you shield any child in a world where IPhones, IPads, and Cable are so easily accessible? Where 10 second sound bites, accompanied by graphic visuals, spill from the screen at first click.
He is an active and interested fourth-grade boy, a child who loves to read, play and enjoys his family, though sometimes fights with his younger sister, but mostly asks a lot of questions. I know instantly that he is testing me and needs more info, but this is not my job. I can only reinforce what he has already heard: that he is loved, and safe, and that the person who committed this unimaginable act was a very, very sick young man.
“What kind of sick?” He asks, trying to remember a big word he recently heard (schizophrenia), while I am already feeling more than uncomfortable, squirming under his nervous and curious gaze.
“You are safe, sweetie,” I remind him, “you don’t have to worry about any of this.”
I’ll do the worrying, I think, more vigilantly than ever, because turns out the unimaginable can and does happen! People lied to me once, too, a long time ago, and so I am braced for the worst, as though that could soften the blows of any painful reality.
Later, I notice him sitting at the kitchen counter busily typing on his IPad, a gift definitely not bought by me. He looks up, sheepishly, knowing he’s been caught seeking more information…that what he was given was not enough or that with the resource for information, right there, he decided to take the matter literally into his own hands.
But for now, all I can do is stall him, say: “put that away, it is enough.” Do I add: “this is all lies? Make-believe?” He is much too smart for that and has, perhaps, already lost his innocence, while we… those who love him most, until today, had not noticed.