Yesterday Dee asks, “If you could fly or hold your breath underwater, which would you choose?” At first I think she means fly in a plane, and for a moment I don’t understand the relationship between planes and holding your breath.
She tries me again. “If you could fly like a bird with wings or swim underwater like a fish, which would you choose?” “Fly,” I say, no hesitation. “Me, too,” she says. We are sitting in the living room. I’m drawing. Jim is reading the newspaper. The girls are on the floor working on homework. We are a picture, I think.
Then I try my if-this-then-what? question on Dee. “If you had no choice but these, would you rather be killed by a shark in the ocean or a grizzly bear in the mountains?” Jim shoots me a look over the top of the newspaper. “Shark,” Dee says.
I’m surprised. She liked flying over swimming, which tells me she prefers air over water, blue sky over black sea. Why not mountains over oceans, then? Why a shark? I’m pondering all this when Dee starts to retract her answer. Or rather, protest the question entirely.
“I wouldn’t want to die at all,” she says. Egads, I think, what am I doing asking her this question? Sometimes I treat her more like an 18-year-old. “The grizzly bear ate off Grizzly Man’s face,” she says, and now there is concern in her voice. Jim stops reading. I’m wondering if she has any idea what a shark does to to you when it attacks.
“Grizzly Man was eaten by the grizzlies in Alaska,” Jim explains. Another thing I should never have done — make my daughters watch Grizzly Man with me. “He spent years with the grizzlies,” Jim continues. “The one that ate him was probably sick or so hungry it couldn’t help itself.”
“Birds,” I say. “Birds!” I say the word as if it were a burst. It startles. Jim and Dee and even Em who up to now has been silent on the floor all look at me and wait. I get up and start to flap my arms. “Birds, birds, birds,” I sing.
No one says anything more. No more man-eating grizzlies. No bloody oceans. Just wings to fly away.