photo ghost marilyn             In Hillary Duff’s heyday (when was that…about ten years ago?) She was pretty hot stuff to a preteen boy.  He told us she was his girlfriend.  On his birthday we had the ceremonial moment of taking down the Toy Story® Poster and putting up the Hillary Duff poster. Sigh.

A year or so went by from his original claim on Hillary and he was pretty happy with her, as I recall. One day while playing the board game Life®, he reaches the “Get Married” stop, I place the pink peg in the passenger seat and ask knowingly, “So, who’s your wife?”

“Linda Ronstadt,” he answers.

“What?!? What about Hillary Duff?”

Without missing a beat, and with a bit of duh in his voice, “Hillary’s my girlfriend.”

“OOoh…” We all laugh.

Marcus fell in love with Linda Ronstadt from her 1970-something Muppet Show® performance.  Girlfriends have come and gone, but Linda Ronstadt remains the image of wife for him.

With one exception, when he goes to heaven he intends to marry Marilyn Monroe. In fact, he often talks fondly of death because of this idea.  I remind him, “That’s a long way away.  You can wait for Marilyn Monroe.”

“Yes,” he says, “I’ll wait for heaven.”

But today he also adds, “I’ll wait for the knife…I’ll wait for the gun.”

“Oh? No, honey.”

He says it without, how do I explain this? Without concern. There are days when we’ll talk about villains and superheroes from the movies he writes in his mind.  Every Broadway List has to involve adventure and conflict. There’s a lot of talk of ghosts and the like, cause Marcus is into that.

But, this news.  The bad news that runs on the TV while we sit at the restaurant is prompting him, I tell him. “Don’t look at the bad news.” (That works. Not.)

“It’s alright,” I tell him, “You are safe.”

Then comes the change.

“But, what about… the friends?” He asks. His eyes fill with tears.

“What friends?”

“The people…” the recognition clearly crossing his face. Of course, all of those people screaming, hurt and running, are friends.

I move across the booth and give him a hug.  “You are safe.” I tell him. It feels like a lie that must be said.

I think about how, before we travel again, we’ll go over and over how important it is to stay close to me.  Who to ask for help. How if we see the police he has to listen to me and go fast wherever I lead.  And I’ll worry and pray we don’t ever get separated in an emergency. Pray I’ll never see that panic cross his face.

I know, even in our own city, our own lives, everything can turn in an instant.

I can see he is fighting the tears that are pushing out. “Are you afraid?” I ask.

“I am afraid,” he answers, “I am afraid of death.”

“It’s alright,” take a deep breath, “You won’t die for a very long time.” Wiping his tears, I reason, “This is why we take care of ourselves.  Workout at the gym, eat healthy…we want to live for a long time.” Of course I wince at my own hypocrisy of the French fries and lemonade of the moment; Marcus is about lessons. And we are learning together what it means to fear death and yet choose to live.

The fact is…I really need Marilyn to wait, a long time, before she gets to meet the kindest man she will ever know on heaven or earth. And we are sad, truly sad, for the friends in Boston we have never met.