We’re driving on 72 near Huntsville, Alabama, after spending the weekend in Chattanooga visiting his sister and her fiancé. The girls are occupied, Evie with her Leapster and Rena drawing, hopefully on paper and not her window. They are quiet; we are listening to Radar Bros. The Singing Hatchet. We don’t talk much on trips. It is a comfortable silence though, as if after almost 10 years of marriage we can communicate whole ideas with fleeting glances. Both of us sometimes live in our own brains. I know that he is thinking of work tomorrow, he thinks he has an idea for the reclaimed material in production and is planning on testing his theory this week. I don’t understand much of what he does for work. I’m looking at the houses by the road, wondering who lives there, what they do, how they feel right now. Is today an ordinary Sunday? What were they doing on this date in 1986? Do they like their hair? Do they daydream of traveling? We pass the space shuttle and Evie stops her game to tell us that she will be on that shuttle after Star Fleet Academy. She dreamily stares at it; this is her favorite part of the trip. She loves hearing about the shuttle and space camp and NASA and science. Kevin starts telling her that when she is older, she can go to space camp. She wants to know about Star Fleet Academy, but doesn’t grasp yet that it is from someone’s imagination, because it has totally captured hers. She wants to be a communications officer like Uhara.
I love this trip, especially travelling on 72. I love watching small towns go by. I would rather do these roads than the highway, where all you see are other cars. There are whole movies on this road. We pass a church with an old school bus painted in rainbow colors with LIFE SAVER written on the sides. Kevin giggles. We pass a few empty businesses, a few abandoned houses that are being taken over by vegetation. It is on odd site, to see what man has made being reclaimed by the earth, as if to be told we have no real power here, we are ants in the grand scheme of things, and everything we have can be taken back at any moment.
Kevin puts in a new CD, after this one has cycled through a few times. As soon as the first song starts, the girls ask for a movie, so he turns it off and I grab the case. I am grateful they travel well. When I ask what movie, Evie asks for the Aristocats. Then she asks if Tori will be seeing the Eiffel tower on her trip to France. This makes Kevin giggle and look at me. Of course she will go see it; it is her favorite part of Paris. Evie wants to see it too, one day.
But Tori is a cat, and Tori is not going to France. This weekend a big topic of discussion was saying goodbye to Tori. They found out on Friday she is terminally ill, and has to be put to sleep, and the appointment is for Monday. So this was the weekend to say goodbye. I often wonder how children, especially mine, think through things. Everyone was talking about saying goodbye to Tori, but finally on Saturday at lunch Evie asked where she was going. All the adults looked at each other. We didn’t know how to explain it, and I didn’t want to today.
“She’s going to France to visit her family. Monday Aunt Krissy has to take her to the airport. She might not come back; France is a nice place to be.”
That was enough for them. Tori is going to France. Kind of like when we told Evie at 3 that Pepper the rabbit went to live on a farm when he passed. But then, a few months later, at a petting zoo, she found a rabbit that looked like pepper and freaked out that she found the farm that pepper went to, and was glad he was happy.
Intermittently throughout the weekend, we fielded questions about Tori’s trip to France. What do cats do in France? What relatives will she be staying with? Will she be in one town or travel all over? Do all cats speak French? Even the ones that live in China? Do all cats come from France, or just some? Will she send postcards?
Kevin usually likes to tell the truth, even with the girls. I can’t sometimes, knowing that the truth will hurt them. I would rather her dream of Tori in France than being dead. It is better to feel a sting and work through it than walk with a lie.
As we drive I think of Tori in France. But instead of reality, she is a puppet, like Daniel Striped Tiger from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a puppet wearing a Barrett and speaking French with an American accent. Maybe Tori will be taking up smoking in France, just to act cool. Maybe she will take the train to Berlin, meet a young painter who wears big blue boots and have a torrid affair. So for miles, my mind is occupied with movies of puppet cats in France. Quite entertaining.
We hit Mississippi, there is an accident and we wait in traffic. I ask Kevin what he is thinking about, and he says “France”. This causes both of us to giggle. He smiles; I know it is OK, that he is OK with telling them a story at this age. That tonight, maybe we will all be dreaming of Tori’s adventures in France.