Zacks Lake

I hit an animal driving away from Mom’s nursing home on Christmas Eve. It was dark on the back country roads, and the little one came out of nowhere, white and fast. The thunk she made on the front of my Forester was like all the animal thunks–nauseating, heart-wrenching, far too loud for her tiny size.

I circled back to find her, searching desperately in the glow of multi-colored Christmas lights strung on rickety fencing, but she was gone. All she left behind was white fur and saliva streaks on my car, and an endless stream of tears running down my cheeks.

“Please don’t let her be a pet,” I cried into the darkness. “Not tonight. Not on Christmas Eve.”

I’ll never know if she was a pet. I just know that I hit her. My car is big, and she was… so small.

I wracked my brain to find meaning in the knowledge that I killed an innocent animal on Christmas Eve, but the only lesson I found was this: Life happens. Death happens. Relationships change. Marriages end. Families rearrange. Loved ones are lost. People come and people go. Friendships. Pets, too. Even white, small, unexpected ones. Nothing stays the same. Not even on Christmas Eve.

My four grown kids bonded over the holiday over bad beer, board games, and trail hikes. They skipped stones on the frozen pond and played catch with the pups. They ate vegetarian lasagna and peanut blossoms and molasses cookies. They half-completed a puzzle of pastel ice cream cones.

They were here. And four days later, they were gone, off to celebrate a second Christmas with their dad. I cried as I washed their sheets, and I smiled as I packed up the gifts they gave. So much happiness contained in such a short slice of time. So much sadness, too.

Our lives are different now. Reassembled in a new way. Not just by divorce, but by the passing of time as well. Sam starts his new job in July after he travels through Europe. He doesn’t yet know where he’ll be assigned. The other three will be in different colleges in three different states.

My job situation leaves my own life unsteady and unsure. I, too, could land anywhere. A different city, a different state, a park bench.

So, these days together that are few and far between? I will do my best to treasure the messes and the crumbs and the smell of stale PBR cans. I will fold their clothes and listen to them laugh and yell at each other over heated games of Yahtzee. When they ask if I want to play backgammon, I will say, “Yes. YES!”

Robert Frost knows. Ponyboy, too…

Nothing gold can stay.

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