“I can’t see the stars,” I said.
I was talking about the glow-in-the-dark dots on my son’s new space-themed pajamas. He was excited about them, as only a two-year-old could be, and he wanted to show them off to me. But they were invisible to my eyes.
“Why?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. I would probably be able to see them in a few seconds, once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness; but it also occurred to me that my sight just wasn’t as good as it used to be. Eliot’s was better.
“My eyes aren’t as good as yours,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
Once more, I paused.
“Because my eyes are old,” I said at last.
“Why are your eyes old?” he asked.
“Because I’m old!” I said.
This time, Eliot was the one who paused. During the silence, I began to make out the stars on his shirt, but I couldn’t see the expression on his face as he looked at me, processing what I’d just told him. When he finally answered, his voice was much quieter and more serious than it had been just moments before.
“You’re dying,” he said.
I stared into the darkness. He was only two. He had seen plants and flowers die, but as far as I knew, he’d had no cause to think about people dying. Had someone told him about the connection between old age and dying, or had he just known? I suddenly had a spooky feeling that perhaps Eliot’s mind was connected to some well of universal truth—a source we all begin life connected to but then lose touch with as we grow out of childhood.
“Daddy, are you dying?” he asked.
“No, buddy,” I said. Not yet.
After we said good night and I closed his bedroom door, I couldn’t get his little voice out of my head. Daddy, are you dying? Just how much did he know?
It wasn’t until the next morning, as I was walking him to the playground, that I would get another hint as to what was going on in his mind.
“Daddy,” he said, “I don’t like you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you’re old.”
I laughed, even though it actually hurt a little.
“Well,” I said, “when you get old, I will still like you.”
He looked up at me, eyes narrowed.
“No,” he said. “I will still like you.”
A moment later, he was running toward the slide.