I’ve killed lots of people.
Sure they’ve all been fictional, but I’ve been fairly creative in the way I’ve dispatched professors, politicians, drug dealers, and an assortment of others. So, you would think explaining the concept of death would be an easy task for a crime fiction writer who spent a decade working in law enforcement.
“Daddy, can we walk down the street to see the big white dog?”
Such a sweet question coming from my preschooler while we were taking a walk through our neighborhood on a beautiful Spring day. There was one problem. The big white dog we usually saw hanging out in a neighbor’s back yard had died months ago. Now I had to explain this, and therefore the concept of death, with my three-year-old daughter. She is our only child and my wife and I had never discussed the topic with her before. Now, I was out on the street without my spousal back-up (she’s infinitely smarter than I am) and I was going to have to tackle the subject on my own. But, I’m a writer. I carefully choose and manipulate words to achieve a desired effect. I had this well in-hand.
“I think Juno went away,” I said cleverly.
My daughter asked, “Where did Juno go?”
Brilliant aversion plan: FOILED.
Well, I was going to have to be an adult and explain the circle of life to a girl who up to this point believed Elsa and Anna’s parents just went away on an extended twenty-year cruise.
I took a deep breath. “Juno died, Sweetie. Do you know what that means?”
She looked up and shook her head.
“Juno was very old, so he went to sleep and didn’t wake up again. Everything eventually dies and that’s okay. That’s just the way things are. Do you understand?”
I knew I was supposed to add something more, but the look on my daughter’s face told me she was trying to comprehend my words. We walked hand-in-hand in silence for several seconds before she stopped and looked down at the sidewalk. I knew then that some realization had finished processing in her impressionable mind. As she stared at the concrete path in front of us, my mind raced:
Oh, no. She’s going to cry.
She’s going to think our own dogs are going to die – this week.
She’s going to ask me if I’m going to die… THEN she’ll cry.
I’ve scarred her for life and doomed her to a life of alcoholism or worse – reality television.
“Daddy,” she said softly.
“At school, my teacher said when things die they go —“
What followed was my daughter crossing her hands around her throat, sticking out her tongue, rolling her eyes back in her head, and swaying back and forth while loudly making a grotesque gurgling sound.
My eyes opened wide as I watched this overdone theatrical death play out in front of me. Finally, the surreal street performance scene ended and my daughter looked up at me for confirmation that she had properly mimicked the act of dying.
I slowly nodded and said, “Okay. Good talk.”
We then continued our walk as I discovered I had a newfound confidence that I had never known as a parent. I now realized that just as with that initial fear of trying to write your first novel, much of the worrying is completely unnecessary.
Always remember: No matter how bad you tell the story, somebody out there has already done it much much worse.
(Disclaimer: Don’t get mad a the aforementioned teacher. It turned out she was explaining how plants could die if they didn’t get enough water when she had made the choking gesture. She’s a wonderful teacher who apparently does fantastic impressions.)
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology