It wasn’t clear to me, really, how to prepare a two-year-old for sitting outside, on a blanket, in the dark of night, in a place you’ve never been before, with lots and lots of other people you don’t know sitting all around you, on blankets, waiting for someone or something—you weren’t sure which, exactly—to shoot explosives into the sky.
She didn’t understand. She didn’t think she needed to. We were her parents. We wouldn’t put her in harm’s way. We always brought a sweatshirt in case she got cold, a snack-bag filled with Chex Mix, a built-in lap where she could sit, which was where she was, safe and warm on Daddy’s lap, on the blanket, in the dark, in the neighborhood park, when she caught her first glimpse of the end of the world.
How would she know this gigantic noise at a volume she never even knew existed, which caused every person she could see to drop back their heads and stare stonerly into the black sky, was the start of something good?
“Wha dat?” she asked. No one answered. There was no time to explain. Everyone on our blanket—mommy, daddy, two grown-up friends, 4-year-old big-sister Blair—was already calculating a solution to the problem at hand: Enormous four-story-tall sequoia blocking view. Must move.
Drew covered her ears this time, then looked up at the tree, suddenly back-lit by firecracker light, making it look like a massive alien monster…that was on fire.
“Look there! THERE!” she heard Mommy scream, as I pointed to a small clearing—a clearing I knew that every mother on every blanket in the shadow of the sequoia from hell had spotted, and was strategizing a way to transport her brood to it.
Drew watched as Blair, like a 36-pound bullet in purple monkey jammies, sprinted off in the direction her mother was pointing. Toward the sound. Toward that glowing monster tree. For all Drew knew, she would never see her sister again.
“Go! Go! Go!” She heard her mother yell, as Daddy scooped her up under his arm, his other hand dragging the blanket like a wounded comrade. Mommy cut hard to the left, blocking out a family of five with an unnaturally small dog, then to the right, zipping past an old couple that couldn’t figure out how to fold up their portable golf chairs.
“Follow me! NOW” her mother yelled again. And we all picked up speed, sweaty and desperate, leaving our half-drunk water bottles, our snack bags of Cheese-its, our Bud Light Limes we’d snuck there in Styrofoam cozies, heading toward the clearing, as if running for the last helicopter out of Saigon.
Then Drew saw Blair, standing in a small patch of grass, looking up to the sky, her mouth hanging open, arms stretching out into a T, as if her tiny wingspan could save enough space for us all.
Daddy set Drew down, and she grabbed her blankie, which was truly the only thing she could count on in life anymore. She trotted over to her sister, and looked up. And she saw it. She saw it.
Her thumb dropped from her mouth and the word snuck out in a whisper: