Kurt L. was my friend when I was six, and he died of kidney cancer. He wasn’t a neighborhood friend or a friend from school, which left my mom and his mom were friends. We took swimming lessons together a town over. I vaguely remember riding to swimming with him knowing he would die, but I may have superimposed my knowing onto an older memory of us going to swim. I vaguely remember selecting one of my favorite toy trucks to give him.
Until last weekend, I thought my mom talked me into giving Kurt one of my favorite toy trucks as a way of helping me connect with the harsh reality of what was happening to Kurt. I imagined a terribly awkward conversation where my mom asked Kurt’s mom if she wouldn’t mind if her son gave her dying son one of his toys so that he might learn a valuable lesson he could apply later in life.
I’m drawing on Kurt’s toy truck for a story I’m working on, so I grilled my mom for details. I was wrong all this time. Giving Kurt my favorite toy truck was my idea. I thought of it without help. Now, the point of this blog isn’t ‘Oh, what a good little boy am I.’ My intentions could have been purely magnanimous or I might have been angling for praise. Probably somewhere in the middle. We don’t know. I think of that as a story about my mom. She trusted my intentions enough that she gave Kurt’s mother a toy truck and said, “My son wanted your dying son to have his favorite toy truck.” She trusted my sincerity to transcend the banality of a dying boy receiving a toy truck and deliver a tiny semblance of comfort to Kurt and his mom.
Kurt died a month later. I was so stunned to learn thirty-five years later that the idea for giving Kurt that truck came from me, I made my mom tell me three times. “Yes,” she said, “it was all your idea. I was proud of you.”