For the next few weeks, I tried to establish a routine for the two of us. I wanted Melissa to have some stability in her life after the upheaval of the past year. I went back to work, but I would always leave the office early so I could be home when Melissa finished her school day. I would let her help me prepare our evening meals, and we would take the opportunity to talk about our respective days. I had learned you had to expect the unexpected from a young child, but sometimes, even I had to admit, this child took me by surprise.
One such day, out of the blue, Melissa turned to me.
“Becca, what does gay mean?”
I froze. This was not a question I had been expecting. I knew I needed to buy some time.
“Why do you ask?” I questioned warily.
“Well, some boys at school told Johnny Stewart that he was gay and they were laughing at him.”
I decided to take the coward’s way out.
“Uh, well, it means that someone is really happy.”
“Johnny didn’t look happy. He was crying,” she stated with a puzzled expression.
“Maybe he wasn’t in a happy mood at the time and it bothered him to have the boys laughing at him.”
I knew I was grasping at straws, but I wasn’t prepared to enter into a conversation with a five-year-old about homosexuality.
“Anyway,” I continued, “It just goes to show you that any kind of name-calling can hurt people’s feelings.”
I was confident the subject would be dropped, and I had even slipped in a small moral lesson for good measure. As usual, it wasn’t meant to be.
Melissa pursed her lips and nodded her head sagely.
“So, Jessica was wrong. It has nothing to do with sex.”
I almost cut myself with the knife I had been using to chop vegetables. How could this conversation be happening? She was only in kindergarten! Should I ask? I cleared my throat and tried to act casual.
“Sweetie, what do you know about sex?”
“Well, I know it’s a dance and sometimes, if you’re a good dancer, you can have a baby.”
“A dance?” I squeaked.
“Yeah, that’s what Jessica said.”
I made a mental note to limit Melissa’s playmates with Jessica.
“Becca, have you ever done a sex dance?”
I stared at her wide-eyed for a moment and then looked away.
“No, honey, I have never done a sex dance. Now, let’s have supper.”
It wasn’t really a lie. I can honestly say I have never done a dance called “The Sex Dance”. Besides, I could just imagine the questions she would ask if I said yes. No, I needed time to wrap my mind around the whole concept of discussing sex with a five-year-old.
Later, I laughed to myself about the conversation, but then I thought of Sylvia, and I wondered how she would have handled it. I knew I was going to be second-guessing myself often, constantly weighing my decisions against what I thought Melissa’s mother would have wished for her. I was going to make mistakes. I could only hope that those mistakes would be the same as those my best friend would have made under the same circumstances
After supper some evenings, we would go for a walk to the park if weather permitted or, if not, we would read books or play a game of “Crazy Eights” before bath and bed. One of Melissa’s favorite pastimes was to look through photo albums and reminisce about some of the things she had done with her mother. With the typical resilience of a young child, she was adapting rather well to the absence of Sylvia. I envied that resilience. I, on the other hand, was very lonely. What made it worse for me was the thought that very soon I was going to have to keep my promise to Sylvia.