Let Someone Know You Are Still Okay
A bear fell out of the sky and killed my grandmother. Still in its cage and still alive, it fell from a travelling circus plane. My grandmother had been tending to her marigolds.
This was the kind of news that our town needed for a slow July. We needed something to grieve upon, a chance to rebuild anew. A tornado would do the same, but we learned to work with what we had.
“It still amazes me how she never took off that robe. God knows it should be an Olympic sport to see who can go to the lavatory in a robe and keep it dry,” my dad said on our way to the funeral home.
I knew I should be sad, but mostly I was angry with my father for being so calm, and worried that his calm would break in front of the family and I would see him weep.
When the authorities had arrived, the gnarled cage was open. Fastened to the bars was a splintered, hand painted picture of a bear. An hour later a woman saw a large, hairy mountain man in a tutu entering a liquor store.
I had imagined the bear was an astronaut, crash-landed on an alien planet, pulling himself through the emergency hatch and seeking cover. Regroup, establish a perimeter, let someone know you are still okay. That was the protocol. He knew the steps. Like a good bear, he had paid attention in training.
In the summers, before I was old enough to take care of myself, I would stay at my grandmother’s during the day. One morning I watched a VHS about fire safety. We needed to make sure we were prepared, I had decided. Stay low, use the back of your hand when feeling doorknobs, have a designated meeting spot.
I had looked all around the house for fire hazards and took notes on my drawing paper. Then I conducted a drill. I army crawled across the floor and squeezed through the dog door.
When I asked my grandmother what if burglars came through that door, she told me that it wasn’t intended for them. It was intended for Sunny the Scottie. Even he needed a door to leave through.
The next day she stood in the far corner of the yard with a stopwatch and hollered up at the kitchen window, “Ready! Go!” I army crawled as fast as I could down the hallway, down the stairs and out the dog door then ran across the yard.
“Looks like that bear got more than he bargained for,” the cheeky newscaster said after the footage played of Animal Control tranquilizing the beast outside the Dollar Store. My father had DVR’d the news coverage. After the funeral, after he’d gone to bed, I watched it all.
Filled with feather darts, the dirty creature had crumbled like a poorly assembled float at a Heritage Day parade. Its ragged tutu barely clung to the elastic waistband and was stained from all the running. The shoppers behind the police line cheered.
At the service, I bumped into my best friend from elementary school. He told me we should get together next time I passed through. I’d be proud of him, he said. He’s got a little family now. He quit his job at the cell phone store in the mall and now works in customer service on the third floor of an office building on the main drag downtown. By the time I come back through he hopes to have business cards, and he can give me one if I’d like.
Back in elementary school, on the summer nights we had sleepovers in my backyard, that same friend and I would solve mysteries. One of our first detective projects was drawing detailed sketches of the neighborhood, complete with red dotted-line evacuation routes, in case some of the bad guys were on to us. We even had plans in the works to dig a tunnel from my house to his, then continuing on to the outskirts of town if we still had time.
Watching that news footage, I wondered if the bear knew it had lost its chance of coming back to town. That it had forgone its chance at a grand re-entrance if the circus were to come around. Though it was probably pretty obedient, and though it was probably screaming in its bear language, Wait, it doesn’t have to go down like this, we didn’t see it that way. About then, my father trudged down the hall to pee, so I turned off the television set.
Back then, we ended up spending about a month of the summer digging the hole for our secret passage. At one point, it had rained for three days straight and turned our progress to mud. We worked like mad when it dried up. But anytime I felt like we were making real progress my friend’s mom would pull up, beep her horn and it was time for him to go.
Originally from Wyoming, Jason Joyce, M.B.A. is a writer, arranger, consultant and optimist who has made it his life mission to never grow boring. You can learn more about his companies, current projects and published work by visiting jasonrjoyce.com or @savageconfetti on Instagram.