It had been oppressive all day; I should’ve known that storms were coming from the way the air felt heavy and the smells grew sharp in the late afternoon. My niece, nephews and I even tried going for a walk, but clouds moved in quickly, winds began whipping the tree branches back and forth, and a smattering of rain hit us just as we turned back, screaming with a kind of fear and delight as gusts of cooler air rushed forth.
Still it was a surprise when the tornado sirens went on and stayed on, wailing loudly in the air. We piled in the basement, and even as branches flew off trees and the air turned dark and violent, the kids ran riot over the boxes of old toys, my youngest sister’s old poster of Kurt Cobain as a child looking down benevolently upon us, tacked up like an afterthought with the rest of her early teenage detritus.
“Who’s Kurt Cobain?” my oldest nephew asked.
“He was in a band called Nirvana.”
“Was he famous?”
“Well, he’s on a poster, so he is on some level.”
My nephew looked at the years of Cobain’s birth and death under the picture. “Why did he die so young?”
“He killed himself.”
My nephew took that in for a moment, puzzling it out. He’s 11. He had questions about the Rapture all weekend, and wanted to know how it differed from the apocalypse that’s supposed to happen in 2012.
We looked out the window together for a moment, watching the squall outside, and inwardly I worried about being so straightforward about suicide. He’s at a tricky age, where in some ways he’s so mature but in others he’s still so innocent.
“Why did he do it?”
“He was very troubled. But so are a lot of people, and they don’t go that far.”
He thought about it for a moment. “What do you do with troubles?” He sounded worried and somber, even for a fairly serious kid.
Oh, what a question, I thought to myself as the sirens wailed louder and the thunderstorm grew. What a question to begin growing up with.