The morning I turned nine, I woke up before anyone else, wandered downstairs, and folded into myself on the couch. I stared at my pale feet and told myself, you are nine, and someday you will die, and every year on September 16th, which is today, you will be another year closer to dying. I concentrated on that for a few minutes, letting it be on the mind of every cell in my body. First, I said to myself, your parents will die, then you, for you are the oldest, then David, then Grace, even though she’s just a baby—she’s going to die one day, too. But Mom and Dad first, because that is what parents do, they leave when it’s time for them to leave, and that’s what everybody does, really, and if Sister Rose is right, we’ll all wear some sort of white and sit down at some sort of table made of clouds and see each other again and say hello, it’s been a long time, yes, I’ve forgotten what you sounded like, talk a little longer, let me hear you, really hear you.

I thought about the tang of death, shaking my head from side to side, feeling my hair get caught in my glasses. I knew exactly zero people who had died, but something is coming, I told myself, people die all the time—they grow old, and then everything stops, and their eyes close, and they won’t read a book ever again, or stare at their pale feet, or sit on a flowery couch with its zoo of colors and leaves. I lifted my head to look at the patterns, and remembered my homeroom teacher telling me about a species of shrimp that could see waaaaay more colors than any human could, only they didn’t really know it, and they would die not really knowing it, and, I said to myself, you will die without really knowing anything either, your heart will decide well, that’s a good place to end, I’ve had enough beats. Didn’t my teacher also tell me that a shrimp’s heart was in its head? It must be nice, I thought, to have something so important there, right in your head, so that you could keep track of it, could know of its comings and goings and breakings and makings.

My teeth felt like they were going to shake right out of my mouth. You are going to die, I reminded myself again, and you only die once, and that’s all it takes. Your hair and fingernails will keep growing for a little while, and won’t it be great to have long fingernails for once, because you won’t be alive to bite them back down. And when you see your parents at that cloudy table, they will tell you that it was okay that you bit your nails, really, it was okay, but look at how long they are now, how grand. Then David and Grace will join you, maybe a few years after your death, and the five of you will live in a house just like this one, only it won’t be in the world.

It sounds nice, I thought, but it isn’t, and I went back to the problem at hand, which was my getting-closer-all-the-time death. I am afraid, I said to myself, I don’t know how not to be afraid, and I don’t know how not to die, and I don’t think that anyone can teach me. I was newly nine, and that meant that ten was next, and double digits is it, it is all a mess from there, not many make it to triple digits, and, I thought, I certainly won’t, because why should anything out-of-the-ordinary ever happen to me? No, double digits is where I would remain, and that was going to happen next year and there was still so much that I had to do, so many things to touch and savor. You are going to die, I told myself again, stern as anything, you are going to die, you are going to get older every year and then die. It’s just going to happen, and you won’t know when and you won’t know how.

I decided to lie down. It was a lot to take in. I could hear my mother coming down the stairs, could hear her armful of gifts, could almost hear her thinking wow, nine years ago I brought another human being into the world, she spent a summer inside of me before sliding out of the fire of my body, wow, she’s nine, how could that be, that means I’m thirty-eight, and she will be thirty-eight faster than I can say boo, and isn’t time a terrible, wonderful thing, doesn’t it have such bold lines, and nine, I just don’t believe it. I heard all that in her step, had heard and would hear that step for so long, and almost wanted to live inside of it, my body bent to the curve of her foot.