Where Do the Sparrows Go When They Die?

Where Do the Sparrows Go When They Die?

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Where Do the Sparrows Go
When They Die?

A question I often asked myself as a child was, “Where do the sparrows go when they die?” I didn’t know the answer then and I still wonder about it. Now I see a dead bird silenced by some evil force, and I know he didn’t die. Something killed him: the elements took him away, a lost soul in the night.

When I was six, my best friend was a boy on my street. We used to play in my sandbox, talking of things long forgotten by grownups—like never growing up, or the monsters under our beds and in dark closets. His name was Tommy,
but I called him Sparrow because he was small for his age. It’s ironic to think of that name now because he died, too.

I remember the day I found out Tommy was dying. I waited in the sandbox for him, halfheartedly building the castle we began the day before. Without Tommy I was only half, so I waited for what seemed like forever, and it began to rain. Then I heard a distant ring from the house. About 10 minutes later my mother came out, sheltered by her umbrella but her face wet just the same. We walked to the house. Just before we entered, I turned around and watched the rain beat down the sand castle Tommy and I built.

Once I was inside and had a cup of hot chocolate in my belly, my mother called me to the table. She put her hands on mine. They were shaking. I immediately felt it: something had happened to Tommy. She said doctors had performed some blood tests awhile back. When they received the test results, something showed up wrong.

That something was leukemia. I didn’t know what it was and I looked at my mother with confused eyes, but with a knowing and heavy heart. She said that people who had what Tommy got—no: what got Tommy—had to go away. I didn’t want him to go away. I wanted him to stay, with me.

The next day I had to see Tommy. I had to see if it was all true, so I had the bus driver drop me off at his house instead of mine. When I reached the door, Tommy’s mom said that he didn’t want to see me. She had no idea how easily she could hurt a little girl. She broke my heart like a piece of cheap glass. I ran home in tears. After I returned home, Tommy called. He said to meet him at the sandbox after our parents went to bed, so I did.

He didn’t look different, maybe a little paler, but it was Tommy. He did want to see me. We talked of those subjects incomprehensible to adults, and all the while we rebuilt our sand castle. Tommy said we could live in one just like it and never grow up. I believed him wholeheartedly. There we fell asleep, engulfed in true friendship, surrounded by warm sand and watched by our sand castle.

I woke up just before dawn. Our sandbox was like a desolate island surrounded by a sea of grass, interrupted only by the back patio and the street. A child’s imagination is never-ending. The dew gave the imaginary sea a reflective shimmer, and I remember reaching out to touch the dew to see if it would make the make-believe water ripple, but it did not. I turned around, and Tommy jolted me back to reality. He was already awake, staring at the castle. I joined him, and there we sat, locked in the awesome magic the sand castle held for two small children.

Tommy broke the silence and said, “I’m going to the castle now.” We moved like robots, as if we knew what we were doing, and I guess in some small way we did. Tommy laid his head on my lap and said drowsily, “I’m going to the castle now. Come visit; I’ll be lonely.” I promised him with all my heart that I would. Then he closed his eyes, and my Sparrow flew away to where I knew at that moment all the other sparrows went when they died. And there he left me, holding a soulless, crippled little bird in my arms.

I went back to Tommy’s grave 20 years later and placed a small toy castle on it. On the castle I had engraved, “To Tommy, my Sparrow. I’ll come to our castle someday, forever.”

When I am ready, I’ll go back to the place where our sandbox was and imagine our sand castle. Then my soul, like Tommy’s, will turn into a sparrow and will fly back to the castle, and to Tommy, and to all the other little lost sparrows. A six-year-old again, who will never grow up.

Casey Kokoska

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