The Octopus

An octopus has trailed me this summer. Let me explain.

1. Lately, I’ve been inundated with an image of what it’s like to miss something so enormous, like your son’s mental health struggles in the aftermath of suicide. That image just happens to be an octopus cowboy riding an elephant. A purple octopus, no less. A lot of crisis counselors say this to survivors: “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.”  I despise this line. It was used on me several times. The statement grates on me because it’s both accurate and annoying. Terrible and true. With time and distance, I have the ability to see my younger son’s last two years of life with much more clarity. It feels like I missed the octopus galloping and yee-hawing in the front yard. It was right there. 

I have to forgive myself. And the professionals and educators in the tragic circle. Maybe that’s why the octopus took off the chaps, put aside the lasso, and stashed the cowboy hat to emerge in later weeks, in different iterations, for me to see.

2. When school let out, I picked up a box of 100 postcards of animals by 10 different artists at my local thrift store. I have a trusty pen pal (Bren!!) and have made an effort to write regularly to a student involved in a bike crash earlier in the summer. That student loves dogs (mainly the family dog, but still) and there are several to choose from in this box. I also used a couple to scrawl notes to colleagues, tucking the cards in with the newspaper articles I’d clipped for them. Yup—total grandmother-like moments at the kitchen counter, clicking my tongue upon seeing a headline that reminded me of the recipient, gathering up my nightgown and shuffling over to the drawer with the scissors.

Two beautiful images, one with fish and the other of sheep, worked well as summer birthday cards for members of my family.

All the cards are so lovely, whether rich paintings, creative collage, or black and white drawings. By far, I am drawn to the work by artist Happy Menocal. Perusing the assortment recently, I again looked through Menocal’s colorful characters. I know I must’ve seen it before, when I looked through all the cards weeks ago. This time, the flowy pink octopus, bright and adrift, rose to the surface.

3. Meghan Cox Gurdon has one of the best jobs in the universe. She reviews children’s books for the WSJ. Her Aug. 7-8 column featured a single graphic—you guessed it! That octopus, from the book I Love You with All My Hearts (Creative Editions) by Lindsay Bonilla and illustrated by Eleonora Pace, leapt out at me. The book’s addendum lets readers know octopuses have three hearts. There are other images and facts about adult gorillas and fennec foxes. It’s the kind of book both of my sweet, young boys would’ve loved and I would’ve loved reading aloud to them. The reviewer sums up this way and so will I: “The book gets its title from the final scene, in which a fully grown octopus dandles a wide-eyed baby above the shell-strewn seabed: I love you my child, completely! I love you with all my hearts. All of me loves all of you—every single part!

Published by Lauren