"Dad, What Is a Gas Chamber" is one of the most horrific questions that I have heard in my life. He is not quite 8.5 and he wants to know what a gas chamber is and why people would murder other people.
He says that he can't understand why people would be mean to someone else just because they look different or have different thoughts. I am more than troubled by this because I know that I have to answer his questions. I know that I have to despoil more of his innoncence and tell him that some people are just bad.
I have to tell him that in this house we teach everyone to judge a person based upon their actions and that even though it is the right way, not everyone follows it. I tell him that some people are bad and there is no good explanation for it.
Inquisitive eyes look up at me and he says that he doesn't understand and that he thinks he might be a little afraid. I tell him not to be afraid, that most people don't act like that. I tell him that part of why people have to have these conversations is so that we can help others prevent these things.
He smiles and tells me that he feels better because he knows that if anyone tried to hurt anyone in his family I would kill them. He knows that if anyone did anything I would get them first. He looks up at me and says that he is ok with me killing someone if they try to hurt one of us.
Now I turn away because there is a tear in my eye. I want to scream at the injustice of it all. I want to yell because it is unfair that yet one more piece of his innocence is being taken from him all too soon.
It hurts to see him learn these lessons, but he has to know. So we are very careful with these conversations to try and make them age appropriate. But kids are kids and they find out things. They listen to what is going on around them. They talk to their friends and they learn. So some things come out earlier than you'd think and you do the best you can.
I am grateful that he feels comfortable speaking to me and that I make him feel safe. I don't tell him that a parent's worst fear is that the monsters get to the kids first, that for whatever reason we aren't there to protect them.
Later on I watch him sleep. He is out, the picture of bliss and harmony. I used to sleep like that. I used to just close my eyes and that was it. But not anymore. Now there is always one ear open, listening, just in case.
I am exhausted now, but I won't be able to sleep for a while. That question haunts me, "Dad, What Is a Gas Chamber?"