You’re not alone.
And neither am I, but I thought I was. I cried for two days. Not because my son was gone. I mean, that part was definitely sad, but because I was alone in my grief. I thought I was the only mother who had their son eaten by a pelican. I thought everyone was laughing at me instead of feeling pity.
When you have a loved one die, it’s hard. I don’t need to explain that to anyone. But when a loved one dies in a ridiculous manner, say, in a way that goes viral and everyone thinks is funny, like when your son is eaten by a pelican, it’s much more difficult to move on. If your father has a heart attack or cancer and dies relatively peacefully in your family home, you can cope with the loss privately and find peace. If, however, your father is killed while trying to have sex with his monster truck, or if he sharts himself to death while bungee jumping at Six Flags, and the story goes viral, it’s pretty hard to cope knowing that people are sharing the story of your father’s death as something to chuckle about while they drink their coffee. As you sit there crying, millions of people are watching the video of your beloved dad being bitten to death by the prairie dogs at the national zoo. “That’s hilarious,” they tell their friends, not realizing the accumulative pain of hundreds of tiny rodent teeth. Not realizing that that man, whose pants have been chewed off by little gophers, was someone’s father.
Last week was the first nice weekend out on the bay. I took my son to a nice little seafood restaurant on the shore. I had ceviche and three martinis, and perhaps if it had only been two I would have been more vigilant. Mason, as usual, had canned tuna that I brought from home and as much free bread that they would bring to us at the table. It’s not that I don’t like paying for his meals, although I don’t, it’s just that I had decided before sitting down that I wasn’t going to tip my waitress and I thought it would be unfair if I asked her to serve two non-tipping customers instead of just the one.
Then we went for a nice little stroll down on the dock. Taking nips from my shoulder of vodka, careful to extract it, pull a sip, and return it to my purse in one smooth move without anyone knowing, I monitored my own behavior more than my son’s, and that was probably my bad. He ran ahead and I let him. I should have known with all that fish on his breath that wandering that close to the pelicans was a mistake. I should have known that those dock pelicans, emboldened by the generosity and passivity of the sockless, boat-shoed and pancake-breasted weekend warrior sailboat fags that populate the docks, would not only see my son as non-threatening, but delicious even. I should have known that they might eat him.
And in an instant, one of the birds opened it’s large mouth, and I watch my idiot son foolishly walk inside; stepping into the bird’s big orange lips as if it were a pair of onesie pajamas.
I can still see the outline of his body in the bottom of that pelican’s massive jaw; his distressed face pressed hard against the taught skin, his hand reaching for his mother, frozen in the birds impressive beak like Han Solo in carbonite.
“Mason!,” I cried out, running after the bird. But it was too late. The bird struggled for a moment and took flight, and I watched my son disappear into the sunset over the idyllic bay. The bird, and my son, were gone.
Now, fifteen years ago this would just be another story of a mother losing her son to a pelican. A cautionary tale and nothing more. At worst, my son and I become anonymous figures of folklore. But not anymore. In today’s world of cell phones and cameras and tablets and the far reaching panoptic eye of humiliation and virality, a mother can’t have her son die in a hilarious way without the entire world finding out. Now I’m not just some woman with a sad (but funny) story. I’m “Drunk Mom Loses Manchild To Pelican – Must Watch.”
And while Mason ate his way out of the bird and wound up nude in an inlet three days later, I did think he was gone forever, and that pain was real. The humiliation was real. And I just want others to know that when we see someone die in a funny way, it’s okay to laugh, but it’s not okay to laugh so loud, so powerfully, that those grieving hear our cackles.
So the next time you see a video or a story about someone dying in a funny way – be it someone getting their dick ripped off by a Dyson Airblade or perhaps someone getting sucked into an escalator – remember that those people have families, and maybe just laugh about it with your friends rather than sharing the video on Facebook.