Little Bug was a part of our family for about two years–until he got hit by a bus. Since he was invisible, there was no funeral and no mourning period. Just like the many times when he would suddenly be present in a room or an active participant in an activity, when he was suddenly no longer around at all everyone in the family seemed to take it in stride.
I sometimes wish that I had known more about Little Bug. At the same time, I’m surprised that I feel like I’d known him at all. He was my little sister’s invisible friend, but at the same time he was not at all how I thought invisible friends were supposed to be. I never put much thought into it before Little Bug joined our family. After his arrival, though, I realize that I was always surprised by how different he was than I had expected. I guess I must have thought that an invisible friend was a creative outlet for repressed children and that Shannon would have made him up to be some amazing fantasy creature to be whatever she wanted him to be. Little Bug wasn’t fantastical at all. He was just one of us. And he didn’t even seem to be made up. He was just there sometimes, and sometimes he wasn’t, and no one knew which it was but Shannon unless she pointed him out to us.
Asking questions about Little Bug was like asking why the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. I could never tell if everyone else in the family felt as shamed into silence as I was, or if they just weren’t as curious. I was always bursting at the seams with questions for Shannon. But she was never interested in answering them. Why would she be? He was a casual, every day occurrence. Not worth writing home about. I never pestered her about what Mara looked like, where she was sitting, or what she was wearing, why was I always asking those questions about Little Bug? I imagined he was starting to feel picked on.
Once, I ascertained that Little Bug was a person and not a bug. But the disdainful rolling of Shannon’s eyes that accompanied the explanation shamed me into silence for a good couple of months. Many of the rest of the details about his existence I picked up over time through the process of hanging out with him. Just like it works with any other acquaintance.
Little Bug had a healthy sense of humor. Once someone burped at the dinner table and Shannon started giggling. My dad tried to reprimand her and explain that it wasn’t polite to laugh at people for things like that. “Oh,” she said. “Little Bug just told a really funny joke. Sorry.” And that was that. Little Bug had a favorite chair at the dinner table. Out of respect, none of us would sit there unless all of the seats had to be filled. Once, I apologized to Shannon for not having enough chairs for Little Big and she looked at me perplexed. “Little Bug isn’t even here tonight. He has to study.” I could be such a dense older sister.
To avoid looking like an idiot, I developed a speak-only-when-spoken-to policy about Little Bug. If we were on a walk and suddenly had to stop to let Little Bug tie his shoe, I would stop and wait quietly. If Shannon suddenly had to leave a game that we were in the middle of to help Little Bug with his homework, I’d wish him good luck and clean up by myself. It’s not that Shannon seemed to mind when I asked questions. She had an intimate awareness of where Little Bug was and what he was doing at every second of every day, so if you asked where he was today she could tell you whether he was at the zoo or a soccer game or on a road trip (he was very busy all of the time. It began to seem like an honor when he would hang out with us. Maybe he was a teenager). Shannon never got defensive when I wanted to delve deeper into his personal life. She just seemed confused. Why did I care so much, he wasn’t my friend. I never even seemed to notice when he was around!
One summer all four of us girls went on a backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains. We had spent days packing and preparing and explaining to Shannon some of the details about backpacking such as sleeping in a tent, having to carry all of your own gear, and the bathroom situation to try to prepare her for the outing. We loaded up the car and drove for hours to the trail head. We all got our gear on and headed out. A ways in, there was a tree down over the trail. It wasn’t particularly big, and we older girls could easily step over it. We walked a little ways down the trail before we realized that Shannon was still on the other side of the log puttering around. I don’t remember whether Mara or Sami went back to see if everything was okay, and then whoever it was came back with a horrible case of the giggles. Meanwhile, Shannon was still back at the log. “Stop laughing and tell us what’s wrong!” I was starting to get really worried. Not the least of my concerns was that Shannon had suddenly decided she didn’t like backpacking. And by then we were too far from the car to turn back. Why hadn’t my other sister just helped her over the log and caught up with us. And, why was she laughing so hard?
“So, as far as I can tell,” began the explanation. “Shannon is back there helping Little Bug’s sister and 40 puppies over the log.” Since sister backpacking trips are a time for openness and sharing, we got to hear more about Little Bug and his sister over the course of the weekend than I think I had ever heard before. Apparently Little Bug had to be in summer school, but his sister was able to come hiking with us. I seem to remember that I got worried at one point about our food rations and tried to explain to Shannon that we hadn’t brought enough to feed 40 puppies. I got a scowl and a very annoyed, “They won’t eat our food.” But, unlike other times when I asked stupid questions, the conversation about the puppies and summer school and Little Bug’s sister (whom none of us had ever met or even heard of before) did not have to stop there. At one point later on our hike, we were all helping the puppies over another log. I had three by the scruffs of their necks in each hand and was stepping over a large dead tree when I slipped on a muddy patch on the other side. I stuck my hands out in front of me, fingers still tightly clasped around their fur, and managed to regain my balance without dropping a single puppy. Immediately after, when my two other sisters and I realized what I had just done, we broke into hysterics. Shannon never understood why it was funny.
If I were to try to psycho-analyze the weekend, I might think Shannon had invited Little Bug’s sister, but come up with an excuse for Little Bug’s absence because she knew it was a girls-only weekend. But that’s not how it felt at the time. And it would be hard to believe now. Shannon didn’t come up with excuses or create the story herself. Little Bug did what he did and Shannon just described the circumstances to us.
Because of the awkward and tenuous relationship that I had always had with Little Bug, and with Shannon when talking about him, I am not a bit surprised by my behavior when I found out he had died. One day, when he hadn’t been around for a couple of months–and I finally had noticed his absence–I asked Shannon where Little Bug was. She looked up and matter-of-factly told me he had been hit by a bus and died. It is hard to explain the odd combination of emotions that I felt when receiving this news. I think it was mostly shock and confusion. Was there sadness? I told her I was sorry, and then hovered for a few awkward minutes, not sure what else to say. I don’t really remember what happened next. I only have a sense of it. She had some response that made me realize that it was over and done for her and that she had moved on. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to. I didn’t know if I should comfort her or apologize or offer condolences. But, the moment passed.
Years later, when I thought Shannon would be mature enough to relive her relationship with Little Bug and her sudden loss, I asked her if she remembered him. As with every question I had ever asked about Little Bug, I got a response that was completely unexpected and that I was absolutely unprepared for. She had no idea what I was talking about. To this day she has no recollection of him. I think that’s why I am writing the eulogy over a decade later. Little Bug wasn’t a physical entity, but he had a personality. And he was family. I feel in some way as though he deserves to be remembered.