I was five years old when I discovered another world. It was the day my parents told me my mother had cancer. They sat down on the living room couch--I took my accustomed spot on the carpet--and they explained as best as they could that mommy was sick. It didn't mean much to me at the time. To me, "being sick" was about someone bringing you meals in bed, reading to you, giving you bad-tasting medicine, and sometimes getting a special toy to cheer you up. Any pain was like a dream you woke from and couldn't quite remember.
But I could hear the gravity in my parents' voices and saw fear in my mother's eyes, which disturbed me in ways I am still struggling to comprehend. After the talk was over, on some level I understood that an escape into TV was inappropriate, so I sat on the floor and laid my head on our round, antique coffee table. To preserve the leather-inlaid top, the table was covered by a pane of glass. Cut to a perfect-fitting circle, the glass was thicker than my finger, and had a smooth, green-polished edge with small bevels at the corners. Somehow, as I rested my head on the table, my eye lined up with the edge. It caught my interest, so I closed the other eye and squinted to see in.