We call one of our bedrooms the Noah’s Ark Room because there’s a mural of Noah’s Ark on the wall. It was painted by our house’s previous owner for his son Noah, who lived in this bedroom from his birth until we purchased the townhouse in 2001 and he and his parents moved to a home nearby.
We met the previous owners by chance. In the late spring of my last semester of law school, we spent a few days looking for housing near DC, where I’d taken a job. As we were leaving an open house with our agent, a man waved us down and asked us if we’d like to see his home that would be listed for sale later that week. Because the housing market was white hot — properties were selling above asking price within days — we welcomed the chance to see it early.
He introduced himself as Ronny Tabeka, shook our hands, and proudly showed us through the house he’d upgraded and improved. When I stopped to look at a painting hanging near the stairs, one of ten or so they had displayed, he explained that he was an amateur artist. In the second bedroom upstairs there was a picture of Noah’s Ark, painted directly onto the drywall. Ronny said he’d painted it for their only child, Noah, who was born the year after they moved into the house. The city in the background was Israel, where Ronny and his wife Hannah were from. Ronny said the picture meant so much to him he was considering cutting it from the wall and taking it with him — but he promised that if he removed it he’d have the wall restored perfectly. We told him that either way was fine with us.
That evening our agent placed an offer on the house as we travelled back to Boston; the Tabekas accepted. I didn’t see them again for a couple of months, until we met at the title company’s office for the closing. As I signed my name to countless documents, Ronny told me of some of the little things he’d done to the house, which keys went to which locks, and so on. He said that he’d seriously considered taking the Noah’s Ark mural, but because he’d have to cut the studs out of the wall, and wasn’t sure how he could display it, he decided that no matter how much it meant to him, he couldn’t take it: we should just paint over it. I told him that we planned to use the bedroom as a kids room, so we might leave it there and just paint around it. His eyes lit up, hopeful that his work would be spared and pleased that I liked it.
When I saw Ronny again about a year later, he was delighted to learn that we hadn’t painted over his picture. It remained, alive, appreciated. He liked too that we called the room the Noah’s Ark Room. I think that was the last time I saw Ronny, though my wife occasionally saw Hannah or Noah at the elementary school.
Today our son Jefferson brought home a letter from the school principal:
May 10, 2005
Dear Candlewood School Families:
It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of Noah Tabeka, one of our fourth grade students. Noah had been experiencing difficulties breathing over the past couple of days, and was not in school this morning when he stopped breathing and died suddenly . . .
That’s all I know; no other details were given. The format was disconcerting — black copy toner on white paper, just like letters about lunchroom policies, midterm grades, and the start of the BoxTops for Education fundraising campaign. My wife’s and my first thought was about the mural, it was our single connection to Noah. We wondered whether we should cut the mural down and give it to Ronny and Hannah — would they want it? What would they do with it? How should we offer it to them?
I don’t know if I ever met Noah. My wife would remember, but she’s sleeping now. But I do remember Ronny, and tonight, as I looked at the mural, I tried to see it through his eyes. What thoughts danced through his mind as he painted it? Did he wonder which animals Noah would like best? Did he tell the story of Noah’s Ark, picturing he and Noah admiring his art from the bed? Did he prepare silly asides that would make Noah laugh? Maybe he heard Noah asking him to retell the story, one more time, as he went to bed, or heard him ask for a nightlight, so he could see the animals as he fell asleep.
I can only guess what Ronny thought or felt; I consider the thoughts that might have gone through my head, were I painting a large picture of Noah’s Ark for a son I would name Noah. Though I don’t know what Ronny imagined, I’m painfully certain he didn’t imagine that on May 10, 2005, the children of Candlewood Elementary would take home letters saying that Noah Tabeka, one of the fourth graders, had died suddenly that morning.
Like Ronny, I’ve painted the Noah’s Ark Room ceiling and walls, sparing only the piece of bible; like Ronny did for Noah, I’ve painted pictures for each of my new babies; and on March 8, 2002, I brought a new baby to sleep under the watchful eyes of Noah and his animals, as Ronny had.
Yesterday I would have told you that this summer, sometime in July, I will bring our new baby twin girls to this room, a painting of Dad’s for each of them, where they will sleep beneath and enjoy a father’s gift for his baby Noah.
Today, though, I remember that a father’s plans for his children aren’t certain.