A couple spends moments together, remembering the girl's mother's death, the times that led up to it, and how he stood beside her.
I had wandered along this beach in my mind a thousand times and I could not escape it. The wind blowing through my hair, the feel of the sand and the shells beneath my feet, even the temperature of the tranquil water will not languish from my memory with time. Each may smear from these pages but nothing will shake it from my memory as much as I may want them to disappear.
Nothing could replace the thoughts of that day in my mind. I remember the feeling of her hand in mine as she looked into my eyes. I think of her smile. The way it reflected in the clear cool water. I remember the sound of the birds and the splashing of the water as it flows down the tiny creeks, into the shallow pond below. She was showing me the bugs that skimmed along the top of the pond. That is the last way I remember her.
I don't remember the next day. I don't remember dad blocking me in my room so that I couldn't see them taking her away. I don't remember Aunt Loraine coming to stay with me while he took care of everything at the hospital. I don't remember him starting immediately to look like her, though I do remember the fear it brought me. All of this is in my mind, but the last real memory...it's here.
Aunt Loraine told me stories of her. And I remember her from my childhood, in ways. Most days she would walk the hallways as a zombie. She said so few words, barely able to notice me. Dad told me it wasn't my fault, but if it wasn't then why did it happen right after me? I remember hearing them whisper about it, when they thought I was asleep. Ever since I was born, she was gone.
It had been a year since it happened. One year since she had walked upon this beach yet I can still remember the smell of the flowers. I can still see everyone coming towards me, and hear their sorrowful words. I remember my shoes hurt so I sat down and I was sitting so close I could see her face.
She was so white, nothing like she had ever been to me. I could hardly believe it had ever been her. They tried to make her look peaceful I suppose, maybe even happy, but to me she just looked cold. Stone cold, without feeling. I suppose happy had not been a look she had very often. I looked to the floor. That grey green carpet and all those little pink flower wanna-be dots stared back at me telling me just what I was thinking: this wasn't her. And then I remember that one little circle that told me it was time to move.
Thankfully, I saw it before anyone else did. It was one little, wet, dark dot on that grey green carpet but to me it was a flashing neon warning sign. I couldn't let anyone see this pain. If I broke down then so would everyone else. I am the young one. The one who has lost the most; they kept telling me. I felt the smooth wooden arm of the chair as I stood up and looked for an escape. I remember those doors, not ten feet in front of me that glowed with hope. I remember pushing through everyone and seeing dad by the door, barely able to acknowledge my existence.
The only hands I needed I could not find. They were hers in my mind but they were Daniel's in reality. I knew he would be there, he had promised every day since he told me he loved me. He promised every day since I'd gotten the nerve to show him her.
I can still see Daniel standing there when I close my eyes, stepping towards me, thinking he could help me. I shook my head and slipped out the doors. I didn't need his love then...I needed hers. I needed my mother to put her arms around me, hold me close and tell me it would be ok. But it wouldn't be.
The cool wind blowing off the lake brings me back to the moment when I threw the doors open. I remember stepping outside, ducking behind that big prickly bush, and letting those crystals of pain, anger, and hurt fall into my hands. I feel Daniel's hand around my waist and the tears of that day become the mist of the lake.
I hear his voice in my mind like the breeze flowing through the trees. He tells me he knows I hurt. He places my hand on his chest and asks if I can feel his heart breaking. He says that it breaks every time he looks into my eyes. And when I close my hand around his, I can still feel the warmth of hers on the day at this beach.
I burn inside knowing I had not seen her pain as well. The sand beneath my toes is just as it was that day. I didn't know it at the time, but she had taken me here to say goodbye. I would be the last person to see her. We walked the beach until sundown, chasing the birds, finding shells, and letting the surf just hit our ankles. She took me home. She told me she loved me and she would see me again soon. I remember not understanding...telling her she was weird. Hugging her as I went into my room and she went to hers.
She was sick, but she still had her good days. A heart as big as hers had to break sometime. To dad and I, it had broken so soon after I was born I couldn't remember her another way. Through grade school when other people had moms who made cookies and helped on cheerleading, I had a mother who slept all day and was only present on her up days.
I remember once, when I was only about seven. She came into my room early one morning...and she smiled. I was sitting on the floor with my Barbies. She leaned down and grabbed one, started playing like it was normal, like she had done it every day of my life. I was too young to be confused or to ask why. I cling to that memory, but it grows cloudier each day.
It is fogged over by the painful memories of who she really was. Some days she would sleep all day, never moving from her bed. Other days she wouldn't sleep at all. I would sit in my room playing and watch her walk the hallways. She would put me to bed and then go back downstairs. I pretended to be asleep, but I knew. Nights that I would have bad dreams, that I would wake up afraid, I was even more scared to leave my bedroom. I knew she wouldn't be in her bed. She would be alone, or at least how she saw her world. Other kids had sleepovers and friends come over. I did anything to leave my house. No one took the time to understand me because they were so worried about her.
Daniel's hand tenses around mine and brings me back to reality. His eyes are on the ground..
"I know." I say simply.
He looks up and I can see the pain in his eyes, as he stares into mine. He is remembering too. He is remembering only a month ago when he lost his mother as well. I can feel that black silk dress on me as I walked up to him and looked into his eyes. His eyes that were now so similar to mine, flat and empty. They reminded me of her dinner plates, when she was still here. And, just as if it was my day, there was that little dark spot amongst the pink dots.
His pain is almost greater than mine. Mine was a lifetime of pain and a moment we tried forever to delay. His was a day of anguish. A lifetime of love that ended in a second. Her choice was not the one of my mother, the choice to leave us. Hers was to get in that car...to drive to see his band play for the first time. Her end did not come because of a choice and a bottle of pills. Her life was ended by the other driver, the wet road from the rain, and a single moment of irresponsibility. A moment that ended a lifetime.
I hear his voice again and his hand is again in mine. I can feel it, it is now cold. He speaks softly, so I can just hear him over the birds. His voice is the wind. It asks if the pain ever ends. I think of the moss, the dirt, the grass. I can't look him in the eyes. I cannot see him die again as I say no.
And then he stops. I take one more step towards him and I can smell him. His smell. Sweat, mixed with cologne, mixed with the leather jacket he always wore.
We both turn and I know exactly where we are. I remember the red sun, and the lake water shining below me. I can still feel the tiny crumbling rocks, hear them as they hit the water's surface. And I hear those words that calmed me that day.
"She told me she loved me...that I wouldn't understand," I whispered to myself, and to him.
My hand tightens around his and he tells me, "The only time there is any relief is when I am with you."
I smile, and I know he is right. I nod vaguely. I know he is the only one who seems to understand, instead of avoiding me like the plague, not knowing what to say. He is the only one who makes the pain go away, even when we can still see it in each others' eyes. I step back and I will forever remember looking into his eyes, feeling for his hand, and taking that step. And then the sun set.