“We’re what?!!” I gasped, blinking in disbelief. “Moving, Naomi. To Hawaii.” My dad looked like he was torn between which expression to wear: excited or sympathetic. He ended up looking understanding when he was talking to me, and thrilled when he looked at my eight-year-old sister, not that she needed it. Peyton was practically bouncing off the walls, squealing with delight. I guess I should have been happy too, but after twelve years of growing up here, with my friends, I wasn’t. A vacation to Hawaii would have been nice. But living there? And then there was the weight in my mind that I had been pushing away for about a year and a half, ever since… No, I thought, tears brimming in my eyes, I didn’t want to think about it.
Meanwhile, Peyton was screaming, “Woohoo! We’re moving to Hawaii! The water’s as warm as a swimming pool—Katie told me!” Katie had one daughter, Selena, who was Peyton’s age. The two had already become best friends. Selena’s parents were divorced, and Katie had been Dad’s girlfriend for about a year, the first one since… What am I doing? I thought. Every thought turns back to—no, I won’t think about it! I blinked back tears again so that Dad wouldn’t see them. The last thing he needed was more stress, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to push mine onto his plate.
“We’ll go to the beach, and I’ll make sand castles every day! Wait’ll I tell…” And then it hit her. She slowly looked up at Dad, her lower lip quivering. “Papa?” she said, her voice shaking as the realization finally caught up with her. “What about my friends?”
“Well….” Dad paused, stalling for time. “You’ll be able to call them every day!”
But Peyton wouldn’t take it. Tears flooding down her cheeks, she ran out of the room, sobbing, “I’ll never see my friends again!”
“Well, actually…” Dad tried to call after her, but she had already reached her room. He looked at me, muttered, “Wish me luck,” and strode out of the room after her. I knew that this time it would take a lot of persuasion to win her over.
I sighed and glanced at my watch. It was past lunch time. Stomach growling, I got up lethargically and ambled over to the kitchen to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
By the time I had finished eating my sandwich, Dad and Peyton were returning to the kitchen. Dad’s whole face, I noticed, looked considerably wearier than it had when he had left. Peyton was clutching the teddy bear whom she’d named, not very originally, Teddy. Her tears had dried, but she still bore a melancholy expression. Her appearance was that of a child about three years younger than she; still in her nightgown and slippers from when she’d come down to breakfast, her curly hair a tangled mess on the back of her neck, holding an oversized teddy bear tightly around the neck.
“Can I ask you something?” I asked Dad, clearing my plate as he and Peyton settled down in chairs.
“Why are we moving?”
“Oh!” he looked around, searching for the right words. “Well,” he said finally, “Katie and I had some… special news that we’re going to share with you… together.”
Katie? I thought, glancing at the clock again. She’s supposed to be back any minute now from the airport, after visiting her family in… Hawaii. Anyway, what could Dad be talking about? Special news, what spe… And then it hit me, smack in the head, like a snowball. No, I thought, no, no, no! But Katie was already knocking on the door—Dad was answering it—they were walking over to us, hand in hand, Selena scurrying up behind them…
“OK,” Dad announced, once we’d greeted Katie and Selena. “As I’ve mentioned, Katie and I have something special to tell you.” I winced, noticing that he squeezed her hand when he said “special.” Don’t get me wrong—I love Katie. She’s really sweet, she’s usually the only one to laugh at my corny jokes, and I’ve never had a boring afternoon while she’s been around. It’s just that no one could ever replace my mother, and—I’d thought Dad had the same opinion.
My heart pounded in my chest as Katie opened her mouth. “We’re”—wait for it—“getting married!” Peyton and Selena started jumping up and down, squealing. My stomach dropped, but I planted a smile on my face. Thankfully, no one seemed to notice that only my lips were smiling.
* * *
On the day we found out about Dad and Katie’s engagement, Katie had brought home a pizza and cupcakes she’d picked up on the way home. We held a little sort of party in the living room, just the five of us. Dad turned up the radio and, after hearing the story of their engagement twice, we played round after round of charades, laughing and eating. For that one evening, I forgot all about what had been burdening me ever since I found out we were moving.
When we’d reached our fourth round of charades, Peyton was hopping around in a circle, whipping her hands in the air.
“A horse!” Katie guessed. Peyton shook her head.
“No, a horse rider!” Again, Peyton shook her head.
“A cowboy!” Dad boomed.
“Ooh, I know!” Selena was jumping out of her seat. “A cowgirl!”
“Right!” Peyton shouted over the radio, taking her seat in between Katie and Dad. I turned the radio way down.
“I forgot to ask,” I said, turning to Dad. “When are we moving?”
“Wednesday, next week,” he replied with a glance at the calendar hanging on the wall next to him. I nodded slowly, but they’d already gone on to talking about something else and didn’t notice.
* * *
When you want a week to last forever, it’s usually gone in the blink of an eye. I wanted our last week at home to go slowly, and it did, but with every moment that crawled by, I felt a pang of sorrow about what was ahead of me… and what I was leaving behind.
Tuesday afternoon, Dad, Peyton, and I were walking to Katie and Selena’s apartment, which was only a mile away from ours. I soon fell behind and told them I would catch up with them later.
At the next crossing, I turned right instead of left. This would be the last time I would get to do this.
When I reached the graveyard, I retraced the steps I’d followed so many times. Before I realized it, I was in front of the white gravestone, already bent on my knees towards the ground. The usual tears had filled my eyes and were spilling onto my cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away.
I turned my teary eyes towards the message on the gravestone, the lettering swooping and curving.
Alicia Roy Waterman
Beloved wife, daughter, mother
August 13, 1968–December 27, 2011
I rubbed my hand over her name, and then it slowly glided over to the word mother. Somehow, I could feel her presence just by being here, where her body had been buried. I knew that when we moved to Hawaii, I would lose my last connection with her. But Dad had already sold our house; there was no turning back.
Tears still blurring my vision, I stood up and turned to go. I felt my foot hit a jagged rock on the ground, my hands flying out helplessly as I tripped. My head collided with the hard stone, and dull pain surged through my brain, quickly spreading to my shoulders. Before I realized what was happening, dead grass was the only thing between me and the ground. A wave of shock hit me sharply as I fell, and the faint colors that had been blurred by my tears became steadily darker, swiftly turning into blackness without giving me a chance to object.
* * *
I was in the hospital, the constant drone of bustling nurses drowned in my feelings. Peyton and Dad were with me, Peyton’s curly blond head buried into Dad’s gray coat because she didn’t want to look, to believe what was happening. I pulled back the thin covers and sucked in my breath. I heard a nurse mutter, “Skin cancer,” to another nurse, with a glance down at her.
She was lying there, her face drained of all color and strength. Her eyes opened for a fraction of a second, and I hoped against hope that they wouldn’t close.
I leaned in towards her and whispered what I had wanted to be the last words she’d heard from me. “I love you.”
A smile flickered, not across her lips, but in her eyes. Taking what was clearly all the strength she could muster, she opened her mouth. “I-I…” I grasped her hand, trying to push life back into her.
“You what, Mama? What is it?” I begged.
“I…” And then her eyes closed. I could almost see the shadow of death creeping over her wan complexion. She was gone.
And she still hadn’t finished.
* * *
Someone was shaking me. I opened my eyes.
Katie was hovering over me, clearly relieved that I’d awakened. “Naomi? Are you OK?”
I touched my head and felt a washcloth there, soaked in cold water. “I’m fine,” I murmured.
Katie got up and pulled Dad aside, who had stood a little behind her. Katie had some medical experience, having worked as a firefighter for six years before she had divorced and moved.
“How is she?” Dad asked.
“She’s fine,” Katie whispered. “It’s not as bad as it looks. She just needs a few hours’ rest.”
I heard Dad mutter “thanks” with a sigh of relief, come over to me, and lay his warm hand on my forehead, saying, “It’s going to be all right.” I wasn’t paying attention, though. I was thinking about my dream. It had seemed so vivid, so real, and I knew why… It wasn’t a dream. It was a memory.
* * *
Dad was a poet. Unfortunately, people don’t usually make that much money off of writing poetry, even if they’re great at it, like my dad was.
Before he died, my grandpa, Dad’s dad, had a high position in a wealthy industry. Being an only child, Dad inherited all the money he’d saved. Off of that, he was able to do what he loved without worrying about financial stress. He wasn’t rich, but we were able to live a comfortable life.
On the day I woke up from falling unconscious at the graveyard, Dad sat me down. He told me that he’d seen me take the wrong turn and that he’d known where I’d been going, but that he’d wanted to let me have my time. He told me how, after not seeing me for twenty minutes, he’d gone back to the graveyard, looking for me, and how I’d been lying there, blood all over my forehead. According to Katie, it turned out that there was only a small cut, but it had looked worse because the blood had smeared. As he was telling me this, I was hoping that he’d say we were going to stay just a couple more weeks while I recovered, but no such luck.
Then he became serious, and when he spoke, he looked straight into my eyes. “I want to ask you something, Naomi. Why did you go today?”
I looked at my knees, pondering whether or not I should tell him the truth. I finally decided to come out with it. “Well… since… since she died, I… I’ve felt like that graveyard was… was…” I burst into tears. Dad pulled me into a hug and wiped my tears with a tissue so I could finish my sentence. “…was the only place I could still be with her.” I said it fast, so I could get it out without pausing to cry before I’d finished. We sat like that for a few minutes, until I couldn’t shed one more tear and we could talk without interruption.
“Sweetie, why do you feel this way?”
“Because… well, because it’s where she was buried.” Why else? I thought.
Dad sat back and was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Honey, do you miss what she looked like? Is that really what you miss about her?”
“No!” I shot at him.
“I thought so.” His voice softened. “You miss her personality. Her heart. Her soul.” I nodded reluctantly, wondering where he was going. “But that’s the thing,” he continued. “Souls never die. Only bodies die. Her body itself is dead, but her soul will always remain alive, in the world, in others, in you. Once you can believe that, I can assure you, it will be a lot easier.”
Then he got up and left, leaving me in my room to go over the millions of thoughts that had just entered my head in those last few seconds.
* * *
The next day was a blur of packing, driving, and flying. Within the next week, we had finished moving in and started to prepare for the upcoming wedding. Before I realized it, I was at the beach in Hawaii, Dad stretched out in a beach chair next to me. Katie, Selena, and Peyton were by the shore, building a sand castle.
I gave Dad a pleading look. He said, “Need to clear your head? Me too. Let’s go for a walk.”
We began to make our way up the shore wordlessly. I was absorbed in my thoughts about what had happened the previous week, about our conversation, and about my dream. It was now fresh in my mind again, as if it had happened yesterday. The thought that Mama hadn’t been able to finish what she was saying surged through me again like a knife through my heart. I thought I knew what she was going to say, but how could I be sure?
Dad’s words were echoing through my mind. Her soul will always remain alive, in the world, in others, in you. Once you can believe that, it’ll be a lot easier. Believe she was still with me? Yeah, right, I thought. It’s not like I’m magical or anything; I can’t bring something back if it’s already gone.
We’d walked half the length of the beach by then, and all of a sudden, Dad stopped in his tracks and stared at the ground. I stared too, pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and stared again. Scrawled in the sand with a stick, in handwriting that was only too familiar, were the words, I love you too. I looked up, and I could have sworn I saw Mama’s face, barely there, but there nonetheless. I could tell from the expression on Dad’s face that he could see her too. At that moment, I realized that she wasn’t gone. She had never been gone.
I looked back at her, a smile now plastered across my face, and believed.