"Buddy!" I ran over to Brody, just 4 years old, and scooped him up into my arms. "Why are you crying?"
I swear, He was just fine. I had just walked by, glanced at him happily pushing his train around the wooden track not more than five minutes ago. Suddenly he's sitting up, staring off into space, tears streaming down his little-boy cheeks.
"Buddy! What's wrong?" I rocked him back and forth, carefully pushing aside tears with my fingers. "Oh, honey, please tell me what happened!"
My eyes started an inventory, scanning his little body for hints of pinched fingers or maybe an errant bug bite. Something, anything, to make this sudden silent stream of tears make sense.
"I can't remember Avery very well anymore" he whispered, lower lip jutted out in the saddest pout I'd ever seen. "I know I should be happy because people can still tell me about her, but I just want to remember her for me."
This was big.
And I got it. I really, really got what he was trying to say.
Time is passing. And with each passing day she gets a little further away.
Where before it was like I couldn't see a thing without seeing her face first, her beautiful smile - like I had to blink her memory away in order to pour the coffee in the cup because I couldn't see past her beautiful face that my mind always saw -- now, I can see the cup. And the coffee. That's not to say her sweet face isn't always there, it's just, well fading. Kind of like when you put a clipart image on your document and it's super bold and bright, but then you turn on the Watermark option. She's becoming a Watermark.
And I think it's like that. I think it has to be like that. Because if your grief doesn't Watermark you can't get anything else done. If your grief stays bold and bright you're always going to spill the coffee whenever you try to pour it, and pretty soon you're going to stop trying to pour it all together. So, your grief has to fade. It has to lessen. It has to become the Watermark so you can keep living.
But Watermarks aren't clean and crisp and clearly defined. They're hazy. They're light. Because their place is in the background. And while that's good for the "keeping living" part, it's kind of bad for the "remembering" part.
And Brody's sister is becoming a Watermark to him.
It's harder on him, I think, because what person really remembers what they did when they were three? Or two? And so he'll have the memories we tell him. He knows in his heart he misses his big sister, but he's struggling with remembering what exactly he shared with his big sister.
He has one terrific memory that makes me smile and laugh: "remember when me and Avery played hide and seek and I couldn't find her but then she was in the bathtub?!" He laughs so hard at this. Laughs just as hard as the afternoon it happened.
I remember it so clearly. Avery would hide, Brody would find her, and then he'd hide in the exact same spot he just found her in. We tried in vain to get him to hide in other places but he never would. Avery was such a good sport and would pretend she had no clue whatsoever where he might be located. She was so good that way.
Anyway, so one day Avery hid in the bathtub. Brody looked in all the usual places but couldn't find her. Just as he was getting frustrated and thinking about giving up, I said (loud enough for Avery to hear), "maybe if you're really quiet, you'll be able to hear her...." I was expecting a sneeze or a cough. Maybe a loud sigh. Instead, she crowed like a rooster. Loudly. "COCK A DOODLE DOOOOOOOO!"
I about died laughing. But that was her. She was just ---- neat. Like, you just wanted to be with her because she was funny and witty and a good sport. And she crowed like a rooster during hide and seek.
A couple more crows and Brody found her. Both of them laughing so hard they could barely stand it. He couldn't get over the fact she hid in the bathtub. The bathtub! To this very day we all crow in public places in order to find each other. (Think clothing stores where little boys might wander.... yep, you'll hear a rooster.)
But even that memory I wonder if it's truly his or if it's just one of those that we've repeated so many times it's become his. Know what I mean? But then I think it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if he remembers first hand or if he remembers second hand, just that he feels like he knows a little bit about his sister that loved him so much.
As timing would have it, I had an appointment and needed to drop him off at my mom's. We showed up, me with a flushed face and red rimmed eyes, choking back tears as Brody, with his head down mumbled, "you ask."
I took a deep breath and explained to my mom that Brody was feeling sad because he couldn't really remember Avery and that he wanted her to tell him what she could remember about his sister.
"Well," my mom said. "She liked to climb that tree."
"That one, right there in the front. She'd climb up and sit on that tree limb."
I smiled and turned quietly to go.
We're the keeper of our own memories, sure. But we're also the keeper of his.
As I drove away I started thinking about Avery. About how she talked with a lisp and loved to play dress up. How she loved to eat lettuce and called it salad. "Can I have salad on my burger?" About how she spent the summer before she turned three (or maybe it was four) wearing her bright pink moon boots every day; even to church with her cute little sundresses. I thought about how her art teacher told me that the morning of the day she died someone had spilled paint and she stopped and helped clean it up and I thought, Brody needs to know this.
Because what if something happens to me? Where will the details of his sister go?
That night I went home and grabbed a spiral. On the very top of the first page I wrote ALL ABOUT YOUR SISTER. And I've been filling in memories as they pop up. And they do. Usually after something someone will mention or a song on the radio.
She loved Adele's song Set Fire to the Rain.
She ate sushi for the first time at a Demi Lavato concert at Ravinia a couple months before she died. She spit it out.
She once got strep throat the day after eating Pop Rocks; she insisted the candy made her sick and would tell people she was allergic to it.
She wanted - begged - us to move above a Sandwich Shop so she could work in the restaurant. I think the show Wizards of Waverly Place had a huge impact on this dream of hers. When The Latimer House (an old historic home that had operated as a restaurant with living space above it) was placed For Sale, she relentlessly pleaded that I purchase the property. She would spend her free time planning menu items.
And so it goes. Some days lots of things are added. Some days go by where nothing is written down. But it's my way of saying to this broken little boy, "it's okay that you can't remember it all; I will help you."