Acknowledgement: I truly can't thank HollettLA enough for going along on this wild ride with me. Sorry I made you cry. Thank you for telling me this wasn't a crazy idea. I adore you. Truly. xo
. . .
The water is a gentle tickle against my face, the wind a cold I don't feel. I close my eyes as I run my thumb over the flat bronze disc pinched between my fingers, an inherited habit that brings me comfort. I remember countless times as a child, sitting in my mother's lap and poking the charm as it rested against her chest, just above where her heart thumped behind her breastbone.
It's one of my few regrets about the timing of my change: I would have liked to know what my mother's heartbeat sounded like echoing through my newly sensitive ears so that I could carry it with me forever like a lullaby. As it is, I settle for remembering its muted murmur against my ear when she'd hug me to her chest. I settle for my very human memories of her: the way she smelled like lavender and laundry soap; the throaty tenor of her laugh; the way her hands were always cool-bordering-on-cold, even before she got sick. The way she'd put music on when she helped me clean my room and we'd lip-sync into hairbrushes; the way she'd pick me up and put me on the counter when I skinned my knees and blow gently over my cuts before covering them with Minnie Mouse Band-Aids.
I remember the day she brought me here, to the place where my father's life ended. The place that has become a memorial, a museum, an homage to a day in American history for most, but which will never be anything but a gravesite to those like my mom – a place fraught with memory and pain.
I remember the way the faint shadow of pain she'd always carried in her eyes was magnified that day, as if the loss was a new, jagged wound instead of an old, fading scar. I remember how, in the years that followed, the pain of loss became the pain of pain, and I remember how, on the last night I saw her eyes open, the ache seemed to ease for the first time, as if she was finally looking forward, instead of back.
I wonder if, behind her closed eyes, she was seeing this place. If she was, I hope she was seeing it with two majestic buildings instead of two empty footprints. I hope she was seeing my dad, instead of his memory.
I hope she felt whole, instead of halved.
The day around me is gray and cold, the color of the sky almost a perfect match for the concrete surrounding us. I know, thanks to my new hypersensitive awareness of my surroundings, that my father's name is etched in the smooth bronze-covered parapet exactly seventeen steps to my left; I'm having a hard time ignoring the part of me that wants to use my stronger-than-steel fingernail to carve my mother's name just below his, so that people can understand that when one person dies, he can take two hearts with him.
I open my eyes, picking out his name even from a distance, and I reach back in my memories for the two-dimensional image of his face. The blue-green eyes, the copper-colored hair, the nose: all of the things we shared, the pieces of him I'd seek out in my own face when I looked in the mirror.
"Are you ready?" The melodic voice brings me back to the present, to myself, and I take an unnecessary deep breath, more for courage than for oxygen. I nod, glancing down once more at the gold subway token before balancing it atop my thumbnail and holding my hand out over the reflecting pool. I look to the sky first, the water second. I can hear the voices of tourists on either side of me, the vast majority of them too young to even remember the day that brought about this memorial.
I close my eyes, trying to coax to my still-adjusting mind the memories that have already begun to fade, but which Edward helps me hold on to: the deep, dark chocolate of her eyes. The barely-there freckles across the bridge of her nose. The big, proud, Mom-smile she'd get when I did something well, and the soft, quiet Mom-smile she'd get when it was just us, just living. The way she'd absently twirl my hair around her finger when I'd cuddle up to her on the couch to watch a movie. Her terrible handwriting. Her equally terrible baking, evened out only by her exceptional cooking. The sound of her humming when she was folding laundry. Her voice, reading. The Not-So-Invisible Friend.
The soft, sad smile on her face whenever I caught her thinking about my dad. The echo of light in her eyes whenever she talked about him. The love that still glowed from inside her, even so many years later.
"I'm ready," I reply, more to myself than to him, and as I flick my thumb, there is a faint metallic ping as the token somersaults through the air, glimmering despite the lack of sunlight before dropping through the surface of the dark water with a small "plop." I catch sight of it beneath the water for a brief moment, dancing as it sinks to join the scattered coins along the pool's first ledge. I gaze into the pool for a beat longer before sidestepping those seventeen steps and flattening my palm against etched lettering before me, wondering where they are, praying that they're together.
I close my eyes once more, and I remember. In a place where people gather to remember so many things, I remember my mother. I remember the quiet gravity in her face whenever the subject of that blue-sky September morning would arise; I remember her unwillingness to discuss it with strangers, her lack of desire to identify herself as a survivor, her wish to simply keep the memories of the day in a small, secret pocket of her heart that she only ever reached into on rare occasions.
I look at Edward standing next to me, gazing intently into the pool before us, his dark amber eyes narrowed as if in concentration. I try to imagine losing him but can't – the existence I've chosen makes it all but impossible, and I've never been more grateful. Returning my focus to the pools, I take another deep, unnecessary breath, my vampire-sharp eyes finding my mother's token charm where it sits amid pennies and nickels and coins of all denominations. And silently, I say goodbye. I'm so happy with my forever; I hope they're happy with theirs. I hope they have one.
Finally, I turn to find those warm golden eyes staring into mine. Edward smiles, cupping a tender hand around the curve of my jaw, the touch that might once have made me shiver now making me feel warm. "You okay?"
I nod, grateful, for once, that I can't cry. Instead, I slip my hand into his.
"Yeah. I'm good."
He nods, eyes scanning my face once in that way he does when he's getting a read on my emotions. When he's satisfied, a small, relieved smile pulls at one side of his mouth as he squeezes my hand between us, letting me lead the way toward the memorial's exit.
As I do, I weave through groups of people: old, young, English-speaking, foreign-language-speaking. I wonder how many were here then, how many watched on television, how many had their lives changed forever. How many, like me, had their lives altered so permanently by something they weren't even here for. It seems like that kind of grief should be something you can see just by looking at a person, but like so many other big things in life, it's a scar on the heart instead of the skin.
I once asked my mother why she never really told many people that my dad died on that terrible day. It took her awhile to answer, gazing out through our kitchen window at the hummingbird feeder that she always kept filled in the summer. Finally, she said that my father was so much more than the way he died – that all of the things worth remembering about him were because of the way he lived. She said that what she lost was a love so big that no act of hate could ever touch it. That she lost a lot that day, but the part of her heart that loved my dad didn't change – it only loved more fiercely. And that, she said, felt like something that would make my dad proud.
I know it made me proud. And, when I look at Edward, I know how I want to love him.
From now until forever.
. . .
A/N: THANK YOU, as always, for reading. For your lovely and thoughtful feedback. For sticking with me, even when your brain was thinking, "What the hell?!" I appreciate it more than words can say. xo