by Penne Lynne
“You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view.”
Horizontal on a surfboard, in a figment of imagination, I glide along the coastline; a gentle breeze sends lightning rod tingles down the curve of my spine. Emerald-hued cliffs tower above, their scalpel-pointy edges cast angular silhouettes across my torso. Like make-believe piano keys, I tinker lullaby notes atop the sapphire liquid. Fragrant swirls of strawberry guava and sea salt infuse the air. A pink cotton candy sunset erupts through gossamer clouds like slow-motion fireworks.
I float toward the mountain island, my private destination.
Each navigation is hush-hush, like a secret garden, a magical wardrobe, a wrinkle in time. It is a reoccurring reverie, this journey of mine. By invitation-only, and yet I am never quite certain when the next passage will be granted. Over the years, the locations of such dreams alter with slight variations—a mountain, an island, or my own backyard.
In August, decades ago, it is the summer “Purple Rain” hits number one. Eight weeks after her death, mere weeks shy of her two-year birthday, she appears. In extraordinary fashion, Kristina, my firstborn, arrives in my dream like a prelude, a slow building staccato.
Intimate like our pregnancy, it is just the two of us.
Dawn slips in like a whisper, and I almost miss the caramel-corn sky. When I spot Kristina, I am strolling barefoot out my front door toward a distant hilltop. She romps alongside slopes of lush mountainside, her tiny feet wobble, her curls dancing like poetry. I scoop my daughter into my arms and nuzzle her into the nap of my neck, a full inhale of her. Round-and-round we twirl, her tiny toddler legs glide like miniature propellers, our intimate party of two.
“Momma,” she whispers, tickling my ear.
Our playtime feels like hours together—we frolic hand-in-hand across the dew-covered meadow, grass blades between our toes; we giggle until we are hoarse. Winded, I plop down on my back, cradling Kristina on my chest. Her tiny palm cups my ear, while the other pats my cheek—leaves rustle, traces of jasmine waft by, flecks of sunlight peek through tree branches.
Each limb of my body convulses as I attempt to depict the daydream, but insufficient words to the narrative spill out instead. Kristina’s father weeps beside me, somehow interpreting my incoherence. He, too, speaks this horrific language from the tribe we now share—parents who have buried a child.
“Tell me again.” He strokes his thumbs along my wet cheeks.
Over a year after Kristina’s death, we grow our family. Our daughter—Ashleigh—arrives first and three years later our son—Nicholas—joins us. Somewhere along the way, though, a slow decline into uncharted waters begins. Between their father and I, an invisible grief-gap forms.
Despite our Herculean efforts to comfort the other, neither of us are able.
To crack the time traveling code and determine the date of my next voyage with Kristina, I am as ritualistic as a baseball player. I wish, hope, and pray in various formulaic sequences to recreate quasi-magic, evoke another daydream trip with her. After countless attempts, it is to no avail.
Despite these unfruitful strategies, the idea of tomorrow’s effort fills me with whimsical expectation.
Outside on my shrubbery-lined porch, I muse over the last decade and a half—a remarriage and the birth of my fourth child. A blue jay hops from branch to branch; the breeze musses my hair. Glancing through the smudged kitchen window, I spy my sweetheart, my bespectacled-faced husband. In the distance, stair-stepped in age and height—Ashleigh, Nicholas, and Addison—my three living children, clutch ping-pong paddles. Their young faces are exuberant as they watch the airborne ball whirl. Between reality and what-if, I wonder. Is time playing tricks on me?
I take one wary step across the threshold. With eyes wide-open and hopeful-hearted, I conjure Kristina. In my imagination, she joins her siblings for a doubles match, finally realizing her big-sister role. With an expert grip of the paddle and the flick of her wrist, the lightweight ball sails.
Yellow-blue sunbeams pour through the west window; waves of laughter erupt like a crescendo.
Penne Lynne is a writer and physician recruiter whose work explores grief and loss, confronting its inevitability in all our lives. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside. Along with an award-winning essay featured in Ten Spurs, her work has appeared in Brain, Child,Texas’s Best Emerging Poets, and other publications. Penne is the mother of four children—Kristina, Ashleigh, Nick, and Addi—and her affinity for family, friends, and the outdoors, runs as deep as her native Texas roots. Find her at @pennelynne on Instagram.