Four years old and your sister just drowned in the community swimming pool. Do you know? You don’t know, baby, you’re four and everyone is crowding your kitchen with loud voices and covered dishes and you can’t even see your mother through it all, but you know that she was crying, and it’s making your whole face go tight and strange and painful.
There is something cold inside your stomach, so you keep one hand pressed against it as you lock eyes with the girl that steps through the door. She’s your age, with wild curls and white sandals and her fingers all twisted up in the hem of her t-shirt. You bravely press your way between two towering adults and step close beside this newcomer, waiting for her to notice.
She turns and sees you, and her face lightens. You mentally note that you are taller than her, and it makes you feel brave enough to speak past the choking feeling. “Wanna see my dress?”
She stares at you, then at her father, who lets her go almost without looking at her. He’s balancing a Tupperware container under one arm, and his glasses are round and wet.
The girl glances at her father again before following you out of the kitchen, away from the voices and into your quiet bedroom. Her eyes widen at the sight of your pink walls, and you feel a tiny surge of pride at her jealous expression. “Look,” you announce, tugging open your heavy closet doors. The light from the window hits the skirt of the new dress. It’s blue and it glitters, and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
The girl steps close to it and stares. “Wow,” she says quietly. You nod, and her gaze drops to the abundance of colorful toys that are scattered across your soft carpet. You sit, and she drops to her knees across from you, and the two of you shuffle the plastic figures around in near silence, avoiding each other’s eyes.
A voice calls a name that you don’t recognize, and the girl jumps quickly to her feet. “Bye.”
You stare, a Barbie in each hand, as she runs from the room.
You won’t see her again.
You’ll never know it, but she will remember you thirteen years later, in the middle of an unusually warm March night. She will sit straight up in bed as her racing mind is flooded with the blurry memory of your mother’s tears and her father’s hand and your wide, bewildered eyes, and she will be deeply awake with the cold of remembering.
She’s long since left that neighborhood, and she will wonder where you are now, and she will stay up and open the corners of her mind and write you a messy, stumbling tribute, and she will hope that wherever you sleep, with pink walls or without, that a blue dress still hangs in your closet.
She will hope that you are safe, and she will wonder if you are awake too, cold as you tug at your sheets and stare into the shifting darkness.
She will make a silent promise to remember you, and maybe, somehow, you will know it.
Maybe it will make you warmer, if you cling to the distant feeling that you are not forgotten.
Maybe, just maybe, child, it will bring you rest.