Memory 2: Lake Shetek this time. I am older, maybe five. You and I are floating on the water upon a wide yellow air mattress. There is a heavy brick below us with a rope wrapped around it that you've tied to your big toe: an anchor, so we don't float in or float off or get too close to the reeds. There are speed boats, the hollers of skiers, the roar of cousins playing pick-up baseball on the street. But most importantly--I can tell--there is us, our conversation about what will happen next to Laura. We have been reading Little House on the Prairie. You have been reading to me. Laura's voice is your own.
Memory 3: The Badlands. The Black Hills. Harney Peak. Lake Sylvan. We have taken a family vacation to where you and Dad lived before my brother and I were born. Dad pulls the car over to the side of the road. "I can't believe it, how low the water is," you say, and we wonder, How does she know, because we cannot understand your life without us in it, not really. We only see the way you look at our father, sense that for a moment, we are gone.
Memory 4: It is the spring of my graduation year. We are in the backyard, you kneeling in the garden, me in a lawn chair, a book on my lap. I look up, the word wander on my tongue, to find you watching me. "Big changes ahead," you say. The crab apple tree behind you is a dazzle of blossoms, and when the wind rises up, the petals fall like fingerprints on your back. "I'll be okay," I say, and as the pink of your cheeks glow with equal parts sadness and pride, I know this is true because of you.
Happy Birthday, Mom!