The sunlight shines down on the ocean water making me want to reach down and feel the water sift through my warm hands. My feet burn from the too-hot sand but I don’t move them. I haven’t been here since I was a small girl. Mom would always take me and Allie here every summer before she died.Summers were always my favorite because they were full of ice cream, swimming, and warm nights where the bugs would come out and eat us alive. I remember going to bed every night and my whole body would be so itchy from those damn mosquitoes. I loved it though, waking up to the salty smell of the ocean and clam chowder every day.
But I also remembered the parts of the summer I wished I could forget. Allie’s cancer diagnosis when we were both thirteen.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. We had been swimming all day and our lips were sticky with popsicle juice. We had been looking for Allie’s favorite type of fish, a parrotfish, but we hadn’t seen one yet. She had been complaining about her leg hurting her for a few days but we brushed it off because Allie was always randomly hurting herself. But I remember her moans of pain. Mom rushed her to the hospital. It was days before the doctors found out what was going on.
I remember feeling the fear, the sadness, anxiety, and every other bad emotion on those days. My face was constantly wet with salty tears. I’ll never forget the sound mom made when the doctors came into the room. Their faces were oddly calm and reassuring but there was nothing calm and reassuring about what they told us next.
They told us Allie had Leukemia and had for a while. It had spread to her chest and they said it was a very risky surgery.
Mom let out this inhuman cry of pain and sadness. I went to sleep that night with that sound ringing in my ears. I would never forget that sound.
The surgery happened two days after her diagnosis. I clutched her hand as she rolled her bed down the long white hallway. I didn’t want to let her go. She smiled at me and told me everything was going to turn out okay.
But it didn’t turn out okay. She didn’t make it. Simple as that.
Allie had been the thing that tied us three together. I had never had an amazing relationship with mom but Allie did. But now that Allie was gone there was nothing holding us together. We took a plane back to Chicago and never looked back.
It took months to get used to the fact that Allie was gone. Like gone, gone. Not at a camp or at school. She was gone and she was never coming back.
I remember the first day we got back to our house in Chicago. Allie and I had always shared a room and I, dumbly, expected her to be lying on her turquoise comforter telling me it had all been a misunderstanding and she hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer and she hadn’t died. She had just been here, waiting for us to come back home.
I went to bed staring at her bed where she had slept in not even a month ago. It was one am when I ended up climbing into her bed, surrounded by the lavender smell of her that lingered in her sheets. I fell asleep quickly after that.
I cried for a long time. Whenever I walked into a room I expected her to be there and ask me how my day was or how my art was coming along. And when I remembered, it always felt like losing her all over again.
The only thing that really got me through it was Pancake. Pancake was technically mine and Allie’s dog but he always seemed to love Allie more. After Allie died Pancake was confused, barking and crying at the foot of her bed. But after a few weeks, he seemed to understand; she was gone and she wasn’t coming back. He started sleeping in my bed with me and I would whisper things into his doggy ears that I couldn’t say out loud, even to my therapist or even my mom.
It’s been three years since Allie died. And we’ve finally come back here, to the ocean. It’s bringing back memories I wished I could forget. But mom says that's a good thing. It’s what we, I, need. Closure I guess you could call it.
It still hurts to think about her, but it has gotten easier. But sometimes I wish I could just talk to her, even for a minute. Hug her just one more time.
Here I am diving into the ocean, the salt from the water on my lips reminding me of all of the tears I’ve shed.
I feel closer to her than I ever have before. I lay on my back floating on the water. I close my eyes and think of her.
Allie, I wish you were here right now but I know you can’t be. I just want you to know, I love you. So much.
I feel something tickling my toes.
It’s a brightly colored fish, each scale reflecting off the sun is a different color. It nips at my toes.
It’s a parrotfish, Allie’s favorite kind of fish.
I look up at the sky.
She heard me.