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For Ellen MAG
Can we be little again? I know that's what everyone says, but I think it's because everyone means it. I think it's because all those sloppy sun-drenched memories melt together in such a beautiful way, and even though most of it wasn't perfect, a lot of it was.
I can remember some moments so vividly, play them back so easily in my head, that when I close my eyes I'm there again. I'm seven at the edge of the wooden playground with the rabbit's nest underneath. I'm staring off at the cemetery, past the corn, and I'm wondering about something but I can't recall what.
I'm riding my bike in circles with Nathan, talking about lipstick and why it's pointy at the end.
I'm running outside for gym class, and it's so hot I can't breathe. But there's no stopping; you have to keep going or else something terrible will happen. I wish I had known that I could stop. But I just did what I was told then.
Now we're all hiding in the library, because I – yes, I – planned an elaborate surprise party for our third-grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor, whose first name was Ellen and who only had half a pinky nail.
She is featured in some of my fondest memories from childhood. I got a note from her a couple years ago. She was retiring and had a bunch of old pictures. She wrote that she had taken some each year, had held onto them since, and wanted me to have them in order to pass them around to other kids from my class.
One picture was of 15 of us posing on the monkey bars. The grass was so green and the sky was so blue. We were so small.
In her note she also said that she had kept some of the things I had written, and that she hoped I was still writing. I don't remember what I wrote in third grade, but I think maybe that's when I started creating stories. I think maybe that's when this all started.
Last year the librarian told me that Mrs. Taylor was dying of cancer. She also said that she had moved somewhere south and warmer, where her family was.
I wrote her a letter. At first I didn't know what to say to someone who was preparing to depart this life. How do you tell someone from hundreds of miles away how much she meant to you? How do you give her everything right before it's all taken away?
I tried. I wrote the kindest, most meaningful letter I could. I searched my memory for every second of that year – every cursive lesson and project on the Wright brothers – and put it all down. And cried a lot.
I don't know if she got it in time. I want to think she did. I like to think of her sitting in bed, reading my sloppy handwriting. Smiling. All I wanted was to say thank you and make her happy for a while longer.
A few months later her obituary appeared in the paper.
And I don't know what it all means, or if it's supposed to mean anything, but I'm so glad that she sent me those pictures. They're precious to me, and I'm ridiculously thankful that I somehow ended up with them.
I feel lucky, too, to have had the chance to say good-bye in writing. I hope it was enough. I know it never can be, but I still hope it anyway.