Dear Rose

Dear Rose,

Today is your birthday.

We are making your strawberry shortcake — the good, lumpy biscuity kind, not the chewy, spongy abomination — with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It’s the last thing I specifically remember eating with you, two years ago to the day. I remember the day well, and the next, our good byes curbside at the Austin airport. The mockingbirds’ mechanical brrreees, the air slurpy in a way I never knew Texas air could be, the mountain laurels — or were they jacarandas? — blooming purple. You sidled in with that sort of pre-hug shuffle, and we hugged a long time, first me, then Vin. And though you were sick and we wiped away tears, I never imagined it would be our last embrace. Never thought all our plans would break apart. I wonder all the time what I, what any of us, may have said and done if we had known.

But today, we celebrate. Or at least do our best. The champagne is chilling, the 80’s music is bangin’, and there are bright coral roses on the table. Today we exalt the notion that of all the humans who were ever born throughout time and space, we were lucky to live with, love, and be loved by you in the time you were given.

I talk to you most on my walks now. Ambling down our country road toward the sky above the river, then back home again, facing the mountain. This is the road I walk when I just need to get out, but can’t get into the woods, and so I travel it most days with the dog in tow, or a baby, or both. It’s also the road I walked every day when you were in the hospital, dying before we knew you were, and the one I walked along so many subsequent days that autumn, dazed, when being outside was the only time I felt like I could breathe. So this is where I now feel closest to you, where I sometimes think I see you — a meadowlark on a fence post or spring’s first mountain bluebird — or hear you — in the wind rushing through tall grasses, in the chirps of chickadees.

And while we all know you were a deeply committed atheist, I like to think you’d condone this, if nothing else than from a purely scientific perspective — all glory to the ubiquitous atom, those masters of reinvention that never really leave us, but only shift and shuffle their allegiances from one shape into another. So I hope you don’t mind when I say I recognize you in the wind and in the odd bird that seems to stop and scrutinize, or that your parents look for you in ravens overhead, and in the heart-shaped river rocks they now collect.

And that’s all comforting and bittersweet, if not a little predictable, so I like to remind myself that by such logic you must surely also inhabit tumbling otter pups and ribbony jellyfish and lofty ponderosa pines and the scent of lightning before a storm and the badass mantis shrimp, who essentially lives in sandy-bottomed bathwater, and whom you may recall sees (according to cartoonist Matthew Inman) a thermonuclear bomb of light and beauty with its spectacular, dazzling color vision, which sounds pretty awesome to me. This also means you are in the pigments and fibers of jay feathers, and in the bluebonnets of the hill country, and even the neon tank tops and bright red lipstick you pulled off so well. Which is to say, we see you colors. In all things sassy and bright.

So it feels about right when we look at the big world map tacked to the kitchen wall and run through the litany of who lives where, that when we come to RoRo, Atticus swirls his hands and says everywhere. Well, it’s really more like ehv-we-air, but we know what he means. And it makes me smile every time, just as it does when he arranges the purple Rosie Train to cuddle with the fuchsia Mama Train, even knowing you and I might have had something to say about the color options for Lady trains. And even though they’re too little now, someday Atticus and Rosario will understand why mama starts grinning and crying and crying and grinning when freakin’ Band Aid comes on every Christmas, or when she sees a buzz-cut Pomeranian, and how that’s really quite a normal reaction within the friends of Rose consortium.

All of this is to say, we miss you, Rose. I miss you. I miss exchanging irreverent texts, and book recommendations. I miss planning visits, and discussing family matters, and being able to cuss about what is happening to our country. I miss your sense of humor, your sense of purpose. I miss your stories about the littlest of your students pooping their pants, and knowing how fiercely you fought for their right to learn, and for everything else you believed in and loved.

We were sisters too short a time, but you remain a sister of my heart. None of us has quite figured out a future in which our memories of you aren’t bolstered by new ones . . . but we carry you with us, and we feel you and love you in a thousand different ways.

Every day.

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