I’ve had one around my neck for years. It feels like dead weight.
The albatross has terrible breath. But I keep its head far away from mine. I breathe the fresh air. Deep breaths. Always asking my lungs if they’ll accept the air.
On her birthday, we serve her favorite foods—pesto pasta, caprese salad, chocolate. We tell stories of her. We also commemorate her death day in August. Quietly. Taking deep breaths.
I’ve seen dead dogs, dead cats, dead horses, dead hamsters and a dead daughter. And they’ve all belonged to me. They all stopped breathing. Some were calm as they died, while others fought. The result was the same.
Searching for that sweet spot where life is evenly balanced.
She loved words and language. She read poetry (I found Shel Silverstein’s books next to her bed many mornings) and novels (all of Harry Potter except the last one which came out two years after her death, so she never knew if Snape was a hero or a traitor). She loved nonfiction: science books and biographies of scientists, including Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. After her death, we found her notebook with Words to Remember. Forty words. Grand words. Everyday words. The right words at the right time: Truth, Compassion, Love, Peace, Chocolate.
Some people get ground down. Others go underground. Some simply lie in their final resting place below, six feet down.
One afternoon at the Dairy Queen, we succumbed to our other daughter’s pleas to buy a hamster. The house next to the parking lot advertised the hamsters with a sign directed at the young ones eating ice cream cones and Blizzards. Within two weeks our hamster, named DQ, lost the use of his back legs. We left the cage door open, since it couldn’t run away. Until it did. Following a two-week vacation, the house sitter said she never saw the hamster. With two cats in the house, we knew it was a goner.
I didn’t believe the diagnosis. What skinny 15-year-old has gall bladder disease? They insisted it needed to come out. After a week of waiting for her body to stabilize—and why was it out of whack?—we decided surgery was the ticket out of the hospital. The doctors convinced us the operation would be simple, laparoscopic, no issues. I should have gone with my instinct. We could have left the hospital and gone on the vacation we’d planned for that week. A mother knows her child better than anyone.
Friends called her Jules. Their jewel. Our first born. My first blood relative.
I’ve never longed for diamonds or other precious stones. I prefer unpolished gems in the earth.
Kilter is a state of harmony. Rarely do we say you are so on kilter. Instead everyone is off.
I can say I died laughing, but I didn’t. I’ve been dead serious, and, of course, I wasn’t.
But when I say she is dead, she is, was, and will always be.
I’m not. But I enjoy the sound of the word. Mmm, like the old Campbell’s soup ads. The lips form the next letter and the tongue closes in the back of my mouth to finish the first syllable. Mor. Then the pattern becomes staccato, if one syllable can be staccato. The lips start with the b and the tongue closes the word. Bid. Imagine that it meant something fun or silly or tasty. Maybe it could be a synonym for dreamy. My dreams could be morbid and I’d want to go to sleep. But they are and I don’t want to close my eyes.
It’s one of the saddest words in English, as well as one of the longest. It lasts forever and forever and forever.
As a two-year-old, she walked wide-eyed toward the waves—amazed that they left her alone on the sand, then came back quickly. Smiling, she followed, and soon she could swim in those salty waves. I marveled at her enthusiasm; she wanted to conquer it all. She loved the ocean. Home to creatures, helping the moon.
I grew up around animals. We always had dogs, mostly German Shepherds and Norwegian Elkhounds, and we kept an Arabian stallion. My slate gray, green-eyed cat—a Russian Blue—bit Julia and she never forgave him. As a child, I wondered if the people from all those countries would one day come to claim my pets.
Perfect. My first born.
She was only fifteen. My ocean child. My quintessential daughter.
Brought up from the depths of the ocean, they called to us as we walked down the beach on Sanibel Island. Hour after hour: periwinkles, angel wings, Scotch Bonnets, kitten paws. She wanted to know everything about shells and sea life, so she asked to go to the Shell Museum. One day we found a sea horse on the edge of the water, about to be left on the sand. We tossed it back, giving it life again. A man approached. He said in his twenty years of walking that beach he’d never seen a live sea horse. He told her she was the luckiest girl alive.
Before I had children, teens scared me. I didn’t know how to interact with them. But once I had a teenager of my own, their entire world opened up for me. I found them funny, sarcastic, tender and intelligent. How could I have missed that?
Weeks after we returned from vacation, I was standing in the kitchen when DQ suddenly scampered by my feet. Somehow, he had managed to descend from the second-floor bedroom and outsmarted the cats for weeks. A teensy, half-paralyzed creature overcoming all odds—predators, lack of food. DQ gave us hope.
In the past, I was happy. In the present, I am happy. In the future, I will be happy. Two truths and a lie? Or two lies and a truth? Or all true?
On that August day, my body physically changed. From that point forward, I shivered in locations where others felt warm.
To obliterate. To cancel.
I always wanted adult children, not sure I could handle babies and little ones. I wanted kids I could talk to, reason and learn with. She was an old soul who knew more than most teenagers her age. But I never got to talk with the adult. She’ll be young forever.
Everything floats in oblivion, anchorless. I yearn for gravity, for being on kilter. We spread her ashes in the ocean.
Welcome Jerde is a writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and Mexican dog. She was a Loft Mentor Series winner, and her works have been published in the Southwest Journal and Minneapolis Star Tribune. Between essays, she works on her memoir, Without Julia.