A year ago today was the last day Elena would go to school. She got up looking so cute in her little pajamas and came to find me. She had been sick the day before and Kim had taken her to the doctors but they said nothing was wrong. At the time, nothing probably was wrong. She certainly hadn’t yet been attacked by the bacteria that would kill her.
But that Tuesday morning she woke up as happy as can be. I don’t remember what she ate that morning. It could have been toast. It could have been cereal. She was a bit up in arms that she was going to miss Sophie’s official birthday party but she was looking forward to their private celebration. They were going to have a sleep over. Also, Sophie would come to Elena’s birthday party. It was going to be a dance party.
The girls went to Boulevard school. It was the last day that they would be dropped off together and run from the car to the crossing guard. It was the last day that Elena, with her hat slipping down over her eyes, would tip her head back and shout to Maggie “wait for me.” It would be the last day that Maggie would have a little sister literally following in her footsteps.
I don’t remember where Kim went that night but I was feeding the girls dinner. She might have gone to the gym with Patti. Elena was having a hard time keeping herself out of time out. She was fussing about something. She would pout and even work herself into tears and then have giggling fits when we took her seriously. Once she giggled we’d realize she wasn’t serious and we’d laugh at her which would make her cry again. It was a confusing cycle for all concerned.
Patti had obedience school scheduled for their golden retriever Lou so she dropped her kids off. We microwaved up some more meatballs for Jack, Kate, and Sarah and the kids played a bit.
One of the moments that has stayed with me a long time is the image of me making Elena do her homework while her friends played. I know that she didn’t mind. I know that she was actually kind of proud. I know that she even chose to do the extra work herself. I know that she finished her homework in plenty of time to play with the other kids before they left.
Still, the night before she died, I was making her do her homework. I can see her at the table with the stapled pages creased back as she finished the work in her own order.
That was a year ago.
This morning I’m heading to the airport to pick up my sister who flew in on the red-eye. Today’s trigger seems to be Donald Fagen’s “On the Dunes.” Why? I have no idea. As it plays my trickle of tears becomes a torrent. Like an idiot I bump the replay and listen again. The song has nothing to do with Elena and yet my throat lumps up and I feel the emptiness.
I try to fill it by turning the music up louder and bumping replay yet again. Finally, I realize what I’m doing and turn the music off.
A year ago Elena lost the last tooth she would ever lose. Maggie snapped a picture of it before Elena went to bed. Elena put the tooth under her pillow and went to sleep in her own bed for the last time.
We tucked her in and said good night and turned off the light. An hour later I flipped Elena over for the last time. I stopped by her room as I always did and looked in on her there with her head facing the foot of the bed. She only flipped when she knew I was on my way upstairs. I reached over and picked her up and put her back under her covers. She would never flip over like that again.
It took me a long time not to look in her room as I passed by at night.