There are few memories so vivid, I can actually smell them.
I am ten. It is the fourth of July at my grandmother's apartment.We are sitting on blankets, watching the fireworks up the hill. My cousins are there, as are my younger brother and sister. I remember the finale beginning. The grass on my bare feet as we're running up the hill, dodging blankets and coolers and chairs. We reach the fence as they explode just above our heads. My heart is beating out of my chest and I'm smiling.
I'm eighteen and I am standing in my dorm room. My mother has just left. The floor is covered in suitcases and laundry baskets. I open the window and look at the circle drive seven floors below. I am alone. There are footprints on the walls and it smells like dust and my closet door doesn't close all the way. I have never been happier.
I am twenty nine on Sunday, March 30th. It is hot, quite possibly the brightest day of the year. We pull into the park. It takes us thirty minutes to travel half a mile. As I sink into the upholstery, I see joggers and picnics and spring. We reach our destination and he places the black box into his old college backpack. I ask to see it.
We hold hands as we walk to your tree. It is silent. I refuse to remove my sunglasses.
A family passes us on the trail. Then two. A child running hits my side and his mother apologizes. I doubt her sincerity.
We arrive at your tree and a family is sitting beside it. A birthday party. Balloons and presents and cake. I count them. Twelve total. Twelve people who will watch us bury you.
Your father says to wait. We circle the lake twice. I am crying as I lean on him. I have never needed physical touch in this way.
We return to the party and sit on a nearby bench. The child opens a new dump truck. A baseball tee. A jacket. I want to scream.
Your father reminds me of our intent. Families and children running near you. It's why we didn't choose a cemetery, remember? We wanted you near the happiness always, children laughing and engagement photo sessions and marriage proposals and zoo trips.
But in this moment I hate them. I hate anyone who can smile as I sit next to the blue backpack which holds my daughter's remains.
After twenty minutes they begin to pack up. Blankets in bags and babies in strollers. One balloon flies away and laughter ensues. One of the children stands on his tiptoes, reaching and begins to cry. I want to hug him.
We kneel beside your tree. Your father removes the shovel and begins to dig. I watch his hands and think of the azaleas I planted last summer.
The black box is on the ground between us. He removes the plastic bag and begins to pour them, pouring you into the earth, and I stop him. They are sacred to my hands as I lift them, and they fall like sand through my fingers. And I see each one as I let it go. And I've felt each one every day since.
I've often wondered how people do it, bury their child and walk away. He watches the ground close and makes the drive home, sits in traffic and uses his blinker, pulls into the drive as if returning from the grocery store.
I know the answer now, and it's simple. One never walks away from this.
It has been six months. It has been a minute. It has been a lifetime.
Everything I touch has felt your ashes first. Every image I see is blurred behind your face. For an eternity, my knees in that dirt. Black boxes in my dreams.
And I see you. And I feel you. As intensely as I ever did. There is no time in this life. There are only steps, towards the promise of a face, on a very long drive home.