We walk home from school most days together, especially now when the weather is nice. She likes to take her time, kick the pinecones as we trot down the sidewalk, pick up the leaves and examine the wrinkles in them, use fallen branches as her swords. She is different than the woman for whom she is named—our little Antoinette. But she is just as special.
Today the breeze is warm. The sun is out for the first time since spring’s arrival, and Nettie is running half a block in front of me, chasing a bird swirling down the sidewalk before her. She stops in front of City Hall when she notices the flowers and waits for me to catch up. She grabs my hand and squeezes tightly.
“Aunt Nat, the flowers are beautiful today,” she says.
“They are very beautiful, Nets,” I agree.
“The colors are so pretty.”
I nod my head, agreeing again. Her birthday is coming up next week, and while I can’t wait to see her tiny face blow out the candles on her vanilla cake, my mind drifts back to the same week from Aprils before, and my heart breaks a little.
The flowers always reminded her of Mommom—the way they smelled of fresh sweetness, the way they glimmered in the bask of the sun’s light, the way they swayed with the breeze, so carefree and full of life. Just like her.
They walked the short two blocks home together, hand-in-hand, passing arrangements of pale yellows and pinks and soft blues. It was a warm spring day, the sun peaking out behind the powdery clouds and the gentle breeze brushing against her cheeks. She grabbed her mommom’s hand and squeezed.
“I missed you so much,” she said to her, looking up to capture a memory of her face.
“I missed you so much too, little girl,” she said back.
They walked along the sidewalk in silence for a while, the little girl taking special notice not to step down on the cracks. She smiled up at her mommom when she realized she was playing along too.
“I can’t let you break your mother’s back,” her mommom said.
This made the little girl smile.
The house was in sight now, just halfway down the block. The little girl walked slower. By the time she and her mommom reached her house, she was almost in tears.
“My dear girl, what’s wrong?”
She bent down on the grass next to her granddaughter.
“Spring is so pretty, isn’t it?” the little girl said.
“Spring is my favorite part of the year,” Mommom said. “And do you know why?”
“Because it’s magical!”
“It is?” the little girl asked as she took a seat next to a flower patch.
“Why, of course it is!”
“Look around you, Natty. Look at all the pretty things that winter took away from us. Look at the colors, smell the fresh air, taste the sunshine.”
“The flowers are pretty,” she said.
“And they bloom anew every spring,” said Mommom.
The little girl looked down and picked the daisy planted beside her. She lifted her hand to feel the soft petals against her skin, studying the soft lines from the stem to the top.
“Natty, I have to leave now,” Mommom said.
The little girl squeezed the flower tighter, causing a petal to fall onto the grass.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I have to,” Mommom said.
“But I don’t want you to go.”
“And I don’t want to go.”
“Then why do you have to?”
“Because sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.”
“Because it’s a part of life.”
The little girl turned from her grandmother and focused on the flowers, feeling each one and playing with the petals.
“When will I see you again?” she said.
“You’ll always see me.”
“My dear girl, I’ll always be around.”
“Do you promise?”
“Do you see that daisy you’re holding?”
“Look down at it. Go ahead.”
The little girl obeyed her mommom.
“Now take a big sniff in and tell me what you smell.”
“It smells. It smells sweet, like the inside of your house.”
“That’s right. And the petals, what do they feel like?”
“They feel soft, like the inside of your hands.”
“And what about the sunshine? How does that make you feel?”
“Happy, like our walks home do.”
“And the breeze? What does that feel like?”
“Like a warm hug,” the little girl said.
“It’s my warm hug, Natty. And don’t you forget that.”
“I won’t, Mommom.” She said with her face still buried in the flowers. “But, Mommom, what if—Mommom?”
The little girl stood up to find herself alone on the grass, with nothing but the warm breeze to comfort her.
I think of you every day, but even more so in the spring. Maybe it’s the smell of the flowers, the glimmering of their colors, or that warm breeze pushing up against me, letting me know you’re here. Or maybe it’s just because I feel you. Almost like you never left.
I long for the day I can see your face again. If I’m lucky enough, sometimes I dream of you. That you’re hugging me. It’s almost like you know when I need it, and you come to me. Just one bright smile from your face, one long, lasting hug. Until the next time I crave seeing you again. Hearing your voice.
It never gets easier. Time only dulls the pain a little. What gives me peace and solace is the flowers. The sun. The little signs you send to let me know you’re still with me. Even though I know you’ve never left me.
I can’t wait to see your face again, Mommom. To hear your voice. To feel your hard embrace. And until that day, I’ll meet you in the flower garden.