23 October, 2007

A Tragedy at Ten: Anastasia

A full decade now, and the ever-widening wake of her death laps onward, continuing to rock and capsize in spite of the distance. Meanwhile, her memory on our horizon gradually melds with the glare of the sun. Though the precision with which I do so has been dulled with time, I will not ever forget her. Even as we strive to hang on to those we have lost, remember them just as they were, it is a failing of our minds to truncate and generalize our every recollection until, eventually, all we are left with are a few hazy snapshots, some, if we are lucky, slightly more vivid than others.

This is what I remember most about her: her wide, white smile of rounded teeth; the way her narrow shoulders hunched as she laughed, when her head would dip slightly forward with the single, clear “Ha!” like a small dropped glass. Always so easy to laugh, but so stingy with it, like she were being taxed for each additional peal. I used to strain so hard to elicit more — a sustained chuckle, a bout of giggling, anything to get that laugh to roll, shimmering and high — but only infrequently did I succeed. Once, I can recall her laughing to tears, though I cannot remember just what I had said or done, merely that she’d sat there, on that sofa, holding her face and shrieking with glee as her eyes brimmed and overflowed. The moment was beautiful.

She was good at comforting. There was a night, when I was betrayed and my heart was broken, when she laid my head in her lap as I cried messy, heaving tears. Stroking my hair until I was done and out with them, she then kept watch as I slept with her dampened knees as my pillow and finally awoke brave enough to bear a lack of human contact. Never was it mentioned, nor did she remind me of the nurturing she offered, as though the whole evening had been nothing. The other friends lucky enough to have her soothing through piques of sadness must know the same gratitude I felt for that solace without strings — the only true kind.

She’d yearned to see Paris, New Orleans, the dangerous and dank corners of London. Old places held her in thrall with their storied decrepitude and, had she been the type to believe in reincarnation, I’m certain she would have fancied one of her past selves as an adventurous member of eighteenth-century France’s petit noblesse or a plucky Victorian socialite. Just beginning college, however, and working retail at a toy and novelty store meant her means were scarcely great; leisure travel was not to be readily had. Today, it is no feat for me to imagine her having occasion to indulge in those much dreamed-of excursions. When I think of her, she often stands in the British Isles, atop some weather-beaten hill by the sea, her fine, chestnut hair whipping over her face in salty gusts. Facing the wide, gray ocean, she stands alone and confident — the way we always hoped she would one day. But, for all its apparent dolor, the image is comforting to me in a way. I do not wish to remember her as I last saw her: a carved wooden doll in an ornate box. Her spirit was too bright for that, too lighted by potential.

However accidentally, hers is an indelible mark. Though most all of us who knew her will remain in our own ways grieving and angry for a time longer, we will still have those hazy snapshots to bring us some vestiges of happiness from the moments she illuminated our lives.