In this photo you are radiant. Sun and warm sand prickles under our knees, tickle-burning as you chase me. The tip of my tongue is pinched between pearly teeth, pink and pert, the intensity of my focus. Chubby cheeks curve in delight as I move my little body, clad in Mickey Mouse bathing suit, as fast as I can. You are close behind, dark hair falling around your face, drawing the eyes to dancing lips, their joyous, upturned edges lighting your face.
I know you thought you didn’t deserve this happiness, and so many of my memories of you are riddled with the tension borne of believing that fate might realize the mistake and take it all away from you. On this day, however, with the sky stretching out overhead, sun-bleached and pale blue, kissing the ocean and creating the illusion of eternity, all fears of fate are forgotten. The future stretches on before us, an unbroken promise, and we are racing toward it, squealing and giggling.
Years later, when people try to soothe you with poorly thought out platitudes—At least you know you are dying—I think of this day. Would we have cherished these moments more if we’d known the future, that the eternity of blue sky and rolling waves would break their promises? Or would the moment be tarnished with the inevitable?
My adult life is painted with fears, just as yours was. I do not fear that Fate might realize his mistake at blessing me so and take away what he granted. Perhaps Fate is paying penance for stealing my mother from me. Instead, I fear the broken promises of the future. As I crawl-chase my little girl through the grass and watch the laughter in the chocolate eyes of my son, I fear that, like you, I will not be granted a long enough time on this Earth to chase my future grandbabies and love on them as I know you would have done for my children had you been allowed the opportunity.
In the background of the photo, a rusted yellow oil drum looms—a repository for all the detritus which a happy retreat brings—a reminder that the ugliness of this world is inevitable, ever-present. It does not, however, ruin the picture. The beauty of the photo lies deeper, within you and me, the love between mother and daughter, not in the superfluous visual aesthetics. Despite the potential for broken promises and even though I will always regard blue skies with suspicion, I refuse to let such fears paint my children’s memories. I will have the courage to dream of things I may never get to see; to hope for promises unbroken.