"Hello, Mr. Myers," she said with a beautiful smile.
Startled, I replied in kind. She stood before me in anticipation while I watched the sun peak through her golden hair. Searching for something to say, I told her that I liked her dress.
"Thank you. When we went to the store, I made sure it had some yellow in it," she beamed as she twirled slightly to let the flow of the dress boast its color.
"Kylie would love that," I answered.
"I thought so, too. Well, I'll see you later," she said as she bounded off toward her friends.
I watched her rush off until she was engulfed in a sea of young women all flaunting perfectly-styled hair, manicured nails, and the prettiest dresses their closets could produce. The boys -- awkward in their ties -- stood off to the side bucking horns, pretending not to be fascinated with their more delicate classmates. At 14, I could see the beginnings of the magnetic pull that they would deny as long as possible then succumb to as if they ever had a choice.
I watched the group laugh and tussle beside the still pond until called inside by someone in charge. As they moved, I stood transfixed on the scene of this place and these children. It was so natural and right, yet a weight deep inside of me told me something was missing.
My golden-haired friend waved at me and beckoned me to follow.
"You comin'?" she called (In the South we tend to be forgiving of the lack of a closing "G" -- especially when it rolls through the pouty lips of a pretty girl).
I raised my arm. "Yes, I'm coming."
I needed to go in. After all, I was soon to be called to the podium to speak. I was there during this graduation week to thank her friends for how well they loved Kylie during her sickness. I should be in my seat waiting for my cue. But I couldn't bring myself to budge. My mind reeled and my feet were frozen to the promenade beneath me because I had no idea who she was.
I should have known her instantly. She was one of Kylie's classmates and a friend since the first grade. There was a glint of recognition. I'm sure she had been in my car on field trips and in the classroom when I taught enrichment days. I knew she had been to my house for birthday parties. Still, her name escaped me -- a fact that rocked me to my core. It means I'm forgetting.
It is amazing what a couple of years does at that age. While Kylie is frozen at 12, the rest of her friends have blossomed to 14 and are all a head taller since I last saw them.
I will never know what Kylie would have looked like at this age. Cancer stole those years from us. It stole height, growth, maturity. It mercilessly took graduation, blessing dinner, a celebratory leap into the murky pond, and a rising high-schooler with an unlimited future. Cancer is a ravenous thief.
And now I wonder, what else will it steal? She is relegated to pictures, videos, and memories. Will it steal those? I am now 48 and she lived only a quarter of my life. There are swaths of my past that are but faint glimpses buried in the deep recesses of my feeble mind. Please! I beg! Let me remember her. Don't let me forget the sparkle of her eye or the titter of her giggle. Let me hear her voice clearly until I hear nothing at all.
Cancer is a ravenous thief. ... Hasn't this thief stolen enough? Please, leave me the little I have. Don't wipe her from my mind.
I feel like a victim held at gunpoint, only I'm not begging for my life -- you can have that. Just please don't take her out of my head. I want to savor each morsel. I want to remember her -- every bit of her. I don't want to forget a thing.
Aging is a tragic cruelty and memory loss is part and parcel to it. But I fear this isn't loss. No, I feel like my insatiable enemy isn't done with me and is taking more piece by piece. Hasn't this thief stolen enough? Please, leave me the little I have. Don't wipe her from my mind.
Yet I have forgotten the delicate face of her friend and I am utterly terrified of what cancer will steal next...
Get your copy of Missing Kylie today. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be used to fight childhood cancer in memory of Kylie.
**Photo credit: Cindi Fortmann Photography