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I’ve looked for Heidi everywhere.
The first place I always look is under my pillow in the morning, because I swear I hear her voice in the night. I’m always surprised when all I see is my fitted under-sheet – clean and white and totally Heidi free.
On my way to work, I always look in the glovebox of my car. She loved that CD by Then Jericho that I played to her one summer on the way to the beach and she knows it’s in there with the U2 and Snow Patrol ones. But all I see is plastic CD cases, packets of chewing gum and the scraper I use on my windscreen.
I’ve looked for her in all manner of places that might sound crazy.
Like, once, I found myself peering into the mirror to see if I could catch some movement behind me. But you can’t see the space immediately behind you, and maybe she is lurking there. And like a dog who chases his tail, I would never be able to see her, or catch her, if that’s where she is.
Other people say they have seen her. Carol said she saw her on the beach, in a sand dollar that had a crab crawling over it. She said it made her laugh, because the sight of a crab would always make Heidi scream like she was being murdered. But it was apt, because Heidi loved everything about the beach (crabs excepted), and sand dollars had always been her favourite. She had a whole line of them strung up on her back porch.
Carol said that the colour of the shell lying against the golden sand had been the same colour as Heidi’s hair. I smiled at the thought. Then I remembered the way she used to wear her hair at the beach; in those little braids that made her look about sixteen.
And I cried a little.
Nellie saw her the day of the heavy snow, at the beginning of December when she was tagging her tree. She had been shopping all day with her kids and they were driving her wild, and she was just thinking she didn’t feel very Christmassy this year – what with everything that had happened – and suddenly, down it came. Huge fat flakes. Ones that you can catch on your tongue, and that settle on you if you stand still long enough.
It made her remember the time that Heidi drank too many dirty banana cocktails at the staff Christmas party and dropped down in the parking lot and made snow angels – in her short taffeta cocktail dress and stiletto heels!
So there was Heidi, bold as brass, right smack in the middle of the snowfall, smiling as bright and white as she ever had.
That’s just two of them. Other people have seen her. Her mother, her husband, her daughters. Some of her friends from scrapbook club and even that strange woman with a safety pin in her nose who used to serve her coffee every day. Chastity, I think her name is.
One day, Chastity said – must have been the end of July last year she thinks because she could smell the melting blacktop wafting in from the parking lot – she saw Heidi’s car pull up and she started to make her drink automatically, as she always did. Skinny latte, two sweeteners, sprinkle of chocolate.
The foam cup stayed untouched on the counter all day, but Chastity didn’t let anyone move it, and at the end of her shift she quietly poured it into the sink at the back of the shop. And smiled.
People have seen her in so many different places and in different ways.
Her daughter, Alana, saw her in a tiny soap bubble from the washing up liquid that refused to burst for ages and just floated around the kitchen. She said she knew it was her mommy, that bubble, because there was a bright pinpoint of yellow light at the centre of it, and yellow was Heidi’s favourite colour. Probably the light from the kitchen ceiling reflected in it, I wanted to say, but I bit down on my mean thought.
Tony, Heidi’s husband, said she came into his office one particularly stressful day, when he had been fretting about a tough account and couldn’t get the figures to add up. Tiredness and tension, of late, had made his work life harder than usual, and he couldn’t concentrate on anything. He’d gone to the coffee pot across by the window to pour himself another cup, and with his back to the room he had felt a chill. When he turned around to face his desk, he saw a page of his document file lift. Just slightly, almost imperceptibly at the corner; but he’d seen it. And when he got back to his desk, he found the answer to his tricky problem, and the figures added up at last.
Again, the mean girl in me wanted to say: ‘Did you have the window open?’ but I didn’t, because I could see a sparkle in his eyes as he was telling me, and knew he was happy.
I envy them all, because when they see her, they are happy and fulfilled, and comforted for a while. Why can’t I see her? I’ve looked and looked and I’m dammed if I can find her.
It’s not like we weren’t close. We were best friends. We talked all the time. Okay, we didn’t see each other as much as we might, but phone calls and emails and texts – we would have got the world record for all that.
Sisters, that’s what we were. If not of flesh, then of soul.
So where is she? Why won’t she come and see me?
Maybe it’s the religion thing. Most – if not all – of the people who have seen her are religious, to varying degrees. They have a faith. I guess that helps. I am faithless! Well, no, that’s not true. I have plenty of faith, just not in conventional things. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in many of the people who do, which in a way is much more important. I believe in the power of collective consciousness and know its power. Don’t we see proof of it every day? In good ways and in bad.
But I am not religious and maybe this is my punishment.
This morning Nellie came round for coffee. We both took a sick day from work and decided that we’d get a jump on the coming evening, before all the others came and the madness started.
She brought a scrapbook that Heidi had made for her, on one of their first scrapping weekends. It was filled with pictures that Nellie had sent to her over the years that they had known each other, and decorated with mementoes like the checks from restaurants they had eaten at, and scraps of fabric from their children’s christening gowns.
It was a beautiful record of a friendship that grew, as all of Heidi’s friendships, like a gorgeous blossoming flower. Heidi was not one to do anything by half, especially loving. If she wasn’t gonna love you forever, in a do-or-die kind of way, then she wasn’t gonna love you at all.
We spent the morning crying and laughing. Mostly laughing. Squealing every time we recalled another ‘episode’ of madness, or drunken girls’ night out fiasco. Oh, there were many fiascos.
We had a sneaky glass of wine. The sun was nowhere near the yardarm, but it felt right, especially because we drank it from those insanely huge glasses that Heidi had bought me for my birthday a few years ago. ‘You said you wanted to cut down to only one glass!’ she had said, and we’d laughed so hard.
I asked Nellie if she was dreading tonight, and she thought about it for quite a long time before answering. I could see something playing behind her eyes – a whole lifetime of memories.
She told me no. Even after the long pause it sounded like she said it quickly, without hesitation. It had been a year, she said, and time for us all to reflect and to try to find the strength in each other to move forward into a future without her.
And so everyone came, armed with pies and potatoes, and salads, and dips, and desserts so delicious looking that, in times gone by, Heidi would have been the first to dip her finger into them.
People brought photos, and videos and stories. Oh so many stories. Amazing how much a part of us all she was. At the time, you don’t appreciate how precious someone is, and you just take it for granted that they are around.
I don’t think any of us will be doing that again. Getting together on the anniversary of her passing was more beautiful than I could have imagined.
And the love floored me.
Now that I think of it, I am seeing her all the time. I just didn’t recognise her.
She actually is there in my mirror every day, but not hiding behind me. She’s right in front of me. She’s in my face. She is there in the lines that started to show the day I tried on the black dress I bought for her funeral. She’s in my eyes, which are a little dimmer than before, but which will brighten again, as time moves on.
She is definitely in her eldest daughter, who looks so much like her now that it makes me stop breathing sometimes when I see her. She has the self-assuredness of a young woman – albeit one who still looks like a wild colt, with her long legs and slender body – but under it you can see. She’s still a child who’s lost her mommy and can’t quite figure out why.
She’s in all her friends and family; in their stories of her, their memories. Talking about her means she will never truly be gone. It means that everything she ever did, and every person she ever touched, will ensure her immortality. It’s what we all deserve. Not to be forgotten. To be loved eternally, even when your loved ones follow you into the ground and their shells let go.
What remains is the essence. And that’s what’s important.
After everyone had gone home, Nellie and I sat out on the deck, wrapped in thick blankets against the chill February air. I’d strung Heidi’s beloved sand dollars all around the garden fence and lit some candles.
We drank some wine and listened to the shells tinkling in the wind.
And I smiled because at last, she was here.