Emily performed in her eighth grade play yesterday, in the small performing arts center (lovingly dubbed “The PAC”) where I’ve been watching performances for the last 11 years.
Ana was six when I saw the first performance. We’d pulled her out of public school mid-year because she’d been so unhappy. A window gazer, a dreamer, an artist, Ana had a hard time paying attention and she’d been constantly getting into trouble. So, we moved her to High Meadow because she’d begun writing daily letters to her teacher. “I’m sorry I’m bad,” they said. “I love you and I’ll try harder.” High Meadow focused on play and individualized learning, not forms and regiment. Classes were tiny. The kids went outside to play three times a day. They had a dance program that (at the time) the entire school participated in – about sixty kids total from kindergarten to 8th grade.
Back then, I sat in the PAC, heart-in-throat, and wondered how my shy little girl could possibly get on stage and dance in front of the entire school community. The first graders went on very early. I remember they were dressed in bright colors. I remember the kids tumbled onto the dusty stage with a kind of frenetic grace, twisting and galloping, their faces alight with the excitement of this performance. And Ana was among them, fearless, those wide eyes full of pride. Emily, age three at the time, was snuggled up in my lap.
As the now 13-year-old Emily appeared on stage, I snapped back to the present. This was the last school play, nearly the last performance I’d witness in the PAC and I didn’t want to be there. It hurt so much. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ghost of those long-ago first graders, all of them, except Ana, approaching the age of 17. But I forced myself to watch the play (Guys and Dolls) because I want to remember every performance—even as they begin to fade into nothing more than color and sound. I can’t remember exactly what Ana wore during that first dance. I can’t remember every single dance or play or show she performed throughout her life and that scares me–the forgetting.
Maybe it’s okay to remember Ana’s childhood not as specific events, but as a swirl of color, laughter, jubilant excitement, and joy. Yes, cancer cast a shadow over her for five years, but I don’t want to remember her as a child that suffered. Cancer didn’t define her. She worked very hard throughout her life to make sure of that. She’d be pretty pissed if I let grief define her now.
I will remember that Ana danced and painted and sang, that she was a big sister, a best friend, a dear cousin. I will remember her desire to learn, her impatience with pretense, the delight she got from visiting a new place. I’ll remember what I can and let most of the pain go (or try to). That part is not worth remembering.