You ought not to practice childish things
since you are no longer that age.
- Homer, The Odyssey
On the day my mother died, I made her a promise. She was lying on the sterile white sheets of the hospital bed we had set up near the large bay window in our living room. From there she had the best view of the blue waters of the Atlantic that sparkled just outside our door on the Isle of Palms. She would stare out at the ocean for hours, watching and waiting. It was the only thing that gave her comfort.
“Kalypso,” she called to me, her voice thin and soft.
I dropped my crayons and coloring book on the floor and ran over to stand next to her bed, holding up the picture I had made for her in kindergarten that day. She smiled when she looked at it, tears shimmering in her eyes.
“Is that a fish?” she asked, her thin, graceful fingers gently tracing over my childish drawing.
I had shaken my head, frowning at her. “Mommy, it’s a dolphin, and dolphins are mammals, not fish.”
She’d grinned at me then, and I’d seen the shadow of the vibrant women she had once been shine inside her eyes. “You are so like your father,” she said, brushing a hand over my red, curly hair. Even at that early age, I already despised it. I looked longingly at her dark, straight hair, her chocolate colored eyes, and her skin without a single freckle on it, sad that I had not inherited even a bit of her exotic beauty.
“I wish I was like you,” I said.
She’d brought my hand to her mouth and kissed my palm before folding my pudgy little five-year-old fingers over the spot she’d kissed. It was our ritual, what she did every time she had to go away, and she was going away now. I just didn’t realize it yet. She was saying goodbye.
She reached over to open the drawer in her nightstand and pulled out a silver box. I could see the effort it took for her to do even such a small task. I knew this was important. I stood on my tiptoes to see it, leaning against the metal bars on the side of her bed.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Something for you,” she said. She pulled out a silver necklace and placed it carefully over my head.
“It’s beautiful,” I’d said, staring down at the very grown up necklace. It glittered in the sunlight, and at five years old I coveted anything that sparkled. I think I was part squirrel at that age. “I love it.”
“And I love you,” she’d said, leaning back against her pillows, her face as white as the sheets. Her eyes closed, and I thought she’d gone to sleep, but when I realized she was whispering to me I leaned in closer to hear her.
“This necklace is a part of me that you can always have with you, but you must promise me one thing,” she said, her eyes fluttering open.
“What?” I asked, looking down at the necklace, not realizing the importance of this moment.
“Never wear it in the water. Can you promise me that? Can you be a big girl for me and swear you will never wear it in the water?” she asked. Her dark eyes looked huge and haunted in her face.
“Say the words, Kalypso,” she said, her face pinched with pain.
“I promise,” I said, throwing my arms across her thin body. “I promise.”
She kissed the top of my head, “Remember this, Kaly, remember me,” she said, and then shut her eyes for the last time.
When my father came into the room a few minutes later, I was sitting next to my mother on her bed, watching the water like she had for the last few agonizing months. I barely heard his screams when he realized she was gone. I already knew. But I also knew that I’d found a way to comfort her. I’d made her a promise, and I fully intended to keep that promise for the rest of my life.