I wasn’t sure what memory I would write about this month until we were at the beach this weekend. Even when it finally became clear what I should write about, I’ve been dreading writing it. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I can both see and feel the shift that the grief has made since August 13, and it makes me indescribably sad.
We spent the first week of September last year with Jess and her family at Topsail Island. Ed, my dad, my brother and I rented a house two doors down from the one that has been in Jess’s family for many years. Ed’s dad and Deniese also spent a few nights with us down there. It was Hudson’s first trip to the beach. Little did I know it would be her only chance to swim in the ocean. Little did I know that her life was already halfway over. How is that possible?
When we arrived on Topsail in the late afternoon, I couldn’t wait to get her out to the ocean to see what she’d do. She’d proven herself not to be afraid of water, having been swimming a few times in a couple of different pools, but I still wasn’t sure how she’d react to the ocean. And wouldn’t you know it? Our little monkey was game for anything, and the ocean was no different. She loved it. But she couldn’t walk yet, so the best we could do was hold her hands while she waded or sit her in our laps and let the waves wash around her.
The weather was only so-so that week, so we only spent a few days actually out on the beach. But she made the best of them. She was fascinated with sand (as I’m sure most babies are) and could not stop putting it in her mouth (as I’m sure most babies do). Already in love with birds, she could not get enough of all the ones she saw on the beach, and she’d say “Ooooh! Ooooh! Ooooh!” every time she saw one flying in the sky or skittering across the beach.
On one particularly cloudy day, we took a trip to the Topsail Turtle Project, where they rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles. There, she got to meet her spirit animal up close for the first time. She got a t-shirt to remember it by.
Of course, we had to take the obligatory “beautiful baby in the dunes” picture. She obliged without complaint, as you can see.
And I don’t know if it was because we were with her all day every day for the whole week or because she was getting so much stimulation from so many different people, but she learned a whole bunch of new tricks that week. She said her first word, “Uh oh!” and used it appropriately when I dropped something. She started playing pattycake back with us for the first time, clapping her hands when we said, “Pattycake!” and saying, “puh-puh-puh.” She started giving five and waving and saying “Bye bye!” It was a pretty big week.
This past weekend at the beach, it was a lot more crowded than we’d anticipated for the weekend after Labor Day. It was impossible to find a spot where we weren’t surrounded by several different families with young children. I had brought a book to read and tried to stay focused on it, but my eyes kept being drawn to one little girl in particular. She was just the right size, with just the right amount of hair so that from the back, I could almost imagine that she was Hudson. And this is what I imagined:
Hudson runs down to the water, chasing the waves out and then runs back towards us, shrieking in delight as the tide chases her. She plops down and lets the water run over her ever-more-muscular legs, squishing her fingers in the sand. She gets back up and wanders back towards us, stopping every once in a while to squat low and peer at shells in the sand, occasionally picking one up and holding it out to us to see, saying, “Shell!” We nod and say, “That’s right, sweetie! A shell!” A seagull flies right over her and she looks up and shouts, “Bird!” She picks up the shovel and bucket we’ve brought with us and starts trying to dig a hole, working hard to keep the sand in the shovel long enough so at least some of it falls in the bucket. She dumps the sand out of the bucket and onto a small pile she’s making. She grabs the bucket and runs to the water, fills it and comes back to her work site, then pours the water in the hole she just dug, fascinated as it sinks into the hole and disappears. She then grabs the sand off the pile she was making and puts it back into the hole and packs it down. Then she starts all over again. Her daddy gets up and runs towards her saying, “I’m gonna get you!” and she throws the shovel and bucket down and starts to run in the other direction, gleefully laughing as she goes. Her daddy gains on her quickly and scoops her into his arms, swinging her high into the air. He walks her down to the water and puts her back down, then grabs both her arms and starts to swing her around, every once in a while swinging her low enough that her feet skim the top of the water and she laughs. Her hair glints in the sunlight, hints of blonde and red in the mess of brown. Her daddy puts her down and she runs to me, arms out, and I fold her into a hug and say, “Give mommy a snuzzle!” And she patiently holds her head still, looking at me out of the corner of her eye, while I rub her nose with mine. And then she squirms back out of my arms and runs away, ready to play some more.
How vivid they are, these images that will never be. I am so very, very sad for her that she is missing out on so much.
We miss you, my sweet girl. We all miss you so very much.
With Uncle Jason
With Aunt Jess
And Grandpa again