We Are Okay(8)

By: Nina Lacour

They got closer, a man and a woman, both squinting to see if I was who they thought I’d be.

“Hey, Marin,” the man said.

I lifted my hand.

“Marin, I have something for you.” The woman unzipped her backpack and pulled out a shell. “Claire’s favorite kind,” she said, pressing it into my palm.

Then they were past us, making their way to the parking lot.

“You haven’t asked me what I’m writing about,” Mabel said.

The shell was wide and pink, covered in ridges. Dozens like it filled three large mason jars in my bedroom, all of them gifts. She held out her hand and I dropped it in.

“Jane Eyre. Flora and Miles. Basically everyone in A Mercy.” She ran her thumb over the shell’s ridges and then gave it back. She looked at me. “Orphans,” she said.

Gramps never spoke about my mother, but he didn’t have to. All I had to do was stop by the surf shop or show up at the beach at dawn, and I’d be handed free Mollusk shirts and thermoses full of tea. When I was a kid, my mom’s old friends liked to wrap their arms around me, pet my hair. They squinted in my direction as I approached and beckoned me toward them on the sand. I didn’t know all of their names, but every one of them knew mine.

I guess when you spend a life riding waves—knowing that the ocean is heartless and millions of times stronger than you are, but still trusting that you’re skilled enough or brave enough or charmed enough to survive it—you become indebted to the people who don’t make it. Someone always dies. It’s just a matter of who, and when. You remember her with songs, with shrines of shells and flowers and beach glass, with an arm around her daughter and, later, daughters of your own named after her.

She didn’t actually die in the ocean. She died at Laguna Honda Hospital, a gash on her head, her lungs full of water. I was almost three. Sometimes I think I can remember a warmth. A closeness. A feeling of being in arms, maybe. Soft hair against my cheek.

There is nothing to remember of my father. He was a traveler, back somewhere in Australia before the pregnancy test. “If only he knew about you,” Gramps would say when I was little and wondering. “You would be his treasure.”

I thought of the grief as simple. Quiet. One photograph of Claire hung in the hallway. Sometimes I caught Gramps looking at it. Sometimes I stood in front of it for several minutes at a time, studying her face and her body. Finding hints of myself in her. Imagining that I must have been nearby, playing in the sand or lying on a blanket. Wondering if, when I was twenty-two, my smile would be anywhere close to that pretty.

Once in a meeting at Convent, the counselor asked Gramps if he talked about my mother with me. “Remembering the departed is the only way to heal,” she said.

Gramps’s eyes lost their sparkle. His mouth became a tight line.

“Just a reminder,” the counselor said more quietly, then turned to the computer screen to get back to the matter of my unexcused absences.

“Sister,” Gramps said, his voice low and venomous. “I lost my wife when she was forty-six. I lost my daughter when she was twenty-four. And you remind me to remember them?”

“Mr. Delaney,” she said. “I am truly sorry for your loss. Both of your losses. I will pray for your healing. But my concern here is for Marin, and all I ask is that you share some of your memories with her.”

My body went tense. We were called in because they were concerned about my “academic progress,” but I was getting As or Bs in all my classes and all they had on me was that I’d cut a couple periods. Now I realized that this meeting was actually about a story I’d written, a story in English about a girl raised by sirens. The sirens were guilt-ridden over murdering the girl’s mother, so they told the girl stories about her, made her as real as they could, but there was always a hollowness to the girl that they couldn’t fill. She was always wondering.

It was only a story, but sitting in the counselor’s office I realized I should have known better. I should have written about a prince raised by wolves after he lost his father to the woods or whatever, something less transparent, because teachers always thought everything was a cry for help. And young, nice teachers like Sister Josephine were the worst.

I knew I had to change the subject or the counselor would start talking about my story. “I’m really sorry about the classes I missed, okay?” I said. “It was poor judgment. I got too swept up in my social life.”

The counselor nodded.

“May I count on you not to do this again?” she asked. “You have before school and after school. The lunch period. Evenings. Weekends. The majority of your hours are free to spend however you and your grandfather see fit. But during class periods we expect—”