It seems so wrong that something so beautiful should be hidden. Whether it’s a blood-red tulip covered in a surprise snow storm in April or a beautiful memory of a friendship forgotten in grief.
My mother used to tell me a story about a woman she’d known in her own youth. She died at an early age, this woman. But she’d been my mother’s best friend and closer than a sister.
It pained my mother to speak of her, but I could never get enough of the story. I once found an old faded picture in an album. My father cautioned me never to show it my mother, for it would only serve to make her cry.
She was beautiful, with soft dark hair and porcelain skin. She stood in a garden, laughing with a younger version of my mother and a man I’d seen in other pictures. My mother’s brother, an uncle whom I’d never met.
The story my mother told was always the same, about how the woman had convinced my mother to tell the truth. My mother had breast cancer as a young woman and she’d been ready to die. Her friend had discovered the truth by accident and had convinced my mother to tell the truth. Eventually, she’d received treatment, thanks to her friend and she’d been able to marry my father.
I once begged my father to tell me the story about her death and why it made my mother sad to think about her. He’d been reluctant to tell me since the woman had been a good friend of his as well.
But he’d wanted me to know more about her and why she’d mattered so much. So he told me. The woman had found herself in a situation where she knew of a man who wanted to kill my mother’s brother. My father told me that the woman and my uncle had once been together, and that they loved each other despite their differences.
She went to my uncle to tell him of the threat, but he had his pride and he turned her away. She followed him and begged for him to believe her. He gave in and told her that she needed to leave, that she needed to be safe.
She agreed, only because she was frightened of the man who wanted to kill my uncle. He put her on a plane for a private island, and she told him that she loved him before she left.
The plane had been piloted by someone who worked for the man and he shot the woman just after the plane took off. My uncle was devastated and once the threat had been taken care of, he left town.
My father says my mother gets letters from him still. He says that he will never return home until he is ready to be buried beside the woman who’d lost her life for him.
My father and mother loved her dearly and still grieve for her now. Which is why I suppose they named me for her.
I often wonder why my mother does not speak of her more. One would think she’d be desperate to pass on her memory to the daughter she’d named her for. But the only words I hear of her are the one story and what I can beg from my father.
It seems so wrong that a woman such as her should be forgotten and lost in my mother’s memories. She was beautiful, both in body and in spirit. Why should her memory be hidden like the tulips in my great-grandmother’s garden during a snowstorm?
Perhaps I should seek out the uncle who loved her so deeply, that nearly twenty years after her death, he has yet to return to the place she once lived.
But if it pains my mother to speak of it, then I would think it would be twice as painful for him. Or maybe it would help to speak of her?
My father says that it is foolish. That my mother doesn’t talk about her because it hurts to remember what could have been. That she might have had a sister, and that they might have raised a family together. He warns me to leave my uncle alone, that his memories are not to be used to serve my curiosity.
And I’m left to wonder why Elizabeth Webber touched my family so deeply in the time they knew her and how she would have changed my life if she’d lived.