I remember the year when I was eight and Stella was seven the best.
Stella had just learned to read when Mum decided it was time for the twins to come out. She wanted to know why Mum had pinned a note to her shirt.
“Can the twins read the note from inside her stomach? When they’re not even born yet?” She asked me, anxiously, afraid that she was stupid for not being able to read sooner.
“No,” I rolled my eyes, “She’s being funny.”
“Sorry,” Stella said sadly. I felt sorry for making her feel dumb.
“Hey, do you want to go to the creek?” I didn’t like the water much, but Stella loved it. I knew it would make her feel better.
We played tag all the way to the pond that separated our houses. I remember that she stopped suddenly and I bumped into her.
“Look! It’s corn!” She said, all excited, because nobody loved corn more than Stella. Even though it was dirty, and covered in mud, she took a few bites of it.
“Ew!” I cried, taking the corn from her, “That’s gross! Let me wipe off the mud first!”
Stella grimaced at me but let me clean her snack. After two more bites she was done and took off towards the water.
Stella went to the creek’s edge and sat down. “Bill, will you teach me how to swim?”
Her face fell.
I could tell Stella thought it was because she was unteachable. She didn’t know it was because I was embarrassed that I had never learned how to swim.
I was planning on lying to her, but when I looked at her, I couldn’t. She seemed so incredibly sad that I couldn’t bear to make it worse.
“I don’t know how to swim either, Stella,” I said softly.
She was looking down, but when I told her my most embarrassing secret, her eyes met mine. She wasn’t angry, as I thought she would be. Instead, she looked comforted.
Without another word, Stella reached up on her tip-toes and kissed me.
Stella said later that she would always remember that day because it was the first day she didn’t feel alone.
Many years have past since then. I fell in love with Stella when I was twelve. I wrote her a goofy love letter when I was fourteen. I gave her a half-eaten tray of her favorite food, coconut bread when I was sixteen. I proposed to her when I was eighteen. I buried her when I was twenty.
Some people call it “losing” Stella. It’s true, I guess. She did die, and I will never see her again. But when I decide to let myself feel all the pain she left me with, I find something surprising. I get to relive all the good memories, too. I guess I “lost” Stella. The funny thing is, though, that I can find her anytime I want. All I have to do is remember.