The forest glowed around me, tiny bits of fire floating through the air. Small bugs lazily buzzed around my head. They were the bits of firelight, so enticing to chase for a young mind.
Like these bugs, dusk clung to the day as a last gasp of sunlight. The night would crush in soon, leaving only stars and darkness. The fireflies would flee, and my fun would end.
But for now, my friends called to me in squeals of childish delight. Lainey, Lainey, Lainey!
I scarcely remembered their names. Jessa, Beth, and Eliza? No- maybe Elizabeth and Jessi? Or even Jessamine and Emma? It mattered little for time had long erased them from me.
Crushed beneath a thousand years of memories and lifetimes, little remained of them. Only this moment, of chasing after three baby-faced friends with fireflies on our minds, remained in the ashes of a good day - of a good life.
It was odd what time decided to take from me and what it chose to leave. Memories were currency in a long line of history, after all.
In the flash of a sinking sun, the memory shifted to another.
A forest no longer surrounded me but was replaced by a sandy beach. The distant crash of pummeling seawater assaulted my ears as the tinge of salt invaded everything.
Down by the water, I spotted two children being chased through the surf by a young woman. Their laughter filled my veins with warmth. A warmth that only existed here: in the past.
Their names came more natural than the others. The children were named Tobias and Ellie. The woman was Eleanor.
The days we’d both labored over names, wanting the perfect match, were ingrained into my history. That struggle was something I could never forget.
Our children - dark haired Tobi with sparkling brown eyes, twin reservoirs of hope and humor - and the fair Ellie whose warm sepia skin, onyx curls, and loving nature outglowed us all - were my pride of this life.
Eleanor and I had tried so hard to raise them properly. Success was a vague thing to measure.
Tobi grew up to be something that had a good pay while Ellie devoted her heart to music and theater. The details were fuzzy, but their faces remained.
The woman turned to me, eyes flashing the color of a pre-dawn sky. Her hand raised to her mouth as she called to me, “Lainey!” Laughter and joy underlined the single word.
I knew she wanted me to join them in the waves. To help her catch our silly children and enjoy the fun.
I felt myself moving towards them, whatever novel I had thrown to the side - forgotten, like most things during a lifetime.
Of course, forgetting the title of a book was nothing compared to ignoring whole timelines.
As I splashed through the knee-deep waves, love for my little family was the only thing on my mind. Few things seemed to stand out from this day after that.
Remembrances of Tobi’s giggle as he splashed us, Ellie’s sneaky retribution, and Eleanor’s half-hearted reprimands were the few pieces left.
Waves crashed around us, adding salt to our cheerful banter. On one pass, I was caught full in the face with salt water. My vision blurred and I lost sight of them.
As the sand faded beneath my feet with the water, so did the memory. Along came another just as swiftly.
This time, however, I found myself in my home, a nervous young man standing before me. This young man was who Tobi had blossomed into.
Tall and kind, my son had found the love of his life rather quickly.
A beautiful Puerto Rican woman with a quick wit that outlasted Tobi’s had given him his heritage back. It was no wonder they held on to each other.
Their banter back and forth flavored this moment. Love flowed off them, warming the empty spot I felt beside me. Eleanor would have been so proud of him.
Together, the couple had come to visit me, like many days before. Today was unique, however. Someone new had come with them.
I was handed a baby, perfectly swaddled in comfort, tiny nose wrinkled in distaste. Tiny, dusty eyes, the smallest little mouth, and dark hair were the prominent features of my grandchild.
The small bundle in my arms cooed and wiggled, tiny fingers clutching at air. Those eyes stared straight back at me, gauging my reactions.
My heart swelled as his parents gathered around me, presenting their little pride.
Matthew, Matthias, or Mark? I couldn’t place it. Names always left me first, and his was no exception.
As he aged, this sweet little boy had swept into my life, patching the holes in my empty nest. Gaps that had been left to rot and decay since love disappeared became repaired.
He was the first of many grandchildren to come, their numbers inconsequential after so long. Far too many to remember.
His childhood and life blurred away, but here, watching him steadily drift to sleep, my world fell into place.
Everything I had suffered, everything I had gained, all was so I could help the next generations succeed in their lives.
Like pages burning away, they would disappear from me, but I would always remain with them. Some impressions could weather a lifetime.
A lullaby rose in my throat, and as the lyric came, the memory scattered, taking the baby, and everything else, with it.