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My World: So strangely quiet ...

TALNEYIt is another birthday without her, without our daughter. Another March 12th.

I think back to that last one, now so many years past. She had slept in late, having partied the night before. I heard her come in, somewhere around 3 a.m. I could hear her high heels on the stairway as she tap-danced her way up to her bedroom next to ours, making no effort to be quiet.

For a young woman on sick leave from the airline, she was in good form. Laughing at some joke or something funny that must have happened during her evening out. I heard the rumble of dual pipes in the driveway as her escort for the evening revved up his motor and pulled out onto 132nd Street and roared away. I remember thinking the neighbors would love that.

And then suddenly it was late morning, and she was sitting in the living room in her old, tattered bathrobe, the pink one with the braided trim. She was drinking hot tea and telling us about her date. He was “Mr. Right for March,” she said, when I asked how serious it was. “Maybe Mr. Right for early March,” she added. She wrinkled up her nose, laughed and snorted slightly, pushing aside a strand of errant blonde hair from her forehead.

In a few more days, released by her doctor from being grounded with an ear infection, she would be heading back to New York City and the airline. Back to the east coast and the farther horizons that always lay just beyond our grasp. I would drop her off at PDX, dressed in her TWA uniform and looking like the flight attendant she was. Next stop, Europe or India. Or perhaps Hong Kong, or Rio.

But for now, she was ours. Ours in ways she had rarely been as a child. An adult finally seeing in us, her parents, the separate people we were. Perhaps for the first time. There was a sweetness in the air that we breathed. A casualness that had never been there during all her turbulent high school years. The years when we worried so much. The years we thought would never end. Little did we know.

I don’t remember much else about that last birthday. Just the sweetness. The casualness. Just the being together, parents and grown child. The past had receded. We may have gone out for a special lunch or dinner. Our oldest daughter, Jennifer, may have come over. Our son, Aaron, was still at school in Seattle. I don’t recall. I just recall the feeling of wholeness that settled in on us.

Over the years, thinking back, I have often thought there was something special that lay not quite realized just beneath the surface about that brief time together, that last birthday and the few weeks leading up to it. Something we all sensed in some way, but didn’t quite know. A finality that existed between us that made that brief time so very memorable. What could she have known of the accident that lay waiting, the future that within less than a month was closing in on her? What could we have known?

But now we only know another birthday without her. It has been so long. She would now be middle-aged. No longer 23. Perhaps married. Perhaps even divorced. Very likely a parent herself, as she loved being with kids so much. I can still see her charging along that crowded street in New York City with four small children in tow, the family for whom she was a nanny when she wasn’t in the air or in Portland. They were all laughing and having a good time. And she was the biggest kid of all.

But here, for the moment, she is just ours again. And each year it is the same. We visit the cemetery early. We leave our flowers on her grave. We stand for a brief time, first looking down at that mottled, aging gray granite marker, and then off to the east, off to those distant trees still gathering their pockets of mist this time of day, this time of year, dispersing them among the bare, late-winter branches. And then we head home to sit quietly in the living room, once more drinking a cup of hot tea and contemplating the day, just the three of us.

Lake Oswego resident Ronald Talney is a retired trial lawyer, writer and poet. In 1985, he wrote the official dedication poem for the statue Portlandia. Look for his column, “My World,” on the second Thursday of every month in The Review.