I Now Remember Her As Rebecca. I Wish I Didn’t.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

She was five years old, and dying of cancer, and knew she was unlikely to make it to her sixth birthday. And if you think about how most kids long to be older, routinely savoring all that envisioned power that comes from being six or seven or eight, imagine what it’s like for a little girl who really wanted to be six but had been told by the doctors that wasn’t going to happen.

But if she made it to six – if – she wanted a big-girl name. We’d always called her Becca. Little Becca, stealer of coffee, our adorable fussbudget, did not want to be called Becca if she made it to six.

If she made it to six, she wanted a grown-up name.

She wanted to be called Rebecca.

And she made it to six. She ate cake the night before she died, officially hit her birthday the next morning at 7:30 as she laid insensate in her deathbed, and passed away on her sixth birthday as her parents, and many loved ones – including me – clung on to her body as if touching her skin could somehow ease her passing from life.

She’d made it.

She was now, and would be forevermore, Rebecca.

And this past Sunday was a gruesome anniversary: It had been six years since Rebecca’s death. As of yesterday, Rebecca had been dead for longer than she’d been alive. And we visited the grave, and her family put a cup of coffee on the headstone, and we all discussed what it would have been like had she lived.

It wasn’t a comfortable conversation, because, well, the world. Rebecca was black. And Jewish. And a girl. And she was a stubborn, outspoken, downright sarcastic cuss – one that probably would be getting her into more trouble at school simply because of the color of her skin. We wondered how she’d be now, and the answer would be “almost certainly at the protests.”

But as we were driving home, I realized something:

I thought of Becca as Rebecca now. A name I’d almost never called her when she was living – only in, literally, the last eight hours of her life.

She had been Becca. My Becca. The only five-year-old I knew who spoke fluent sarcasm. The Becca who loved hearing me spin increasingly ludicrous lies to her until she finally broke and said, “Yeah, right.” The Becca who, when she’d been told that she’d have to go to Philadelphia for brain cancer treatments, had lit up and said, “Will Uncle Ferrett come with me?”

But she wasn’t Becca. She was Rebecca – which is good, she wanted it, she earned it. But in thinking of her natively as Rebecca, I realized on some level she had transmuted from a loving, living girl into an icon – a symbol of grief.

I want her to be more alive in my memory than she is. But she’s now a tattoo emblazoned on my left shoulder. She’s the default image on my cell phone. She’s not there to create new memories, and so over six years of her nonexistence my memories of her memories have begun to supplant the actual memories.

In an ideal world, she would have been around long enough that I could remember Rebecca as a regular presence at the Meyer household, someone who’d come sit out on the porch with me for a couple of minutes before getting bored to go off and hang out with her friends. That would be a person.

But I never got to know Rebecca. Rebecca is now an extrapolation. An icon. A source of sorrow.

I miss Becca.

But every year that passes, it becomes harder to reach that little girl who is now forever lost.

1 Comment

  1. Craig Boas
    Mar 20, 2021

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