five-minute friend (bella)

isabella sophia young

She looked up at me out of her light eyes with that dark ring of greenish blue.  They seemed to look right into my heart.  Her hair had begun to grow back in.  Curls of sandy brown swirled around her head in a haphazardly beautiful crown.  A significant change since the last time I had seen her…

Just the summer before, she came to our house with her shiny smooth head and tried to avoid the incessant kisses of our two dogs who could reach her face when they stood on their hind legs.  She had a look that was fearless but judging and careful.  Not in a mean sort of way, but calculating.

While her daddy talked with Mike in the garage, she came inside to see our pet snake.  But did so silently.  I tried to make small talk as she gazed through the glass at the scaly pet coiled on top of the fake log.  But she wasn’t interested in conversation.  I wasn’t quite trustable yet.

But this day in the park, something had changed in her.  She had a sweet smile on her face and looked at me with a new boldness.  Holding her mommy’s hand and swinging her shoulders back and forth in that “I can’t wait for fun” sort of way, she asked if I wanted to go play on the jungle gym.  I eagerly said yes to this newfound acceptance and followed her over to the play structure.

We climbed and slid.  We ran across the unstable bridge.  We played tic-tac-toe on the giant plastic board.  Sufficiently tired, we collapsed on the top platform.  In our nearly private little fort, she whispered to me, “I had cancer.”  I told her that I knew that and was proud of how brave she was.  She pointed to the bandage on her chest where her port had just been removed and explained how she got medicine and how her hair went away.

Then she took my hand and said quietly, “You are my new friend.”

Over the next couple years I watched this little girl from afar.  At her birthday parties jumping on the giant trampoline, sitting in the truck when her daddy visited, and in countless pictures on Facebook.  I watched her make memories and live out her dreams.  I watched her hold hands with her best friend on a sand dune.  I watched her fight tooth and nail alongside her mother and father against the cancer that just wouldn’t go away.

And today, I watched a flock of pink balloons sail into the sky in her memory.

I’m not sure how such a seemingly insignificant five-minute conversation with a little girl could make such a lasting impression on me.  But something about our quiet exchange just a few summers ago has been tucked away in my heart ever since.  As I listened to people share stories of their love and friendship with Bella today, I began to realize that she had this effect on every person she interacted with.  We were all blessed by her.  Whether it was a six-year lifetime of love or a tiny conversation on the top of a jungle gym.

The other night, the night that she passed, I tried to pray for her and her family.  But the words didn’t come.  Rather, her name danced around in my head.  Bells, Bells, Bells like a song chiming through the air from a church.  And after we laid roses on her small white casket, the pink balloons dance towards the sky to that same song.  I said goodbye to my five-minute friend and thanked her for all she had taught me.

© 2013 D. Willson

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