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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life


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Once we finally reached Bandon, I pulled over for a moment, and the three of us sat there at the top of a fogbound cliff, still and silent. We might have been outer-space aliens peering over the edge of our saucer, not knowing if we were inches or miles away from the Earth below. It was a funny scene, because you and Michel weren't exactly famous for your patience or wait-and-see attitude. To me, it was unforgettable because, though I wouldn't have said this out loud, it seemed there was something holy about this moment — the peace of it, the expectancy, the closeness we felt. Over the years, our little family had found its identity. Things that scared us before felt like an adventure now. "That's it! That's it!" yelled Michel. You were jumping in place beside him.

And there it was. Despite the chill of the day, the sea below us looked placid and warm, with ivory foam fanning out on the flat sand. The Oregon coast was rockier than others, I noticed. Millions of years of pounding surf had eaten away the 30-foot cliff under us, leaving outcroppings like giant stalagmites all over the beach. Surf circled the base of these formations, slowly digesting what was left. Oddly, it felt as though an indifferent universe had warmed things up, inviting us down.

We were much closer to our rental cabin than we thought, so after pulling up to the back door, we unloaded our perishable groceries, leaving suitcases and sleeping bags in the back, and clambered down a long wooden staircase to find the other families.

I chuckled as I watched you two race across a log the size of a redwood and slow to a silly, crab-like crawl when your feet sank into the loose sand. The moment you saw the older kids — Maggie, Jay, and Chip — you didn't need introductions. In a minute, all five of you were climbing the highest dune and tumbling down the sides, sand flying everywhere. The adults had a bonfire going as a chilly breeze crept up, though we didn't notice the weather, mesmerized as we were by the pure elation of our kids. I didn't know the other parents very well and was delighted to see how comfortable everyone seemed to be with each other. We had been here less than an hour, and already we all felt like part of a family.

By the time we called you all back to the bonfire, it was well past noon, and everyone was starving. I know you and Michel would have stayed all day on the dunes, but the hot dogs we promised lured you away to the cabin. Michel ran ahead with the other children while you and I held hands and chatted as we walked along the shore. I remember how you swung my arm while skipping in place, your shoes squishing in the wet sand. I smiled at the many creative ways the elements had arranged your hair. It was sticking out in every direction, with sand-laden clumps that would take an hour to untangle, but you were oblivious. Your cheeks had become rosy with exertion, and I started to unzip the top part of your purple parka when an eerie feeling came up at me from behind.

I wonder, Krissie, if you sensed something, too. It was as though someone had tapped my shoulder, almost too lightly to be felt. I turned around, still holding your hand, and caught sight of a stone archway that the ocean had chiseled out of a giant rock in the water. You looked, too, and from our angle, we could see that the arch formed a tunnel set amid the roiling surf. We could see all the way through the opening, though the waves inside were crashing into each other with such tremendous power that they obscured the view. It looked as if many angry currents had been trapped in there and were now one thing, like a monster clawing to get out. A shudder hit my body at the unexpected violence of this strange scene. I grabbed your hand and pulled us both away from the water and down the beach toward our cabin, fearing to look back. Krissie, I had been anxious all night before we left on this trip, and that creepy scene only fed my anxiety.

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