Little Things – a memoir
Four years ago today, a friend of mine passed away. A beautiful, courageous girl who was not yet 18, battled against cancer. She wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I wrote this piece about her a few years ago, and felt there was no better time to publish it to the world.
We all miss you darling girl, each year gets a little easier to bear – but this day is always going to suck.
It’s the little things that stick. A ball in a river. A sour snow cone. The first piece of fruit. The littlest things make up a whole. And they’re the things you remember once someone is gone.
∗ ∗ ∗
The first row of chairs was reserved for her family. Her blood. The next for her school and footy family. The next was for us. Her netball family. All from different times, places and teams, all loving her the same. That day we were united in tears as the girls I’d known for years were forced to hide behind their tissues.
“Brenda,” the man commenced.
A stifled sob rumbled through the auditorium of her old school. Speeches and tributes were prepared for this solemn day, but the real tributes are our memories. Not the ones from our hospital visits, or the way we found out she was gone, but from all the little things she said or did that will be stuck in our minds forever.
∗ ∗ ∗
Brenda had been in my netball team for seven years and we’d represented our club together for four years running. She was the most enthusiastic player I’d ever met. She threw herself into competition at every single chance she got. In our first representative year we were thirteen. Our rep carnival was at one of the biggest associations in Brisbane. At that age, all of our games were played on grass courts, the concrete ones being reserved for sixteen or seventeen year old teams – better teams, the ones with more skilled players. Brenda was better than them all.
So there we were. Sprinting, jumping, and diving around on the grass to get the win. That year we had a lucky ball – Claire’s pink ball. We wouldn’t go to training or warm-ups or games without it; we were convinced it was the only reason we ever won. The tiny, insignificant ball against seven other players. On the court, Brenda was everywhere at once, like always. Fifteen minutes in, she got her hand to the highest pass from the other team. In a frenzy to keep the ball in play, Brenda followed through and smashed the ball back into court. Or that’s where’d she aimed it. You see, at this big and over-populated netball association, there was a creek. It ran right past the courts and made for a little nice scenery if you weren’t interested in the games. With a synchronised groan of disappointment, our team saw our lucky, pink ball land straight in said river. Smiling and ducking her head in guilt, Brenda called out “sorry” to the rest of us, prompting a laugh and immediate reconciliation. But that was Brenda. Fearsome while on the court, but too beautiful to stay annoyed with that stunner smile.
I don’t remember if we ended up winning that game, but it made no difference. The tiny moment of a jump, then a splash, was the most important part of that game. Or at least it is now.
∗ ∗ ∗
There was a line leading down from the stage of at least twenty people who had the courage to speak. A few places away from first was my mum. She stepped up to the podium with the piece I’d helped write.
“We know that nothing that is ever loved is lost, because some beauty lingers on in each memory of which she has been a part.”
I was almost out of tissues already.
∗ ∗ ∗
Our team had a ritual. It started as soon as we pulled into the driveway of any given courts for a carnival. We had to locate the snow cone machine and the best route to it before our last game. Some other coaches let their teams buy snow cones all weekend, but ours liked to keep us healthy till after the games had finished. Hence the ritual. The longest line always formed after the last game. Brenda was always first.
At our fourteen years rep, we realised we weren’t going to win. We decided to change one thing about our entire team for the last game. One little, imperceptible thing. We all had five dollar notes down our bras. Maybe even a tenner to get three flavours. The siren rang to end the game and we shook hands with the opposition. After our three cheers, we were off. Peals of our laughter echoed through the courts as we tried to keep up with Brenda. First in line, once again, Brenda got her usual flavour, but this time with a twist.
That year, they introduced sour snow cones. She made the mistake of accepting a free sample: the tiniest bit of sour powder on one half of her cone. As she raised the spoon to her mouth and tasted it, her face crinkled and creased into the most hysterical expression and we fell about laughing as passers-by gave us rather peculiar looks. We were able to compose ourselves long enough for Brenda’s little sister, Lennie, to run up and demand a bite. With wry smile she handed the cup to her sister. Another wave of laughter ensued.
“Brenda! Why is it sour?” Lennie cried out and shoved the cone back. She always looked up to Brenda, but was furious with her in that moment. The devilish side of Brenda showed itself with that little, mischievous smile.
∗ ∗ ∗
It was nearing the end of the line of speakers when someone stood up, someone we’d never anticipated would talk. Lennie’s hands were shaking around the paper she’d prepared. Her voice broke an uncountable number of times through her speech, but we all clung to every word she recited. I don’t think any of us were ready to witness the grief of the ten-year-old girl on the stage.
“I know she is with me every day,” Lennie pointed to her heart, “in here. But I just miss my sister.”
I’ve never cried so hard in all my life.
∗ ∗ ∗
In our last year of rep together, our team was graded into a division far higher than we expected. We went into every game with the hope that this would be our first win of the weekend. We walked off of the court every time feeling dejected and blue. It was with sorrowed hearts and heavy heads that we returned to our tent during the second day of the carnival. As our health-nut coach passed around a couple containers of fruit, Brenda and I plonked down into our camp chairs and untied the laces of our shoes. We were all tired, our energy almost fully spent. Brenda always worked harder than anyone else.
A tray of fruit came to us and I passed, not in the mood for watermelon or strawberries.
“No, Laura, take some. Just wait,” Brenda whispered to me. Intrigued, I selected a few bits of juicy watermelon and took a tiny bite of one. The fruit trays passed on until everyone had some, whether eating it or storing it in the cup-holder of their chairs. The latter only pertained to Brenda and me. After a minute or two of silence only interrupted by the girls’ slurps of fruit, Brenda looked at me and grinned. Her arm shot out and a strawberry hit Claire in the shoulder.
“Yuck, Brenda!” she hurled a piece of rockmelon from her tray back at the offender. Brenda laughed and ignited an all-out brawl. Slices of melon and dripping strawberries flung across the tent in every direction, splattering on the tent walls, in our empty chairs, and most importantly on each other. A tiny piece of fruit to lift an entire team back into high spirits. Our coach was bewildered to return to a tent full of girls roaring with laughter, wiping their arms and faces with our specially embroidered handtowels. She’d missed the smallest but greatest moment of the weekend. And I’ll remember it forever.
∗ ∗ ∗
A slideshow of pictures dedicated to Brenda concluded the memorial. As each photo of her with a different family flashed up, a different section of mourners would cry out or laugh. If it weren’t for the occasionally silly pictures, I think the whole room would’ve died with her. Hearing some form of laughter helped slow the flood of tears, regardless of the fact it’d never be her laughter again. The same man thanked us for coming and welcomed us to stay for some food and drink outside. As if some refreshments would help to ease the pain. There was only one thing that could help everybody at that point in time. And she was gone.
∗ ∗ ∗
All those little things have stuck. They’ve melded themselves to my memory and they aren’t going anywhere. Today I’m at a netball game. It’s one of our eleven-year-old teams that I get to watch. As the team steps out on court, my mind floods with images of Brenda. The first quarter begins and I bring my focus back to the game. Lennie Duncan gets her first intercept back with our club and I cheer. She plays exactly like her big sister.
If you made it this far, my sincerest thank you. I hadn’t re-read this for a long time, and I’ll just say that a few breaks were necessary in order to finish a proofread before posting. The image at the top is one flower from a rosebush we planted in her honour.
Hugs to anyone who needs them today, for whatever reason.
Until next time,