She told me that the sea otter who followed her was her dead daughter.
We sat across from each other at a square wood dining table with our half-eaten meals between us, ice melting in sturdy glasses, efficient neighborhood waitress pausing to refill then leave us alone. We kept eating, pressing our forks into salads, or grain bowls, or omelets — that particular I do not remember. What I remember is her matter-of-fact-ness and her certainty. I filled in the vision she painted – the otter swimming behind her canoe, watching her, keeping pace — with details from my own memories of a different watery place decades before — the slant of sun powering through thick bayou treetops, bouncing off the water and turning it green. A boat and oars. Rippling water. Moving through shade and light.
I remember thinking as I listened to her – this mom, this survivor – why not? who am I to be certain of a world where that cannot be true? There are mysteries, after all — Maybe God, and maybe Not. I was no fundamentalist, either way. I accompanied her to consider the possibility, to Maybe.
Seven years later, having come close to more deaths and companioned more grief, I circle back to that conversation, to the vivid image of the otter swimming behind her mother, not so close as to touch her, but close enough to be seen and known. I circle back to that restaurant, to the mother describing the moment, and to then-me who received her memory. And I change what I knew and understood to be true: of course that was her daughter, gliding through water dark with life, bracing and cool.
Einstein said, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed,” but it takes me a while to catch on. An orange butterfly followed me for a mile before I recognized her and gasped hello.
Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us: a novel, Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow more of her writing on Medium.