Imaginary Deaths

Creative Nonfiction by Stephanie Parent

Here is what I remember:

The little orphan Heidi separated from her grandfather in Heidi, the Shirley Temple version. I watched the movie one morning before preschool, and then refused to go. My mother let me stay home.

Littlefoot’s mother, victim of both a Tyrannosaurus rex and an earthquake in The Land Before Time. This was the only part of the movie I ever saw. The death came in the first few minutes, and traumatized me so much I refused to continue. It was a big problem in elementary school, since the movie was a popular choice at friends’ and neighbors’ houses. Yet another reason to stay safely at home.

The kangaroo who lost her joey in Dot and the Kangaroo, a strange animated Australian movie that brought me nightmares, even as I watched it again and again. I can still hear Dot’s cries when the kangaroo left her; the little girl’s panicked calls for her animal friend to come back, come back. I don’t remember whether the kangaroo ever found her joey.

Amoraq, the noble wolf leader, shot down by a hunter in Julie of the Wolves. If I close my eyes I see him the way I did in my mind, as a child: a silver silhouette against the snow, a specter nearly out of view.

Fifth-grade tomboy Leslie, a voracious reader like me and a queen of imaginary kingdoms, drowning in Bridge to Terabithia. This is the one I remember most. I cried so hard that I couldn’t manage to keep reading, so my mom read the rest of the book aloud to me, and then she went back and read the entire book to herself. She read every book that affected me so deeply. Both of us were reliving what had happened to us, what we’d lost, sharing the sadness we never spoke aloud.

We were co-conspirators in buried grief.

Here is what I don’t remember:

When I was three, my mother gave birth to a baby girl at the end of December, around the time the first snow of the year was falling. Maybe she was the perfect, wished-for child of a fairy tale, with rosy lips and fairy blessings. Maybe she was just a too-small human with too-small lungs that couldn’t handle the dirt and dust and heaviness of our too-big world.

Three months later, when the first snowdrops were growing out of soil still cracked with frost, that baby girl stopped breathing in her sleep. 

I’ve never seen a picture of her, or visited the place where she’s buried. My parents wanted to pretend she’d never existed, so I did too.

I pretended and pretended and pretended, and now, decades later, imaginary deaths haunt my world.

<strong>Stephanie Parent</strong>
Stephanie Parent

Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC. Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and Best of the Net.