I picked my way along the sand digging my toes into its cool smooth grains. They were so fine my feet sunk into them until they reached the layer of firm packed sand below. I looked up to see three dogs chasing a ball. Their owner was using a catapult to launch it into the water just beyond where a ribbon of froth broke along the shore. The larger of two brown dogs seemed always to reach it first, the smaller one joyously running around on the sand with no interest in it. The black dog, leaner and taller than both its mates was never quite quick enough. He didn’t seem to care. Perhaps the game was to throw the ball for the taller brown dog and exercise the other dogs as they chased him.
I thought about how Jesi would love to be here.
There were so many things I found myself thinking Jesi would love, even though we had only arrived in Fremantle the previous afternoon. I wondered whether it was because she wasn’t with us or because it was that she seemed to have such vitality that her loves shone out over those of Chris and Kari.
Thinking this made me feel guilty.
I looked down again picking my way along the beach. I could not shake the thought I had earlier about how Jesi and I had planned to move to Fremantle once she had finished her vet training and how she would send all her clients to me for dog walking. When she mentioned that idea two years ago while we were walking down to Dog Beach I had been subdued. How could I say that by the time she was trained and practicing I thought I would be too old to walk dogs. I wished now I had embraced her enthusiasm.
Not doing so made me feel guilty now too.
Two years ago we stood together on one of the sandy covered rock walls which jutted out into the Indian Ocean watching a water bird dunk its head into the salty aqua water. She was enthralled at how it disappeared and reappeared somewhere distant to where it dived in. We started trying to guess where it would appear next. I enjoyed this simple game Jesi had devised. She always managed to make fun out of the simplest things.
That was one of the things Jesi learnt during her journey through cancer.
She knew it by the time she was “cured” the first time and she practiced it more fully when she relapsed and spent months finding joy in the simplest things during her second treatments.
That is one of the lessons she taught me and I am grateful to her for it.
I headed for the stone wall. The sun was beating down and I wanted to sit with my eyes closed and listen to the waves. I knew I was looking for her. These times I am alone to wander I always do.
But instead my eyes fell on a small child dressed in a pink dress with a frilly skirt. She has long blond hair flying behind her as she ran, tumbling on what I thought were three year old legs, down the beach toward the rocks. I reached for my phone to take a photo. It was not the first time I imagined Jesi when I saw other little girls. Jesi had always been an explorer, always tumbling forward into life.
The little girl turned and ran back along the shore toward a man, greying, almost bald and with colorful tattoos extending like long sleeves down his arms. A woman walked along side him. She was wearing a colorful dress which reminded me of a kaftan. When the little girl reached them she almost tackled the man and then turned and ran back in my direction. By now I was moving toward the beach, making my way along the rocks, getting my phone out and preparing to take a photo of her. The Jesi of thirteen years earlier when she was a happy and healthy child whose future extended like the ocean until I could not see where it ended.
What lay in store for this child? Did her parents ever wonder? Did they have other children to buffer any losses they might sustain along the way?
I was now standing opposite the little girl who was fast disappearing under the stone wall I was standing on. The sun streaming behind me glazed my phone so it was impossible to know exactly what I was taking. Click, click. I resized the shots to get the child in close up. She was looking away, into the ocean of her future, unknowing.
I kept walking along the beach, feeling my feet flatten along the hard grey sand, the weight of my heart in my knees. I began to walk back along the grassy reserve which buffered the beach from the road. How was it so lush and green when it seemed always to be sunny and warm here? It was early winter and 70 degrees F (over 20 degrees C).
I spotted two dogs which looked like Jack Russell terriers scampering happily from one patch of grass to a tree to a few tufts of unmowen grass, following each other, utter joy in them.
Jesi would love this, I thought.
Then a memory of her came to me. How she once told me the result of a fun on-line quiz called What sort of dog are you? “Hey mum, I’m a Jack Russell Terrier” she excitedly announced showing me the picture of the Jack Russell. At that point I remembered thinking Ha, I don’t see you as a Jack Russell. But watching them now, scamper and run and play, I did see it.
And I understood why Jesi loved this place. And I understood why being here brings her closer to me, even though I know she is never far away.