We were walking down Main Street in Vineyard Haven, her mother and I, just where the stores start, where the sidewalk is still a little downhill. Each of us held a hand and Rebecca walked between us, three years old with an outrageous head of blond curls. Our steps were light. They always lighten when our sailboat Snappy Lede is safely moored in Vineyard Haven harbor and the world of work and responsibility is an ocean away.
Without any warning whatsoever, she kicked up her legs and did a back summersault, using her parents like some kind of gymnastics apparatus. Thinking back, that was the moment I knew this kid was going places.
I measure my Vineyard time by her birthdays. She was six months old the first time we sailed here. That was more than twenty-eight years ago. We have become very attached to this strange and wonderful castoff of the ice age out here in the water. I always wanted to retire to Martha’s Vineyard, and ended up coming here to work. Snappy Lede is now more or less permanently moored in Vineyard Haven harbor.
Becky has a personal streak going. Every summer of her life, she has ridden the Flying Horses. As a kid, she and her sister Allison could recite the safety instructions by heart, in perfect unison. This year Becky will keep the streak alive. If all works out, she will ride the Flying Horses in her wedding dress.
Becky will marry a wonderful young man, who also fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard during his first visit, though it was in the dead of winter. He also has a Flying Horses streak in play. He has only ridden two summers, but he got the brass ring both times. He’s a keeper.
They met at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) as undergraduates, though they didn’t start dating until both had begun their careers a country apart. It is an amazing world we live in, that two people so obviously destined for a lifetime partnership could navigate through the tribulations and broken hearts of early adulthood, and wind up together, on the altar at Union Chapel on a Saturday afternoon.
There will be a space between Becky and her bridesmaids during the ceremony. On a joyous day, the space will represent the big hole in all our hearts. She named her younger sister Alli maiden of honor, said she couldn’t imagine anyone else standing beside her in this most important moment.
Alli won’t actually be there, though. Almost seven years ago her life was wrenched away from her and us in a brutal, senseless act of violence. She will never again brighten our lives with a well-timed wisecrack, or rescue another abused dog, or edit another publication. I will never cheer at her college graduation, never walk her down an aisle, never take her children on the Flying Horses.
One of my most vivid memories of Alli is between her first and second birthday, perched on an inside horse with her tiny index finger aimed at the ring and a look of determination on her face. She missed and missed and missed, but finally mastered the art of plucking a ring out of the ring arm.
I probably won’t go to the carousel on Becky’s wedding day. I don’t think I could hold it together. We are all steeling ourselves with emotional strategies. That’s one of mine. Writing this essay is another.
In the weeks after Alli died, I couldn’t understand how any of us would ever get over it. I learned you never get over it, but you do get through it. No one could explain to me a path toward any kind of peace. A friend, who endured the loss of her own child, helped me understand. She said think of a plate, and in that moment, all there is on the plate is grief. It is all-you-can-eat grief. Free second helpings. And thirds. And fourths.
But over time, she said, good things will happen to you, and they will take their place on the plate. There will always be some portion of grief, but in time, it will be the smallest portion on the plate.
There will be some emotional meltdowns on Saturday, I’m sure. But this will not be a sad day, not a day where tragedy is foremost on our minds. It will be a glorious day. There will be a beautiful bride and a handsome groom. There will be Katama oysters and Offshore beer, and a big party just a bouquet’s throw from Nantucket Sound. There will be music and dancing. There will be a dad who doesn’t fit in a suit like he used to. There will not be a dad on the planet more proud of his daughter.
These are the good things on the plate. They will remind me of the most important thing I learned getting to this jubilant day, without being consumed by grief. I learned it from hundreds of people who showed my family compassion and kindness, and it is the one thing I know for sure.
There is way more good than evil in this world.
Steve Myrick is senior reporter at the Vineyard Gazette, where this essay originally appeared in June 2016.