I love this word.
It’s a word we biologists get quite attached to, an oxymoronic joke in itself. Attached to the concept of ephemeral, which means lasting for a very short time. It was a word that was exchanged often in my conversations with Amy Marlow Anstead, know-it-all of all things marine--organismal and insentient, flora and fauna, and ephemeral.
The word has no opposite.
Our conversations could have only been more nerdy if we were wearing lab coats bent over spreadsheets and diagrams spread out between us. We would often have to refer to the text books we had in common, such as Invertebrate Zoology by Edward E. Ruppert. This text book was a point of contention between us. Amy loved the book that was used for her Invert Zoology class at the University of South Carolina. During the same time, I sat 139.2 miles away at the rival Clemson University, in my own Invert Zoology class taught by the man, Mr. Edward E. Ruppert himself.
“He was the only good thing Clemson had,” she joked.
I rolled my eyes in response, “Maybe. He was such a weirdo. He explained octopod reproduction like the delivery of a UPS package.”
Amy smiled big, “and you will never forget that, see?”
“For your research, did you study the organisms of ephemeral environments?” I asked her, returning to seriousness.
“All environments are ephemeral. The opposite of ephemeral is permanent, but that is just a convenience of language. Everything is ephemeral, nothing lasts,” she answered with equal seriousness, her face alight with the lesson she shared.
In my thought stream, this memory always opens the curtain to another. Amy standing before me, holding her left arm bulging with lymphedema. “I think this is the end of me,” her voice quivered.
What? I could not speak but stared into her eyes and searched for an answer to what is this? What are you saying?
The next month remains a blur. An urgent care visit turned emergency room turned surgery to hospital stay to me sitting in that room, one of the doctors walking in, touching her softly on the shoulder.
I took note. The white coats never touch unless it’s beyond them.
He turned to me, shook my hand. I noticed his eyes, overflowing with its beyond us. I knew then. She knew before then.
A year later and we are still telling the stories. Every time I am with someone who knew her, the stories come out their mouths and curl around my broken heart. When I am with Tom, acutely aware of the one who is missing between us, we allow the stories to make us laugh and cry, and when we part ways, I am somehow inspired and uplifted. The chasms in my heart filling in with the sand of memory.
When I am with her girls, the stories emerge in a different way. The gentle way that Avery fills in the holes of my knowledge about almost everything, because whatever she hears, reads, and sees is important enough to nestle in her memory.
I see Amy in the way that Paige loves the protocol of cooking and baking, as if there actually could be a scientific formula for love.
It does not stop the longing to have her in front of me. With all of us. I often think of what I would say to her now. Today, 365 days without her, it comes to me clearly. I would grab her by the shoulders, my face serious but alight with the lesson I was about to share, and say,
“The word ephemeral does have an opposite. It is Amy Marlow Anstead, know-it-all of all things marine, mother, wife, friend, and mender of our broken hearts. The face we think of when we are lost, the laugh we can still hear in the wind and the water, and the stories that show us who we want to be.”
She would want the last words and I would grant them. I close my eyes and still and listen and hear,
“and you will never forget that, see?”