This is my daughter at the age I was when Lara went to the sea. :: Photo by Sabrina Helas.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what was real and what was a dream. Memories from childhood definitely cross over and I remember part reality, part make-believe.
I remember jumping into my pool in the Hollywood Hills at dusk. I remember swimming under the water from the shallow all the way to the deep just to touch the light.
One time, a tiny fish scurrying through the water in between my final destination and me intercepted the journey. Then, a few microseconds later came Jaws, chasing and finally capturing the little fish in its humungous mouth. In my pool was the very creature that scared half the world’s population in the late ‘70s.
I’m pretty sure this was a dream.
I also remember driving home from Pinewood School in Studio City, with my mom. When we got to our house my father’s car was parked on the sidewalk, with the driver’s door ajar and his emergency lights on.
“Oh, he always does that,” my young mother said. And that’s the last clear memory I have of that day in September of 1978. There are a few blurry visions I can recall like leaving one hospital to go to another. That was real. But then there is a serene image of three men in a small rowboat—two sitting on either end of the tiny vessel and one standing in the middle. I think the standing man was wearing a white uniform similar to a coast guard’s with a white sailor’s hat. That part is still a mystery.
My baby sister was one year and two months old when we spread her ashes into the sea off the coast of Southern California. She drowned in the very same pool I came to see Jaws. I think, at the time of this reoccurring dream, my seven-year-old mind decided the pool ate my beautiful sister Lara Tiana.
I can’t fit the whole truth into the visions my mind conjures up when I think back, because my parents and I have never really talked about that autumn day.
The way I remember it, my mom and I drove home from school that sunny day and found my father’s car in an unsettling, yet not unusual state. But, after turning the corner into the driveway we also noticed the front door was open.
Then my memories begin to deviate from reality to situational reenactment, almost as if I was there, watching this all happen. I see my baby sister climb out of her crib where she was thought to be napping by a young housekeeper on her first day of a new job. Then somehow, though barely able to walk, she found her way out of the left-open sliding glass doors and waddled outside. About 50 baby steps away from the door was the enticing, tranquil blue mass she’d seen me frolic in many times with my bright-yellow floaties around each arm. She wanted to sneak a peak for herself. She jumped in.
I still don’t understand how the housekeeper didn’t hear the baby escape from where she stood, in the kitchen washing dishes. But she certainly did see the splash from the window above the sink.
Running out the same door Lara snuck through, the young El Salvadorian woman jumped into the pool with all her clothes on. She risked her life for the baby girl already close to gone.
With more faith than ability, the paramedics rushed her to the hospital and about then was when my father arrived home. Leaving his car as quickly as he saw the ambulance he ran to the door, leaving it ajar and my mother and I drove up minutes later.
The three of us raced down the hill to a hospital. By the time we got to it, the medical world had already sent her to a second and neither place could do anything for Lara Tiana. My baby sister was gone.
In my memory there was no memorial, no “special” discussions at school to help a small girl understand what had happened to her family and why no one was talking to her about it. I don’t remember any police; I don’t remember any cards and no tears.
I never saw that young housekeeper after that day. Her burden of memory, unlike mine, must be vivid and all together too true. I wish I could tell her I forgive her and I feel terrible for the stories her mind must make up.
Our baby pictures look almost identical. Sometimes I can’t even tell who is who. I bet my mom can tell our pictures apart and I bet our former housekeeper can see her face as clear as day when she dreams about that horrible day when a curious infant’s spirit extinguished.
Once, when I was about four, I had a nightmare. I woke myself up and walked into the living room that was encased by the same glass doors. I yelled for my mom, who came running out to find her first born crying on the couch. She tried to quiet me to no avail. Then came an exchange that has haunted me all these years.
“Shhhh… be quiet. You’ll wake your sister,” she said, to which I replied, “I don’t care. I don’t care about her.”
I’ve wished for 34 years that that exchange between mother and daughter never took place. But, sadly, this one I know is real.
I also know that I have spent 38 years processing this story of my life. I have been blessed with the ability to express my memories and tears with friends, readers, lovers and mentors, and to the sea where Lara now lives. I can’t possibly know what it’s like to lose a child who grew from your belly into a beautiful baby girl. And that is sad beyond expression. But, and maybe this is selfish and maybe this is one of those times “selfish” is without negative connotation, what I’ve wanted to shout at my parents since this happened, is, “It happened to me, too! ”
I guess I’m telling this story to a tribe of women I’ve never met to strongly suggest that when a family tragedy of this magnitude happens, please remember to embrace and be open to the family who lives. Find a place within your grief to talk through the situation with your children because otherwise they will teach themselves false truths about life and about death.
My parents did nothing wrong. They did the best they could and I love them very much. I forgive them, too.
I hope they know I am a person who harbors a very similar wound to theirs, and me, the other daughter, so desperately wants to ask them if they dream about Jaws, too.
Joli Forbes is a contributing editor for Bamboo Magazine: Whole Family Living. She is a freelance writer, photographer and poet based in the Southern California foothills.
She is a partner, mother, daughter, dancer, gardener and foodie who take pride in contributing to the “Revolution of Consciousness” currently underway.
She holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon who’s professional bylines can be found at BambooFamilyMag.com, yourdailythread.com, Flaunt, Shape, Bon Appétit, the LA Times, Press Democrat, Orange Coast Magazine, Minnesota Law & Politics, Grad Royal Magazine, and URB.