Clara Elizabeth Forrest was one of my first friends. Our mothers were best friends. There is an unofficial club for the children of teachers; Clara and I were amongst them. This automatically meant we had playdates after school and summers together. I moved away from Virginia when I was eight years old, leaving Clara behind. But I still think of her often.
It’s hard to have a specific memory of Clara. We were so young when I last saw her. When I think hard and search for a memory, I just see colors. Clara was a gifted artist and maybe that’s why I associate the two. I see creamy pinks swirling around. Every distinct memory I have a Clara features her big, toothy grin. Her laugh was loud and infectious. We must have shared jokes together while our mothers chatted over coffee in the kitchen. Our families vacationed to the beach together one summer. There are pictures of Clara and I being held by our dads on the sandy ground. And there is Clara’s huge smile again.
Clara loved books, especially Harry Potter. She would collect trinkets, everything from buttons to scraps of yarn, and craft something beautiful from them. More than anything, Clara adored her cats. Clara’s mom remembers Clara stomping through puddles and catching fireflies; she was a free spirit that openly loved life.
Clara was born with a defective heart, a malformed mitral valve. The first year of Clara’s life was a nightmare, both for her and her parents. There were three open heart surgeries, feeding tubes and respirators. The Forrest family practically lived in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Her parents were told that she would not survive, but Clara did. Not only did she survive, but Clara lived.
Clara would have been 20 years old this month. She was 12 when she passed away. It’s almost impossible to believe that Clara had a defective heart from birth because what I remember most about her was how perfect and sweet her heart truly was.
None of my memories of Clara have anything to do with her medical struggles. But looking back today, as an adult, I realize how courageous she must have been. Her endless other qualities were so bright and overwhelming that I never noticed she was so sick. I try to live each day like Clara would have. In her honor, I will stomp through every puddle that April’s showers bring.
Girl Museum Inc.