When you climb so high that you can’t see the ground, you can easily believe that there is no ground that you can just go back to before it all started; and everything will be okay. From that point, it only takes a couple steps and poof! All problems gone.

It was even easier for Annie. She was the kind of person that was terrible at hide-and-seek because “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me!” We had a running joke where we’d put our hands over our eyes and say, “Annie! Bet you can’t find us!” Annie’s laugh was the sweetest thing.

Sometimes we’d take her up to the barn roof and look at the stars, just Mommy, Daddy, and little Annie. We felt so small under those faraway stars, but Annie just felt free, watching the dark sky and its twinkling lights. Half the time we’d be staring into her eyes, reflecting the sky. We didn’t need to look up at all.

Annie loved Christmas with all her heart. She’d wake up extra early just to cook us breakfast, then she’d sit still, waiting for us to finish so we could open our presents. She’d refuse to open hers first, and we’d laugh at her for it, but she’d be dead serious. “Open them now,” she’d instruct with her arms crossed, looking more like a schoolteacher than a young girl on Christmas day. We’d pinch her cheeks and tickle her toes until she’d give up and collapse into giggles and shrieks. Then we’d all drink hot cocoa on the porch, watching the neighbor’s lights go out one by one until the only light left was the moon.

Once, Annie hurt her knee jumping off the swings. It was scraped up pretty badly, but she didn’t cry. “It hurts,” she said to us, “But you’ll fix it, right?” We told her we would. What else could we say? So we bandaged it up and it healed just fine. She did what we told her to, our good girl Annie. But not everything can be fixed with a kiss.

She was our whole world, Annie was. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t understand that the world went on after her. Maybe she thought our problems would jump with her. Well, Annie, it doesn’t work that way. Our pantry is still never full. Our families still don’t visit. Our neighbors still avoid us on the street. Our problems are still here.

The only thing that changed, Annie, is that you’re not here to help us deal with them.

Annika Bajaj is a 17-year-old aspiring author and poet. She has been published in the Humanities Plus journal and a local newspaper, and has received multiple awards for her writing. She enjoys reading, playing violin, and spending time with friends.