I remember the day but not the year (Was it ninety-five maybe?) when my husband brought home a newspaper article for me to read, an interview with a pedophile.
“I drove through neighborhoods in search of Little Tikes cars, bicycles with training wheels, tiny swimsuits hung on porch railings to dry.”
I was pretty sure he was trying to help but instead his words gorged the panic monster that lived close to me, maybe even inside me, back then. Always it gnawed at my hamstrings, held one or both my Achilles’ tendons in a pincer grip.
A month or two after, I heard our daughter’s footsteps at the bottom of the stairs. I glanced at the glow-in-the-dark clock dial—one forty three. Moments later I felt her tentative hand on the quilt beside my shoulder. Her quick, moist breaths warmed my cheek.
“Mommy? A man was in my room just now, next to my bed, and he knew my name.”
As one my husband and I shot up. I headed for the steps, he for the Louisville Slugger he kept in the closet.
We found no one, no open window. Still, her dream nourished the beast inside me, made my eyes perpetually round, my ears constantly alert. It fostered in me a fatigue that never seemed to abate.
I recall thinking, as I tucked her back into her Lion King toddler bed that night, that's the worst kind of bad guy, the one who knows your name.
It was a late August morning in 1997 when we watched our eldest child climb onto the school bus that would take her over the hill to kindergarten. I juggled waving, nose dabbing, and picture-taking. My husband blew kisses at her grin pressed against the fogged window. Our two-year-old daughter clutched her Tickle Me Elmo and wept.
“Our life will never be the same,” I said as we watched the bus disappear around the bend.
My husband nodded as he u-turned the stroller and started back toward the house.
“You said that both times we drove to the hospital with you in labor. Remember?”
I stopped there on the street, revelation in my open mouth. “They’re going to leave some day. Forever, well, for months at a time.”
My husband smiled. “I know. That’s how it works.”
I bunched my t-shirt in front of my throat divot and gulped. “I’m not gonna like it. I’m telling you right now.”
He sighed. “Me either, but it’ll mean we did our job right.”
Our 2010 vacation was quite possibly our best ever—Colorado in early summer. A horseback ride through the Rockies, a white water rafting trip, daily visits to the prairie dog colony near our condo.
In the airports coming and going, my husband made our eldest do everything.
“Where’s the check-in desk? Which train will take us to our terminal? Find our baggage claim.”
She protested, but he was right. In two months she’d need to know these things because she’d fly alone for the first time ever, not just across country, but to the Southern Hemisphere.
The dreaded (by me) day finally arrived. After she disappeared from our sight in the Pittsburgh airport, I felt as if someone had tunneled me through. Surely a tractor trailer could fit inside the hole in my gut.
Back home, for nearly 24 hours I endured torment—shortness of breath, a galloping heart, visions from the “Taken” trailer, a film I’d refused to see.
Near the end of our first day without her, I managed to drive to the grocery store despite my blurred vision. As I parked, the KLOVE deejay asked listeners for prayer requests. I whispered mine as I unbuckled my seat belt, gathered my list and coupons.
“Please let her be safe, not kidnapped or heaving up a food-poisoned box lunch on the eight hour bus drive from Lima to the mountain school.”
“How He loves us. Oh, how He loves us . . .” I whimpered as I reached for the volume nob on the radio, twisted it until my eardrums throbbed. It was a sign, surely it was, the playing of one of my favorite songs ever. I searched the sky through the windshield, blew a kiss—a sign language thank you—toward heaven. I placed my hand over my heart and noticed how its jittery rhythm evened out.
After shopping, I arranged the grocery bags in the backseat then checked my phone. There it was, a text from my husband. "She made it, safe and sound." Behind the steering wheel, I crumpled. Relieved. Thankful.
Two years later, it’s almost no big deal. Her flying here, her travelling there, to this country or that. I am amazed that the impossible has become doable, the unknown bearable. The what ifs are quieter now, paler.
Why, this summer I didn’t even weep when she took her little sister to her home-away- from-home—the mountain school in Peru.
In the airport, my brunette middle child vibrated beside me with excitement and fear.
“You’re in good hands,” I told her, “hers and God’s. You’re gonna be fine.”
I gathered the girls close and said a prayer. Then I kissed their cheeks, turned, and walked away without a shadow of a limp or stagger. As I crossed the threshold of the automatic doors, I marveled at my dryness. No moisture coursing from my eyes or nose? No dampness (or panic beast) whatsoever in the basement of me? Surely this is the peace which surpasses all understanding.