They come in the night, demons, my inner critic, the hushed voices insistent, couched in a feeling rather than words; bad you, horrible you, vile, insufferable failure you that never should have been born and never should be around other people. It’s a feeling that won’t let me go back to sleep after my usual 2 am plodding to the bathroom back and forth, carefully keeping my eyes half closed and trying to do the same with my wandering mind so that sleep comes again.
I know it won’t this time, but I try. Go to sleep. I toss, turn, and by 2:45 I give up, pulling on my bathrobe, closing the bedroom door gently and scuffing down the hall to make coffee and watch the 3 am news. The tears on my pillow as I went to sleep haunted me. I abandoned her. I caused her such fear. And my own childhood abandonment and fear is awakened like a hungry bear from its cave.
She is only three. She had already spent several hours with a hundred other little girls. And though she seemed enthralled by the costumes, music and the audience, she is only three and wants her parents at the end. She had been so brave.
It’s her first dance recital. My daughter-in-law went the previous night with her mother. And I had the treat of sitting with my son on night two in the second row. A three hour show of dance, glitter and pink-cheeked smiles, those little faces lit up with brilliance especially when the audience howled with support and applause.
Afterwards we were to wait on the right, my son mistakenly thinking it was the hallway on the right. Other parents were waiting there so it seemed right, but what was taking so long? I was going to just escape because I had driven on my own. Let Shane handle finding her in the crowd, but something made me turn at the door and go back to wait with him. Some girls came out but not many. The hallway cleared and my warning bells were clanging.
“How about we move up a little,” I asked Shane, because no one was in front of us anymore.
So we move forward and wait some more. But I am antsy and curb my intuition which is urging me to go look for her. It is his daughter, his decision.
Finally Shane turns to me and says, “Maybe we should go look for her?”
And a rush of relief escapes in a breath, “Yes! Something is not right.”
We go back stage. No one is there, I said, “Uh oh,” and quickly swipe the curtain disappearing behind it to the front stage where parents are mingling with children below the stage. But one little ballerina stands two feet away by the instructor scanning the people below her face distraught. I hardly recognize her with braided hair and the sparkly costume. She turns to me and I scoop her up tight.
The instructor says, “Thank you!”
I said, “We thought we were supposed to wait in the hallway,” but she doesn’t hear me moving quickly away relived one of the youngest was found.
I pull back the curtain to her father and she immediately reaches for him arms circling his neck, lips quivering, the pit of my stomach falling out. I hand her the bouquet I made from my garden to distract her, pink and purple, her favorites. The lavender with coral bells wrapped at the base with satiny ribbon fits just right into her small hand. As she takes it she chokes back tears and smiles, still being brave.
This will not be something she forgets, nor me either. I failed her. Her bravery was rewarded with abandonment.
Shane asks me the next day after reading an email I had written in the night, “You were up at 2 something? Did it have anything to do with what happened?”
I had promised myself not to burden Shane with self-esteem issues which flush down the toilet in only one moment of what was supposed to be a happy event.
“Yes,” I say, the tears escaping.
He sounds angry, “It’s my fault. Linda had the said the right, but meant the right side of the auditorium, not in the hall!”
But I couldn’t hear him, interrupting with, “I know. I didn’t meant to burden you,” and quickly changed the subject.
I know in my mind what he is saying, I had said the same things to myself. She’s safe, she’s OK. But I know that feeling, that deep hole of feeling alone and lost. I had caused it in her and it will take time to get over. No never to the ones I love, no never will I abandon you. Yet we all do. We all make mistakes and hurt those we love no matter our intentions. This will take some work on forgiving, not something I’m good at.
The day is lost. I cannot function from weariness, guilt, and a deep sense of failure. By mid afternoon the day calls with its soft breeze and sunshine. I wander out to the meadow and immediate relief comes with the lift of air, also lifting my armor of self-hate as if it were dandelion fluff.
The warmth blankets my tired soul and my five laps renew me, resting on lap five as I usually do by the creek in the Adirondack chair. The creek has rarely been so low. The leaves flicker in the breeze and I thank god as she cradles me in her arms. Thank you Mother Earth.