A short piece encompassing the myriad difficulties in transitioning from being a child to raising one-- from my published collection Saving Norma Jean.
Triptych: Disappearance, Death, and Dreams
I’m a mother now, and yet the fear persists. I thought it would vanish once I emerged from the shell of childhood, cracked as it was, but it doesn’t. You walk out the door and you may never return. He runs through the grasses, and for a moment I don’t see him. Can’t hear his familiar shrieks, the sound of our son running amok. Laughing.
Her departures were erratic—unexpected and unpredictable. Yes, that’s what erratic means. I tried to make sense of them, but couldn’t, though somehow I felt they were tied to my own behavior. Behave better and maybe she’ll stay. But eventually I’d be cross—more than cross, I’d be mean and yell, scream, say something I didn’t mean. Sometimes that would cause her to vanish, other times it didn’t. It was unpredictable. And frightening, to see her sitting there without saying a word. Not a look in my direction, as though I’d ceased to exist, as though I was the one who’d disappeared.
Now, at times, I fear our son will disappear.
What happens if someone snatches him in broad daylight? Light exposing the man’s face, a store camera capturing his vicious crime. What happens should he lose his way, run away, remain hidden from me? In a closet. In a dryer. In a trunk in the attic. In a clothing rack in a store. In a freezer! What if he is playing an innocent game and his friends forget about him inside that abandoned refrigerator near the creek?
I promised myself, my husband, that I wouldn’t be neurotic, not like her. I try to hide it, but when our son disappears, I go crazy with frantic fear. And when I run around looking for him in a store, where on occasion he suddenly, simply disappears, I get hysterical. Quietly hysterical.
Now my husband tells me our son has vanished somewhere at the base of the ski slopes. It’s a small resort—nevertheless, he is nowhere to be found. Someone instructs me, “Stand still. Stay here. Someone has to stay here.”
I wring my sweaty hands, my eyes flit from one end of the mass of people in boots and hats to the other, and still I don’t see him. He is small, he is not wearing his coat, he walked out of the lodge, or someone took him. I don’t know. My husband lost track of him. Will we ever know? Will I ever see him again?
My husband goes in search of someone to help us. He manages to remain calm in the face of my panic and for that, and in that moment, I hate him.
My son, too. Why couldn’t he stand still? Be predictable. Just once, couldn’t he have left his curiosity behind? Oh, he’s so precocious and adorable, that’s what everyone says, and it’s true, those big eyes search the world, scouring it for bugs and rolling things and climbing things. That’s it! He’s found something to climb. I rush to the bridge that spans a small stream
meandering near the lodge. Shelves of ice cling to its snowy banks. The sun dances on the water as it courses over rock and boulder, as it releases a soft sound that ordinarily soothes my nerves, that now grates, adding to the cacophony in my head.
Is he down there? Did he tumble head over heels down in there? The water is shallow, too shallow for him to drown, so shallow that had he fallen he would lie in a crumpled heap, his bones, his skull crushed. Is he there? Is he down there? I run from one end of the bridge to the other. No sign of him. I don’t know whether to be relieved or not.
Over the loudspeaker, a voice announces, “A three-year-old boy is lost. If anyone sees a small boy wandering without his parents, please contact a member of the ski patrol.”
Then people begin to notice. They look at me. At my husband. They know we are the negligent parents. Their eyes ooze sympathy, but secretly they believe such a thing will never happen to them. Because they are careful. Very careful.
Standing there waiting, I realize I’ve been stumbling through life with the single fear that someone I love will vanish. Disappear. Here it is. I’ve known it all along. That such an event would happen. I just didn’t know when or where. Now I’m a member of a club no one wants to join. What happens when they don’t come back? Is that what we discuss in our weekly meetings?
It occurs to me that God is punishing me because in my teens, I wanted her to disappear. And not just for a day or two. Forever. That’s why, isn’t it? So God realized my fear, or did I? “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” The words wheel around in my head. What do they mean? Right now, I fear everything. Life, death, everything. Is this just? I pray, “Please take me—me, not him; please bring back my boy. Please, please, don’t let him be stolen. Or dead. Please let my fears be unfounded. I’ll be good. I’ll do better. I promise.”
A ski patrol guy with a slightly runny nose runs over to me and my husband. “We’ve got him.”
“Who? You’ve got who?” Already I can picture the man’s face.
“Your son. Someone found him and took him to the nursery. He’s all right.”
In that moment, tears flow down my cheeks. My husband and I follow the young man, winding our way between skis and parkas and nameless people, and suddenly I love them and I begin to smile, and I’m happy because the world is a rational place. There is a God. There is justice. Maybe. Sometimes. Thank you.
I lift up my son and hold him tight. Then gazing at him, I say, “Where did you go?”
He stares back, too young to know.
“Why did you leave?” I have to ask.
And then I know it isn’t over.
My son, our son, has grown up.
Though far from carefree, I no longer worry about the possibility of him, or anyone else I love, disappearing. Something new bothers me.
I am walking between buildings and skyscrapers, when I see myself from above, the way an airplane or a bird would, and the idea comes to me.
The next day, I enter a popular gourmet market to post a small sign on the bulletin board located near the exit doors. It says, If you want to know about life and death, a small truth, then log on to lifeanddeath.com.
In a matter of hours, several people notice the sign and can’t resist the lure of its message. This is what they find:
You know it already. Life is short, Death inevitable. Make the best of each moment. Behave as best you can. Do not procrastinate, because Death may claim you tomorrow.
I once met Death sitting on a bench beside a lake. I was six. Its form was as expected: shrouded in black, no visible face, at least not from my vantage point. I knew one thing though—that I should not go near it. Go near it and it would claim me. Of course I was intrigued and stood a few moments watching it. Then, as though it was capable of reaching inside me, a shudder rippled through my small frame, and I ran shouting for my father. We returned to the spot where I’d been, but Death had gone. Now I sense it is near. I don’t know where it lurks or why, for I am still young enough to live at least another 30 years or so.
My question to you, reader, is what happens after death? Where does the spirit go? It cannot simply disappear. If not spirit, then what happens to the energy that once was ours? If energy can only change form, and if it can be neither created nor destroyed …then from human form to what?
Once again I am walking between buildings and skyscrapers. I’m convinced I don’t have much time. Then a crazy thought spirals into my mind: death may take someone else, someone dear to me, and I run like mad across streets, between buildings, to warn my son and my husband. I wonder about my mother. She is old now, losing her grip, in more ways than one.
At home, answers to the question are piling up.
One of them says, “Could Death be like a dream?”
I am walking between coffins when I can’t remember whether I’m awake or dreaming.
The man says, “The interior of this one here,” and he stops to caress the bone-white fabric as if momentarily forgetting where he is or to whom he’s speaking, then he resumes, “it is the quality of the finest satin. You could get the sleep of your life on these—“
When I give him a sharp look, he clears his throat and moves on. His hand waves across the next coffin as if magic might transform the dark abyss of its interior into something else: a night sky, the River Styx, a shadowy valley.
The words “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” come to me. What do they mean? Then, “I shall fear no evil.” It is not evil I fear. What is meant by that phrase, anyway? Why would they say that when it is death, nonexistence, that we fear?
The man’s face takes on a twisted, anticipatory grin. “You’ll like this one. I think it’s just what you’re looking for.”
The last time I saw my son, he was grinning too and saying, “Will you stop worrying!” Then he walked out the door.
Now all I see is Death Valley. Cactus, miles of desert, sand stretching to the mountainous horizon, a bleached-blue sky, a bird floating on the wind. Emptiness.
“There is nothing to fear.”
The man turns and stares at me. I must have said the words aloud. He has a worried look in his eyes. His eyes are pale blue. Above his beard stubble, high on the left cheek, I spot a small scab in the shape of a tiny vulture.
“It’s nothing,” I say, averting my eyes. We arrive at the end of the row. There are no more coffins, only the brilliant blue of the sky, out of which comes the sweet sound of our son’s voice reciting the haiku he wrote for his dying grandmother:
Soon I will be gone
but my spirit will live on
lay me down to sleep.
Available on Amazon for e-readers for $0.99, along with two other short stories. https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Norma-Jean-Collection-Stories-ebook/dp/B01ETTULDI?ie=UTF8&keywords=saving%20norma%20jean&qid=1464115898&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1