The pounding of my heart was the only sound. The sensations of my feet moving heavily as if through water and my head spiraling up toward the ceiling were somehow separate from my eyes that were keenly searching out her striped-shirt and tangled curls. I moved carefully behind the crowd of toddlers and parents leaving the sunshine story-time room, wanting to shove and run, but knowing I needed to remain calm. Every person and object became both very distinct and somehow very distant. Everything was suddenly divided into two categories: the solid forms were not her and the spaces were where is she?
Moments before, my daughter had walked away from me to the front of the room to get a sticker from the librarian at the end of story time. I sat on the ABC puzzle rug and chatted with my friend while her two year-old sat securely on her lap. I glanced to the front of the room, my stomach clenched and my blood ran cold with the sudden realization that my child was no longer in the room with me, and I had no idea where she was. I stood unsteadily and quickly scanned the room: not her not her not her where is she. It felt like a giant crevasse had opened in the library carpet and I knew I had to step carefully or lose her forever. For a second, I stood before that precipice teetering on the edge as rocks slid to the bottom of that abyss. In that moment, I lost everything. A thousand possibilities reeled through my mind, but I knew I couldn’t give in to those thoughts. I could only begin to methodically search.
I asked myself what she was wearing and tried to picture her exactly as she had stood before me swaying and singing along with the songs. A pink shirt with red, blue, and yellow stripes. I moved too slowly toward the door, out of the room, and down the narrow hall, still hampered by the crowd. For a moment I couldn’t see anything other than the backs of heads that were not hers. I dug my fingernails into my palms and held my breath as I continued to move forward.
After what seemed like centuries and certainly could only have been seconds, the crowd thinned and the hallway opened into the children’s library. Directly in my line of vision, sitting in front of a child-sized computer, pulling me toward her like a magnet, sat that vivid pink striped-shirt and that precious head of flaxen curls. She was happy, whole, unharmed, and somehow completely indifferent to my terror. I ran the last few steps, scooped her into my arms, and scolded her soundly as I hugged her.
At that moment, I was tempted to leave immediately and to never return to the library or to any place in the public realm ever again. But we stayed there, and I hung back, while she moved from table to table, climbing onto chairs by herself, sitting beside unknown children to work the puzzles. I followed her with my heart. My eyes never left her striped-shirt and silky curls, but I let her wander. I stood in the background, while she walked out into the world.
Since that day, I’ve been through a hundred what ifs and I should haves and should not haves, but the hard truth is this: her world no longer revolves around me. I am no longer the center. She is the arrow released from the bow. Or more precisely she is the archer who follows the arrows that she shoots from her own bow. She wants to know more about the marks she has hit and what lies out there. I still imagined her tethered to me, coiling back to the center. I thought she would walk from the sticker box back into my arms, but she knew what she wanted and how to get there.
She knew her own mind and felt ready to follow it.
I knew from that day forward, I would hold this gift both more tenderly and more tightly, all too aware of how quickly everything can change. I also realized that one day, though thankfully not yet, I will have to release her into the world and on to her fate.
Bethany Fitzpatrick has a M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas. She has published poetry in the Apeiron Review, Cliterature, and Yellow Chair Review. She has published essays online with Mothers Always Write, Mamalode, and Sammiches and Psych Meds. She is also the author of a self- published chapbook of poems, Becoming: A Journey to Motherhood (Lulu press, 2014). She is a full time mom, and a part time teacher and writer, who loves reading, dancing, singing off key, digging in the dirt, and blowing bubbles with her kids at sunset. She lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains with her husband, two children, and various pets.
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