Emma just left, bounding out the door with Joe to catch the bus that takes them to her day camp. “I love you Em!” I called to her retreating figure. “Bye!” she said, not turning back to look at me. And I stood there in the doorway watching the outer door close behind her. The constriction in my throat, coupled with the desire to run after her, hold her tightly against me, instruct her to “wrap both arms around and squeeze,” is so strong I have to talk myself out of it. You and Em are different in the way you express your love for each other. There is no one way. You know this. Shut the door, come back inside. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I do know this. I know Emma loves me. I know she will miss me. I know she is sad and perhaps even anxious that we are leaving for seven days, the longest we have ever left her since she was born into this world.
Earlier Richard and I sat in her bedroom with her and bopped up and down to Michael Jackson’s Beat it and Billie Jean. Emma shut her eyes as she bopped, with a broad smile on her face. She reached over and placed one hand on my arm. It was brief, a second or maybe two and then her hand was gone again. Five minutes before she had to go down to get her bus, she said, “Play duck, duck, goose!” So we did. Richard and Joe and I sitting on the floor cross-legged as Emma went around patting each of us on the head, “Raincoat, raincoat, raincoat, Umbrella!” she shouted and then raced around and around before tearing off, laughing into another part of the house, with Richard in hot pursuit. “Okay Em. The bus will be outside. You have to go. I’m going to miss you Em.” I wrapped my arms around her as she tried to squirm away. The constriction in my throat tightened. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I know. I know.
And then she was gone. Just like that. Gone. And I want to sob because it’s so hard to leave her, because I need her to know how hard it is to leave her. I want her to know I will miss her. I want her to understand that I am not leaving her. I hope she knows this. I try to tell myself that she does.
I’m five and my parents are taking a trip somewhere, I can no longer remember where. They go once a year for a few weeks, somewhere exotic, Africa, Peru, Ireland, Japan, returning with small tokens of their travels, a kimono in white and blue cotton, a pair of gold and emerald earrings from Ireland, a hand embroidered blouse from Peru. The gifts have strange smells of some other land, a place I do not recognize, a place I may never visit. But those gifts are for when they return. The anxiety I feel when they leave is indescribable. We are left with Mrs. Williams.
Mrs. Williams smells like antiseptic soap and something else, I hope never to smell again. It is a smell that makes me gag. I hate Mrs. Williams. She is cruel and angry. I know she hates me. I can sense it. I try to steer clear of her. I try to keep to myself. But it is never completely possible and then the hand comes down, sure and strong, unerring in it’s aim. My bottom burns, my head slams into the bed frame with the force of her blows. I try not to cry. I try to be strong. I think of my parents, why did they leave me? What did I do wrong?
But we are not leaving Emma with Mrs. Williams. We are leaving Emma with Jackie, someone she loves and asks for and she will be going to camp for one last week with Joe before we return to pick her up and return to Colorado where Nic is staying with my mother. Jackie has planned wonderful outings for the two of them and Joe will be checking in over the weekend to make sure they are fine. I’ve left copies of our phone numbers, passport info, hotel info, travel itinerary and contact info laid out on the island in the kitchen. I went over the next week with Emma again this morning. As though by going over and over it my anxiety will lessen. Em, looks away from where my finger points at the calendar. She is looking for her bowl to fill with Cheerios. “Uh-huh,” she says, reaching for the milk.
She’s yessing me, I think with relief. I’ve gone over this so many times, she’s memorized it. She looks at me for a second, it’s a fleeting glance, but she looks into my eyes as if to say, “Mom. Seriously. I got this.”
And she does. I know she does. It’s me who’s struggling. It’s me who is grasping. It’s me who needs to be reassured. It’s okay. You’re going to be just fine without her. It’s okay.
Emma demanding that Richard come closer so that she can…
spray him with water from the seal!
Richard and Em, both soaking wet walking home last night