I have a big imagination. Some might say I'm a bit overly dramatic. In my old(er) age, I feel I've gotten less so, but yesterday's events have me thinking twice about that.
In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I learned something about myself. I don't like to rest in pain. It's not that I'm not sympathetic or aware...it's the opposite. I can put myself there in a heartbeat. I can feel that pain--a pain so big and vicious, no one can rest there for too long.
But some people do. They have to because that is their new reality.
Sophia is eleven, so we've begun fielding questions like "Don't you think I'm old enough to stay home by myself?" Technically, no, she has to be twelve, but I have a responsible girl on my hands, so about three times now, I've allowed her to stay home while I run a quick errand.
I always run through my list of safety checks that include locking the door, not opening it for anyone even the mailman, and not telling anyone via text that she's home alone.
And then I worry about her until I walk back in the door.
But not yesterday. Yesterday, she had early release from school and she wanted to eat lunch at the same time I had to run Sam to preschool. His school is literally in our back yard, so it maybe takes five minutes to drop him off.
I pulled in the driveway after dropping him and got a text from Sophia. It was a response to a text I'd sent her about coming to the back of the parking lot at her school. Apparently, she'd just gotten it half an hour later.
I opened the door and started to tell her that the text was old but she wasn't at the kitchen table. There was the Nook she'd been reading and the dishes from lunch...but she wasn't there.
She must be in the bathroom.
I checked, but no sign of her. Into the front room where our laptop is plugged in. She's not there.
I wasn't worried. She probably had headphones on and couldn't hear me. I ran upstairs to her room. Empty. Just like the boys' rooms, the two upstairs bathrooms and our bedroom.
She wasn't listening to music.
She wasn't watching TV.
She wasn't answering me when I was yelling at her--a little more frantically now.
I rushed downstairs to the bathroom...my head spinning with questions, looking for the logic. Why isn't she answering me? My office was empty. Adam's studio...empty. I even looked in the empty storage room, wondering if maybe she was playing a joke on me?
Not a nice joke, Sophia. I'm getting scared now. Where are you?
I run back upstairs and do another pass through. I walk outside and survey the neighborhood. Nothing. No sign of her anywhere.
She. Is. Gone.
My daughter is not in the house.
Where is she? Why is she not in the house? Where else could she have gone? Are the neighbor kids home? Was the door unlocked? Were there any suspicious cars in the neighborhood when I left? Could someone have taken her in FIVE minutes?
WHY DID I LEAVE HER ALONE???
I called Adam. I was calm for maybe two seconds. I'm still frantically searching every closet, every nook, every possible spot she could be.
"She is not in this house. She is not here."
Adam is calmer than me. "Ok, let me call the police."
"No, this doesn't make sense. She has to be here. Where else could she be?"
For that moment, neither of us knew what to do. We just sat there, no explanation. Our kids don't leave the house without permission. There is no good reason for her to be gone.
Why is she gone?
I have never in my life known the depth of that fear. I haven't let myself ever feel that fear--not even when Sam nearly stepped out on the highway into oncoming traffic. In that moment, there were no answers. There was no logic.
There was just pure, deep, ugly, black fear.
And a very quiet, very empty house.
I hung up with Adam and called my mom. "Did Sophia call you?" (She can't even understand me at this point, and in retrospect, she's probably the last person I should've called because when you hear your mother's voice, emotion just spills out 100 times greater than it would have.) I try to explain to her what's going on--that Sophia is not here. I can't even believe I'm saying these words.
"She's just gone." I know I'm hysterical, my hands are shaking. My daughter is missing and...
Then, behind me, a voice. "MOM!"
I spin around and see her, red-faced and cold.
"I'm right here."
I hang up the phone (Sorry, Mom) and call Adam, but the only thing I can say over and over again is "She's here. I've got her. I've got her."
And my heart lurches even thinking about what could have happened--what does happen to parents because we live in this fallen world.
And I feel a little silly for it now...that Sophia got that half-an-hour-old text and thought I meant for her to come over to the parking lot at Sam's school. That she probably walked out the back door just as I was pulling in the driveway. That she crossed a busy street (twice), wondering all the time why I was asking her to meet me at the back of Sam's parking lot...
That she was safe...
But it gave me a peek inside the horrible world of a parent's worst nightmare and I really didn't like what I saw there.
We can't protect them 24 hours a day, and the harsh reality of that sets in like a cement block in my gut.
And again, I'm faced with the same question I had when I first heard about the latest school shooting...Why?
Why would anyone do this? Why do bad things like this happen?
And it drives me to my knees. Those were the longest ten minutes of my life...how do parents do this for hours...days...weeks...?
I think I scared Sophia with my hysterics, but the truth is, I'm thankful she knew how upset I would be if anything ever happened to her. I'm thankful she saw that we love her that much.
About an hour later, after we'd calmed down and established that she was safe, she said, "See, Mom, just another reason to get me phone...it's for your sake as much as it is for mine..."
She handed me a list of "Reasons why I should get a cell phone" and flashed me a smile.
Gotta love a girl who seizes an opportunity.