Tuesday, May 28, 2013
One day CB disappeared. I mean vanished into thin air, without a trace.
When CB was about 6 years old her father and I separated. I voluntarily left our home once reconciliation was clearly no longer an option. I rented a two-bedroom apartment a few towns away. This was a garden apartment, not a high rise building, out in the suburbs of Towson, Maryland. Garden apartments are not tall, they are only about three stories, and what they lack in height they make up for in acreage. My complex sprawled for blocks and blocks and blocks to look like a red brick neighborhood. To conjure that "community feel" there were a few common lawn areas and a small playground which was located conveniently behind my building.
This playground was both my saving grace and the kiss of death. CB was obsessed with this playground, though I don't quite know why. She didn't do anything on it but sit at the top of the slide and spin her beads around and around for hours while I sat on the park bench. There were many "flip outs" by my front door morning, noon, and night because all she wanted to do was go out on that playground. She'd sit there screaming... SCREAMING her head off and in an apartment complex it is difficult to hide a child's tantrum so I'd end up caving in. We'd sit on that playground in the rain and cold, dusk and dawn.
One day after we sat out there for an hour, CB had her fill and we were ready to head around the building to the front door. I saw her walk off the playground apparatus, heading toward the front of the building in our same old routine. I turned my head to grab my purse off of the bench but it slid off and my phone fell to the ground so I picked it up. The whole diversion was about 20 seconds. When I reoriented myself I didn't see her so I figured she had just made it quickly to the front of the building. I jogged up there thinking I'd see her form standing by the big glass door. She wasn't there.
So I scoured the parking lot with my eyes, but saw no blond-headed little waif prancing through the cars. I opened the front door to the building - no one. So I turned around and ran back to the playground scanning the big lawn. No one.
Not a soul anywhere.
I started panicking while trying not to panic because who disappears into thin air like that? So I ran back and forth, from the parking lot to the playground area over and over calling her name, then screaming it, then I basically freaked out.
When a child goes lost, a second feels like an hour and five minutes like a day. Ironically I had looked at my watch RIGHT before I got off the bench to head back in and so I had an accurate perception of time. It was fifteen solid minutes of looking for her, calling her name, running in larger and larger circles. Fifteen minutes feels like an eternity. It feels like she's gone and you're in your worst nightmare.
Random people started helping me, people who trickled out of the parking lot who may or may not have been my neighbors. In the midst of an unamicable divorce and potential custody issues I was scared to call the police and report what could be construed as my lack of supervision, but I knew at this point it was time to panic. I dialed 9-1-1 and was preparing myself to tell them my child must have been abducted by aliens because that is how fast and nonsensical it all seemed. What could have happened in SECONDS?!?!
Then I saw a woman with white hair, maybe in her late seventies, bent over like a willow. She was walking toward me and next to her was CB, holding her hand, looking at the ground, flapping her free hand and humming.
After my tearful reunion I of course had a million 'thank yous' and asked a million questions. The long and short of it was this.
CB paid this woman a visit. The woman lived on the other side of the big central lawn and had been alone in her kitchen when she heard her sliding glass patio door being thumped. She looked outside and saw CB kicking it with her size 11 Keds.
"I knew when I opened the door that she had Autism," the woman said. "I had a son like her. I had a son like her who I was just thinking about when she knocked. I was just sitting at my kitchen table remembering him."
CB diverted her path, perhaps pulled by some force. She needed to give that woman a message. I don't know, maybe it was all a coincidence. Maybe not. All I know is that at the very moment an old mother was sitting at her kitchen table remembering a son just like my CB, my daughter uncharacteristically changed her direction and sprinted over to bang on her door. To show up unannounced. A wordless visit heavy with meaning.
CB has disappeared on us a few more times since then. It's scary - beyond scary. That day was the scariest but something good came of it, and I don't just mean finding my daughter to make the story a happy ending. Something good always comes from those who many believe have the least to offer. They are here to teach us many things, sometimes in the midst of stress and mayhem, grief and fear. They are here with a message.
Over the past 18 years I'm learning to listen for that message more.
It's difficult, but I'm learning.