I deliver The Child to her friend’s family the day before she is to fly away with them: First to Buffalo, then a drive to Niagara Falls, and then up to Canada. She spends the night at her friend’s, and she is giddy with excitement over it all. A trip with her friends, on a plane!
She texts me the next morning at 4am: We’re going to the airport!!!!
Have fun! I text back. I love you!!
Love you too!!!! comes the reply.
I go back to sleep, and a few hours later, go to work. I check the airline website a few times, but her flight seems to be fine.
That evening, The Child calls. It’s 9pm where I am and midnight in upstate New York, where she is. She’s been traveling since 4am.
She whispers into the phone to me: I’m scared, I’m scared. Her voice cracks; she tries not to cry.
I’m wondering why nobody else is there to comfort her in person, or why they are all still awake.
Where are you? I ask.
In the hallway at the hotel.
Who is with you? I want to know.
Nobody. Everybody is asleep, but I couldn’t sleep, so I went in the hallway so I wouldn’t wake anybody up.
My fingers are cold and stiff and long to touch her.
I’m scared, Mommy. I miss you.
She’s crying now, and alone, in a hallway in a hotel. I am Mommy again, not Mom or Mother: she needs me, but I cannot get to her. I cannot get to her and my skin crawls with helplessness.
I wonder how she left the hotel room unnoticed and unsupervised, and remind myself that it is okay, the family has done nothing wrong, it’s not like The Child hasn’t snuck away from me once or twice. Except that I noticed when it happened, like I’m noticing now – and they are asleep, on the other side of a hotel door, on the other side of the country, where my little girl is and where I cannot help her.
I persuade her to go back into the room. Do you have your bunny? I ask, but then I realize she has probably left him behind, this stuffed purple rabbit that has comforted her since she was a baby – because she’s not a baby anymore. Her bunny is on her bed, so I take a picture of it and text it to her. Here is bunny to keep you company, I tell her. Please stay in the room.
I walk around the house and take pictures of all the pets and text those too. She doesn’t reply for a while, and then apologizes: The hotel has slow wifi. A little later she texts me a heart, and then eventually, a smile.