Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thinking Inside the Backpack: Traveling Kids Part IV

After a period of desperate silence, I attempted to contact people who may know the whereabouts and state of my daughter. I sent a message to a young man who I had met the previous summer in Vermont. I expressed my worries and asked what he knew.

He responded immediately and told me that he heard that she had gotten the medicine that she needed for a throat abscess, and that she was doing better. He also said that every person from her original circle of Vermont friends had returned home.

The previous summer I raced (3.5 hours one way) to Vermont to pick her up from the hospital after she had an abscess on her tonsils lanced and drained.

This young man and I wrote back and forth a few times and we finally spoke on the telephone after his last message stated that he wanted to meet me in Florida and go get her. He warned me that there was a strong possibility that she didn’t ‘want’ to be found.

I had such a difficult time with that statement and thought. We were so close. Even during the teenage years when communication was a little sparse at times, we maintained a high level of mutual respect and a certain openness that I believed would carry us through a lifetime.

Meanwhile, another friend of Anna’s heard that I was trying to contact her, and she picked up her cell phone and called me. She had a job and an apartment in New Orleans; she was from Vermont and knew Anna. She mentioned that she had a very close relationship with her own mother and could not imagine how upset her mother would be if their communication ended abruptly with no explanation.

Without asking, she told me that she would find Anna and offer the use of her cell phone to call me. She also gave me her mailing address so that I could send a cell phone or money or whatever a desperate mother thinks that she can send at a time like that.

Then random messages started trickling in on my facebook from people who assured me that they knew that Anna was fine and that they spotted her here and there playing her cello. It reminded me of a “Where’s Waldo” book, or back in the days when we used to stand on the sea wall in front of our house in Maine, listening to WRKO for the updates of where “Andre” the seal was on his journey from Rockport to the Aquarium in Boston. Only this wasn’t exciting or fun in any way.

Anna’s friend sent me text messages indicating that she had ‘just missed her’. One night my cell phone – which had become a physical attachment by then – rang. It was her earthy yet melodic voice on the other end of the phone as if nothing was different or unusual. She immediately burst into laughter as she explained how she walked into her favorite bar and the bartender hollered, “Anna, call your mother!”

I told her that I was deeply concerned about her. I asked her many questions, such as where are you staying? Who are you staying with? Are you eating? Warm? Dry? I wanted to scream, but I maintained a level of outer calm while tears streamed down my cheeks. Was this really my daughter, the beautiful little girl who was so innocent, creative and bright who had turned into a fearless young woman who cares so little about the basic comforts and gentleness of life, who cares so little about the chaotic society that we live in, that she has made a deliberate choice to take risks by living on the edge, shedding any and all possessions to take to the road without a care other than her next meal? Of course I ask myself where I went wrong.

That question brings me around and around on the great mother – daughter wheel of intense parallel opposites. Are we so much alike that she could not stand it? Does society suck so much that she wants nothing to do with the status quo? Is it because loving her as hard as I could did not make up for those who hurt her? Or are all of these questions simply mute?

I envisioned myself driving around New Orleans asking vagrants and street performers if they had seen my daughter. I shuddered at the thought of not finding her, finding her, or having to sit within the dingy pale yellow cement walls of a tired police station. I imagined seeing her – a flash of youthful sweetness wearing blue and purple silk faerie wings – running up to kiss my cheek. I dreamt of embracing her and whisking her off the streets and taking her back into the safe, gentle cocoon woven of a mother’s love.

She apologized for causing worries. ‘Worries’; such a lame word for what I have experienced. It was traumatic. Not knowing what your daughter is doing, if she is even alive, if she has a roof over her head, has been taken into a sex slave operation, or whatever other scenarios a terrified mother creates while laying in bed every night staring into the darkness, trying to pray her way to sleep.

I wavered between relief and scolding while being cautious, letting her know that I deserved sleep. She said that she understood. We had agreed that she would call or text weekly just to let me know that she was okay. I learned quickly that weekly was way too much to expect, so bi-weekly would do. I needed something.

I felt an odd sense of calm after we hung up. I pushed away “my dreams” for her…dashed away thoughts of Julliard and the long elegant black dresses that she wore on stage when performing Paganini, Haydn, Bach and the others since she was five-years-old and deemed a gifted cellist. I squeezed my eyes shut and embraced the beautiful young woman sitting on the street corner wearing a patched flannel shirt, cut off jean skirt that she made herself, with hiking boots, playing a mixed bag of music with a jar half full of change and a few dollar bills beside her cello case. The roaring applause from the concert hall faded into the crackling fire that burned in the rusted barrel in the alley.

It’s weird how a mother’s mind works under this sort of pressure. I had a short window of time to send a small package to her at her friend’s apartment. Because the only belongings that she has she carries in her backpack, I had to think ‘inside the backpack’. It’s instinctive to want to give her everything that I think she needs; toiletries, food, vitamins, new underwear, socks, and cute hair scrunchies. I loved shopping for her – my only daughter. If I could have crammed homemade cookies and a week’s worth of food in the small Priority Box, I would have.

I sent her money to buy a new cell phone and a few very small tee-shirts (Pink Floyd and something else), underwear and socks all rolled up. I hand wrote a personal card and planted lipstick kisses on the envelope.

At that time I was not meant to completely understand her need to separate dramatically from society, old friends, a gentler, safer world, family and most importantly, from me.

I cannot and will not speak for fathers; I have a lifetime of trying to be both. I had a hunch then – but did not stop loving as hard as I could for two people to actually accept that it does not work. Well, not completely. Believe me when I say that it is entirely possible to raise a child or children as a single parent, I have done so with success. Like I said earlier in this series, my daughter is not doing something wrong. She is gutsy, creative and smart; she is reacting to the world in a way that suits her. I would be excited to learn about this if it were someone else’s daughter. It is a complex statement at this point, but will fall into place as the writing unfolds.

The optimum situation is for a child to have love and guidance from both the feminine and masculine in their equally important ways – role models, self esteem, validation and the complete package (so rare).

Some of these kids on the road have mothers who don’t care, or mothers who do not love them or do but don’t know how, or have never been there, have addictions, are abusive and other very sad stories. Anna is loved, always has been and always will be. She knows this. Is it enough?


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