It is so exciting to be co-hosting this week’s Finish the Sentence Friday (FTSF) with Finding Ninee. As those of you who are familiar with this blog and the blog that came before this one, The Cute Syndrome, know I have been in a period of rediscovering my voice as a writer as I work to integrate the writing I do about my daughter, Esmé, and the other writing that I want to explore. And FTSF has played an important role in that discovery, for me. 

Each week on FTSF we receive a sentence to finish. The prompts have really helped me broaden the topics I address and let me feel free to explore new ways to tell some of the stories that are important to me. The first week I linked up I wrote something that I didn’t even know I needed to write. It felt so raw and close to the bone that I wasn’t certain I wanted to share it. But I did it anyway…and I am so happy I did. 

Now this week I was able to participate by helping with the writing prompt: The things I’ve forgotten. I’m really looking forward to reading this week’s posts! Thanks for joining!

Here’s my post:

The things I have forgotten…

It hits me while I am waiting in line: Esmé. Where is Esmé?

It is my turn to order, but I turn away, mumbling, “My daughter…” in response to the woman who asks me what I want. She rolls her eyes at me as I push passed the other customers toward the door.

Outside, the breeze in the park lifts my hair across my face. I start across the green space, urgently squinting to see the intersection. I walk quickly but the corner seems to recede like the illusion of an oasis in the desert.

Then, finally, I am there. Across the street I can see the playground. I expect it to be difficult to pick Esmé out from among the playing children. But the playground appears empty. Panic rises in my throat as I scan back and forth searching for the children I’d left her with. Where did they go? I wonder.

It was only a moment, I imagined myself explaining. Only a moment that I was gone. But the sinking feeling in my stomach told me otherwise: it had been more than a moment.

God, I think, how long was it?

I open my mouth, Esmé’s name already rising in my throat with a choking sound bordering on hysteria, when I catch sight of her tiny frame. Instead of calling out to her, I hold still, shocked into silence. Staring at her, I am gripped by this moment of voyeurism.

I watch as she sits in the dirt, her thin legs laying out in front of her, feet tipped limply to the left. Her posture slumped, also to the left, curving one shoulder lower than the other. Her arms hanging loosely, hands in the dirt. Her head tilted downward, eyes lowered, blank look on her face.

My child, alone. Completely alone.

I feel sick, the knowledge that I’d left here there, that she’d waited for me, after everyone had gone.

Before I can imagine all the scenarios of what might have happened, my daughter looks up. Her recognition and relief is visible from where I stand, as her posture straightens, her hands lift up, and a smile spreads across her face. Her whole body says, Maman, there you are!

I don’t deserve her, I think in that last moment before I leave her there again, waiting.

The sound of her shifting and calling out reaches for me. I hear it in stereo, over the video monitor to one side, and from the hall on the other. Her voice pulls me to waking.

I struggle to orient myself, still stunned from the scene on the playground. I lay in bed for a moment listening to her playfully experimenting with her voice. I am not fully present yet, looping back through that moment as she shifted posture—somehow the dream seems more tangible than reality.

All day long I will be haunted by that image, the clarity of the vision of her sitting there in the moments between when I saw her and she saw me. Her stance as I watched her, forgotten, left behind, shifting toward joy as she saw me. It was joy I saw, not relief. Somehow I knew this, I know this. She was not relieved—because she never questioned that I’d return for her.

It is my greatest fear. The fear I try to shake off over and over during the day…the fear that creeps into my dreams: Someday, I may not have a choice but to leave my daughter behind, and she will be utterly alone, vulnerable. And she will never stop expecting me to return for her.

***

There are things we forget.

I cannot list them, because, of course, they are forgotten. Sometimes, though, I can feel them next to me, urging me to recall what I lost to time and change and erosion. They whisper to me about moments that flood over me with nothing more than a sensation, a wisp of an idea.

If I look directly at it, I know, it will disappear. So, instead, I tilt my head, trying to remember what might be adrift just beyond my reach.

***

I am attempting to return to myself these days. My feet, grounding into the top of my old yoga mat. Standing there I remember how this felt, before: Like coming home to me, my body moving fluidly between the poses, my muscles hugging and releasing without a thought, and yet, mindfully. My posture correcting under the gentle touch of my teacher, her fingers pressing my ankles down, hands raising my hips…reminding my body of itself.

I breathe in and out slowly. It will not feel like that. Not yet, maybe not ever again. That’s ok. I remind myself.

I think about the times before that I tried to return, here, to this mat, and could not. The time I left in the middle of the class, backing out the door in tears, because coming home to me showed me things I was not ready to see. There was the time I left, having finished a class angry and stiff, wanting to yell at everyone, How can I let go and let be? Fuck you, I think my child is dying. How can I be at peace with that?

Standing still at the top of my mat, waiting for the moment I am ready, I nudge my mind away from its wanderings. Breathe. I say. Start there. Just breathe. I feel the mat below my toes, as I wiggle them wider apart, my feet flattening. A while ago I’d rolled up this mat, thinking I’d never come back. And, then, I bought the boxing gloves. The antithesis. But also? The same. Soon my fists moved in meditation, repetition—not particularly well, but with far more strength than I’d thought I had in me. The anger of it brought me home: my gloved hands knocking down walls and pushing back against the boiling anger inside me, telling my fear that I wasn’t going to cower any longer, making room for me.

I made room. I think. Let’s see what that looks like. I scan my body, standing taller with as I inhale, straightening as I exhale. Finally, I hear the breath moving through me, and nothing else.

And so, I begin moving.

***

Some things I have chosen to forget. But we never really forget those forgottens, do we? We wear them as secrets just below our skin. The sites of them making us tender in one spot, hard in another. Luminous in one, shadowed in another.

We live, the things we’ve chosen to forget rising and falling with our breaths, with our movement, as over and over we repeat: I forget you.

***

Once I had a son. I held him, but only as an image my mind. My son. I could see him perfectly, the way I saw Esmé years before she was even a bundle of cells growing inside of me. I saw her big blue eyes, her dark wavy hair with some kind of alarming accuracy that bordered on prophecy. So, too, I saw my son, as a toddler, his hair blond in the sun, his brown eyes and round face, with the same clarity, the same certainty. His name shifted over the years, from Liam, to Theo, to Henry, to Willem, with time, just as the pre-Esmé vision had done from Fiona, to Marie-Hélène, to Penelope, to Bea, and only once she drew breath, to Esmé. Their names shifted…but their faces never have.

Esmé’s face has become more her own, however. Meanwhile my son’s face has faded, all but disappeared…is if he knows how uncertain I am of him.

I dreamed about him again last week. I’d felt his body move below my hands where they rested on my stomach. Then, he’d come to me in a cabin in the woods, but before I could hold him he was gone. I searched everywhere, upending furniture and tearing through the woods. But there was no sign of him.

He was gone.

I woke up with a gasp.

***

There are things that have forgotten me. Things that have left me behind. I am reminded of their forgetfulness as the shadows of them move across me, their absence calling out their former presence.

“I remember you,” I say shyly, to the shadows, not wanting to admit the weight of them. Some turn unseeingly toward the sound of my voice, but still, they move on. Later, I wonder whether I imagined them all.

***

As a little girl I played in the 40 acres of woods surrounding my childhood home. I was convinced that fairies lived there, and I would write them letters, build them elaborate homes, and make them clothing. I left these gifts near the nooks where I knew they lived. In return they would leave me signs of their presence, and I would catch glimpses of them as they disappeared from my sight. As I grew older, I eventually I stopped leaving them gifts, but I never forgot them.

When my daughter Esmé was born—so silent, so fragile, struggling to survive in this world—I thought of the fairies again. I saw them in her mischievous looks, in her knowing eyes, in the intuitive way she understood the intentions of the people around her. I have often wondered if she was a gift I was given in return by the delightful creatures that inhabited my woods—my own little fragile and powerful creature to love. As I have watched my daughter grow, struggling to do things that come so naturally to other children—to sit up, to speak, to eat, to breathe—I see that my daughter was not made for this world.

But she was made perfectly for another world. Sometimes she takes me there.

In her world I am lost, confused, and wordless, but I have her to guide me through the humming woods, musical secrets, and very deep cool ponds.

***

There are things we will not let ourselves forget.

My daughter is a secret that is constantly trying to escape me. She is here. She is in my arms. I can smell the sweetness of her. I hear her calling out to me, Mamama ma ma mamama. She is the most real part of my life.

And yet she escapes me. I find her obliquely, in dreams. I discover her as I catch and write the words, stringing them together in a net to capture her and hold her for just one moment, before she slips away again.


Edited to include a link up to the Who I Am writing project linkup!

12 Comments

  • Your toes on the mat. Esme at the playground, alone, knees bent to the side. The forgetting and the remembering. The panic and the relief of dreams and real life. I love this piece so so much and am happy and honored to have you as the Finish the Sentence co-host this week. Truly.

  • Absolutely beautiful and I know many days I also just can’t believe that I am the mom to two little girls. Although, it is hard to deny or forget, I still do have my moments. I think parenting no matter what though is a game of trial and error. See, just when I think I have it figured out something else gets thrown my way to make me realize I am truly not perfect and just doing the best I can with my kids, as well.

    • Thank you Janine! Parenting is absolutely a trial and error experience. We just never know how things will sort out…and sometimes we know and then we forget!

  • It’s so interesting the things I try to forget, and at least partly succeed, because otherwise I’d be forever haunted by them. Like this world is too much as it is, right? And then add in parenting. And then add in parenting when it’s more challenging than other times.
    Totally beautiful here. I could see all of it!! I’m sure you can too so much more strongly – the things you forget and then remember, and the things you don’t forget for a second.

    • Thank you Tamara! This world is too much…in so many ways. And also, it is just enough sometimes, right? Thanks for reading!

  • I don’t deserve her – how many times I’ve thought those very same words. I have been thinking a lot about the things we remember and forget as I read through everyone’s posts. I really think we remember what we are meant to and at the moment we need to. If something is forgotten, perhaps there’s a reason – at least for that moment – when we don’t need it right in the front of our mind. I don’t know. Parenting is a trial-by-fire process, that’s for sure. We just have to keep moving forward, keep going, no matter what.

    • I like that idea Lisa, that we remember what we need to remember when we need it. And, it is so true that parenting is all about keeping moving no matter what. Thanks for reading!!

  • Every bit of this was so powerful, Hillary, but the piece about your son reminded me of the images I had of my children before they came to be. I can barely remember what they are, although I know that the two of them are nothing like I imagined they would be.

    I wanted to link up this week, but it never happened. FTSF has been such a great community for me too – I could never give it up!

    • Dana, it is really interesting to look back on how we imagine(d) our children. I had such a clear image of Esmé that was so like her…you know, except for the obvious–like I expected her to be able to speak to me, to run and jump, do craft projects, and demand plastic toys in the Target. FTSF is really such a wonderful community. I am so happy that I found all of you 🙂

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