Sunday, March 4, 2012
Thinking of Sandra Cisneros Again
Today, I was six years old. We all are sometimes, but today transported me to a very particular summer day at a campground in Virginia in ways that have me once again staring, mystified, at the concentric circles of life and family.
I am at the playground, granted permission by my mother to play unsupervised until lunch time, when I will make my way back down the winding lane to our 40-foot-long air-conditioned "camper" where she is watching television as she cooks. Only the girl playing on the merry-go-round tells me she has the Barbie Dream House (the one with the elevator) that my mother refuses to get for me. The next thing I know, my father is angrily retrieving me from the girl's Jet Stream, dragging me back to our site, where my mother abandoned her mini-television a few hours ago and has locked herself in our station wagon to rock, somewhat-catatonic, back and forth, hugging herself. It seems lunch came and went but I did not, and the men had begun to discuss searching the water, calling the sheriff. She sees me through the window and moans and moans as my father opens the car and pushes me into it, into my mother's rocking.
If she never entirely forgave me, I get it now. I get it in a way I wish I didn't.
The situations are entirely different, and exactly the same. My mother believed in benign neglect, and in the 1970s I had free reign of a large campground from the time I started kindergarten. Today, driving to the park, I explained to my daughter that she had to be where she could see me at all times, because last time at the park I got nervous when she played hide-and-seek with her friends too close to the busy urban streets and the crowded parking lot filled with strangers. I do not so much as leave her in our own front yard unattended.
But when I turned around and found the backseat of my Prius empty today, maybe three minutes after parking and gathering our gear, I knew my mother's heart in the back of that old station wagon. When I forced my brain to accept that, indeed, my child had suddenly vanished, and I was not asleep, having an illogical dream, many thoughts pin-balled through my head all at one time, none too productive:
Had I, when adjusting my parking in the space to get maximum shade, run over my child as she silently slipped from the car? Four times I bent and peered under my vehicle, pointlessly. Had she, as a joke, hidden in the far back of the Prius, under our earthquake blanket? Thrice I flung around the blanket. Did the car next to us grab her just before pulling away? WAS SHE PULLING A STUNT? Did she head for swings, to the left? To the playground, to the right? To the stores, behind us? IF SHE DID I WAS GOING TO PUNISH HER LIKE SHE'D NEVER FORGET. Where was her school's event, the reason that we came to the park? Should I go look for it? But what if she came back? How many minutes had it been already? Why hadn't I agreed to bring my husband and son? Why were there no police nearby? Why were there so many people nearby? Why were there so many tragedies in the news lately? Why hadn't I been paying closer attention? How did she shut the door without my notice? Had I zoned out? Had I .... had I? Lost my mind?
And the whole time, my scream: PEACHES! PEACHES! PEACHES! It wasn't a call, it wasn't a question mark, it was an exclamation each time, unmistakable terror tinging the edges. It was my mother, rocking.
After at least five minutes, a pink blob comes into focus, quickly cresting the hill toward the parking lot, and I become certain over slow, drawn out moments you could count on your fingers that a little girl needs one tremendous, gigantic, enormous punishment for torturing me, for abandoning me in a station wagon, borderline catatonic.
She is so sorry, so sorry, so very sorry, when she sees my face. She had followed friends to play, she cries, only to realize she'd gone without me when another classmate arrived and announced, "There is a mommy in the parking lot yelling PEACHES, PEACHES!"
She sits in the grass where I have crumpled and begs me to be happy again, to take her home, to forgive her. I am fury, I am fear, I am forgiveness, and as much as I want to punish and shake her til her teeth rattle, I simply talk, and kiss her, and tell her she has to stay where she can see me, where she can see me, where she can see me, like I told her, like I told her, like I told her. I tell her most of the people in the world are good, but that I was so scared, so scared, that someone not good had taken her, or that she had walked behind a driver who could not see her little body. Her little body.
I do not tell her I had done the same thing at almost her exact same age. I do not tell her that all I had wanted today was to go to this typical school event and do our best to fit in some and connect a little and get some volunteer hours and not stick out overmuch for once. I do not tell her that I know exactly how she feels -- sorry, guilty, responsible, scared, vulnerable -- that I know exactly how my mother felt -- sorry, guilty, responsible, scared, vulnerable.
We dust ourselves off slowly, and walk back down the hill, around the corner, to raise money for her charter school, running laps along with everyone else, but not really.
This post, this day, these experiences and feelings, had nothing to do with autism, only that is never really true.