Far bigger than my balls, I have an enormous set of lungs. I can belt it out with the best of ’em. That’s right, while other women might go sans bra or honest best friend (who lets you just chafe out in public with an eyeful of camel toe?), I can go sans microphone on an impulsive night of karaoke. Yes, my “I can hold any note longer than you” leaves the beloved Bernadette Peters feeling weak in her strong parts. So, use those lungs, I did when I lost Abigail in the corn maze.
I was not, at the time, drinking. I was at a pumpkin patch with Abigail. Phil and Lucas were at a birthday party. That’s beginning to happen now, invitations with a single name, where you can no longer bring an accompanying twin. Abigail and I were dressed in matching colors. I distinguish the word colors just so we’re clear that I never have, nor will I, dress in the identical outfit as my daughter. I plan to embarrass us both in far more creative ways.
A pregnant woman with an adorable mop of curls, bright eyes, and dimples remarked how much she loved Abigail’s dress, asking where I got it.
“Janie & Jack, sale rack.”
And from there a new friendship was born. Her daughter Gray and Abigail were also instant friends, arm in arm, weaving through pumpkins, running up through the aisles. They’re the same age, though Gray towers over Abigail. Luke, Gray’s younger brother, also a Kind Sir, raced to keep up with the girls. The woman’s husband, a teacher at an elite private school, was keeping up with the kids as my newest friend and I traded “just moved here” stories. Her, from Orange County, CA, originally from outside Chicago—some “M” city, though, technically, Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. I know this because for a while, I was thinking she might be from Cincinnati (they somehow sound the same to me). I also know this because I use Google Maps in lieu of a brain.
The woman hates warm weather and lives for mountains and skiing. I’m a fair-skinned redhead, so I’m with her on the anti-heat movement but for different reasons. I, for example, could be perfectly happy living in Seattle. RAINY DAYS are my 100% favorite days. I love them more than any other day and welcome weeks of it! It’s why I’ve enjoyed the Florida weather this summer. While hot, but nothing like Texas hot which is similar to walking behind a bus, each day around 3:00pm, the skies would darken and thunder, then a mini storm would grab hold for twenty minutes before losing its grip, the windshields the only telltale.
After choosing pumpkins we threaded our way to the corn maze, making mention of the woman on the news recently, the one who’d called 911 to report her family missing in the fields. ”How totally Halloween,” we agreed. Our girls were still racing, and while we tried to carry on more get-to-know-you conversation, we’d get off in fits and starts, forgetting where we were before we’d interrupted to lean toward the children, to correct them, to tell them to stay closer.
“Wait for Luke, he’s younger and can’t keep up.”
“Abigail, you must stay where you can always see me.”
But they were little darting firecrackers, bundles of energy and laughter and flight. We finally agreed they could run, but only in circles around us. They circled us, then careered out of the maze, emptying out to the dirt path where we’d begun.
We followed after and looked to hold their hands now that we were out near the creek where a 10-foot alligator was sunning himself. The backyards of Manhattan have rats. Texas has rattlesnakes. Florida gets ALLIGATORS. With each move, the natives get increasingly menacing.
Not a plastic climbing toy for posed photographs and unruly play, it’s a live Floridian gator in the creek just outside the maze.
There was Gray and Luke, but where was my royal blue one?
I might shit myself over meaningless things—like when Abigail cut her own bangs at the root—but when the really big stuff happens, I’m remarkably calm… for a psycho.
I didn’t “scream.” Screaming is a throttled shriek. But shouting, calling out for someone, utilizes a different part of the throat. Shouting can come with a cupped hand, megaphone style. But with a scream, the deep of your throat opens, like the lid of a whistling kettle.
I called out her name over and again, pacing the fields quickly. Then, with a calm that seems to take over, I turn on my camera and flip through the digital photos to zoom in on a photo taken earlier in the day. “Here she is,” I tell strangers entering the maze with their own young ones. “This is what she’s wearing.”
My new friend and her husband search, too. I continue to call for her, then listen, but I cannot hear Abigail, any of her. I’m going to play the mother card now. The language that says, I win at this. Even when I’m losing in the parenting game, I win at knowing the flesh that was cleaved from me. A fitting Halloween description, no?
I know Abigail. I am her mother. I know her laugh. And while Phil never could distinguish between Lucas and Abigail’s cries over a baby monitor or otherwise, I know each intimately. I don’t just know their cries, voices, and laughs; I know their sighs. I hear nothing of Abigail’s right now.
My friend’s husband bolts off to fetch… the ladder. As I take this in, that they even have a ladder at the ready, I think, “there should be children in the corn lifeguards on duty,” especially with this gator situation.
Here’s what’s running through my head: nothing. I’m still in this paralyzed state of confusion, where I’ve at once forgotten how to wheel through the photos of my camera. I’ve forgotten how to zoom. It is the feeling you get when you forget in which row it was you parked, or when you enter your bedroom but can’t remember why you’re there. Obviously, you’re not there for sex, which never happens. So why? Then it hits you—you came to charge your phone, or to grab a receipt from your side table. Is a “stuck” moment, a brain fart, an Aldercocker Moment where everything becomes nothing. That’s how it felt. Suspended in time, empty.
I showed strangers what I could of her photo, “Can you see what she’s wearing?” I ask, still unsure how to zoom. I’m frozen nerves, except I’m also calm; it is true. Because who comes to a pumpkin patch wanting to kidnap an over-sugared wild child? No one. So, I’m not scared that she’ll be kidnapped. I’m sure it will be sorted out and that we’ll of course find her. I’m sure of it. How far could she have gone?
The maze has its own zip code, and I have no idea if there are other entranceways, but I doubt it. My only fear is that she’ll realize she’s lost, then scramble through stalks, recognize the pumpkins in the distance, then head toward them. Imagine we’re all combing stalks, arms distance apart, and she’s lost in a knot of people, in an entirely different section of the fair? Also, between the corn field and the pumpkins is another creek, possibly populated with other Floridian natives. If she’s focused on getting out to the patch, she’s not going to notice where she’s stepping, and she could stumble and fall in.
My friend touches me on the arm and tells me her husband has found her. “Abigail’s not even scared, I swear. The two of you are the coolest, calmest, people I know.” She doesn’t know us.
I crouch to Abigail’s level. She’s giving me the scared face she gives when she feels bad about something she’s done, when she knows I’m reeling. I open my arms, and she leaps into them. I hug her and hold her. Neither of us cries. But the rest of the day, we cling to each other, like a stick sweet mother-daughter combo that wears matching catalog clothing. I can live with this.
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