“I Will Never Leave You”

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Tilt.

Memorial Day has come and gone. Last year, I stood in the  spitting rain and watched electric guitarists make music  and  acquaintances get  drunk  and  I  heeded  the guidance from both friends and the Ether to “play more.” This year, for Memorial  Day, all I did was  work, once again playing catch-up so that I could get my house in order and make preparations. No, this year, nothing  whispers “Play more.” This year, it’s “Get ready.”

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

And yet, somewhere between the strained muscle beneath my shoulder and a dozen huge garbage bags of old files and trash I hauled to the garage, I managed a half-power powerwalk  with Shannon, with me moving stiffly as a result of so many patio blocks I’ve hauled to the back yard, and then a driving lesson a little later.

Our conversations tend to start with a kernel of some- thing and then zigzag all over Kingdom Come. Today we zigzagged to the idea of life coaches and a recent experience where  I genuinely  helped someone by  taking  her back to a specific moment when she was 3 years old and her  feelings  for  a  departed  family  member  were  discounted by another and how an adult’s reprimand at that young age shaped her entire existence and founded a pat- tern of her feelings not being as important as others  in her family.

When Shannon mentioned a terrible fear as a small child of being abandoned, I knew exactly where it came from.

Her dad and I always made a big deal over letting the girls know  that  we would never ever abandon them, no matter what. It’s a promise I’ve stuck by, and always will, no matter what may happen in their lives or mine. I will always be there for my girls.

Yet, in spite of the promises, it’s always been a fear for Shannon, and I trace it back for her, to something I witnessed that was horrible and cruel and made me swear right then that I would never do that to a child of mine. Shannon couldn’t have been more than 2 years old. Her dad and I had gone to dinner, a rare occasion then, and had taken her along. She was well-behaved, as usual, and it  was  not  uncommon for  other  restaurant  patrons  to drop by our table and comment  on what a great kid we had. For the record, we never allowed our kids to roam the restaurant, hang off other people’s chairs, throw rolls across the room, scream, etc. Yes, good kids. On this particular night in my memory, a little boy slightly older than Shannon had also accompanied his parents to the restaurant. He ran  freely about the dining room, hung on the back of my chair, threw rolls  at  other diners, screamed, etc. No, not a good kid when it came to dining out. And his  parents were  oblivious.  I was  pissed.  After  all,  we couldn’t afford to eat out often back then, and my meal was repeatedly disturbed  by this kid climbing on the back of my chair while his parents sat six feet away.

Shannon, however, was fascinated. Here was a kid just a little older than she was and allowed to do all sorts of things she wasn’t allowed to do. When the parents were ready to leave, the noisy little brat was playing under their table, possibly eating food off the floor and probably unscrewing the tabletop from its base. The parents seemed to notice the child for the first time as they called him once, then announced loudly, “We’re leaving you.” Then walked out.

From where my ex and I sat, we could see the couple outside the dining room, in the restaurant  foyer, settling the check. But Shannon, in  her high chair, couldn’t see them. To her, the parents really had left. And to the little boy, who eventually looked up from his spot under the table and didn’t see his parents, they really had left.

I will never forget the look on that child’s face. First searching, then fear, then terror. He scrunched up his little face and went running  for the door, crying, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me!”

Never mind that if the kid had not been “Red Chief” straight out  of the O’Henry  story about a little hellion, any one of the patrons could have grabbed him and left town by the time the parents noticed him again. But for Shannon,  seeing  what  that  child’s  parents  did  out of thoughtlessness triggered her worst fears. If other parents would leave a  tiny child behind for not being good or mindful or obedient, then what would stop any other parent,  including  her  own,  from doing  the  same?  That’s when I promised her I would never leave her. Interesting how things move in circles, because it was a year ago this weekend  at  a  Memorial  Day  party  where  two  moms about my age told me with great  amusement  how they often tormented their kids for fun. Small entertainments, such as driving them down a road where they’d often told the child that other bad children had been dropped off there  and  the  animal  bones  alongside  the  road  were where the children had starved  to death or died in the cold…or how erroneously addressed mail was actually for the fictitious older sibling the parents had supposedly discarded for being bad and how easily they could repeat that practice if necessary.

I haven’t  seen  either  of  those  moms  since.  And  I don’t really care to see either of them ever again. I can’t imagine ever antagonizing my kids like that, not now and certainly not when they were tiny.

I walked  away  from  those  two  laughing  women, grabbed a six-pack  of bubble juice out of the car, and blew bubbles in the back yard for the next hour for several tiny boys to chase while I listened to the bands. It was either that or burst into tears.