“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.”
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.