It was a hot, dusty afternoon. I had loaded up my six kids into the van with a firm reprimand to the teenagers that I "EXPECTED" them to have fun. My husband was off working for the day, and our community was celebrating in fine, small town summer fashion.
The carnival was here and so was the rodeo. There was a park full of musicians and children's performers. We parked. I loaded the babies into the little red wagon I tend to prefer over my cumbersome double stroller and we seven, together, walked into the crowd of people.
"Look!" The urgent tone in my son's voice made me pause and follow the line of his finger.
"That's HER? Right? Right?!?"
And it was. Now four and a half years old and not the toddler he remembered but the still same little girl that was their sister for a precious year. We all stopped and stared.
We didn't approach her. I would never approach her. But we stared.
"Look how long her hair is!"
"Wow, she is big!"
"I miss her mommy"
"She is so, so precious"
And then "Why is she by herself mom?"
The longer we watched, the more it became apparent that she was alone. And scared. And lost. Her look changed from playful, to fearful, to terrified. Seconds, and then minutes passed. And tears began to fill her eyes as she scanned the large crowd of people looking for a familiar face.
As did I.
Where was She that took her from me? Where was the one responsible for her? Why is MY BABY alone in this crowd of people? Why was she scared and crying and feeling alone?
Oh God what are you doing to me.
I called her name. The name etched on my heart for eternity. I am not even sure I meant to, but there was something in me that could not let her stand right there in front of me, mere yards away, and suffer.
For the first time in three years I called out her name in a tone and voice that once meant Mama to her. And she turned instantly and ran the thirty feet across a dusty parking lot and without once looking at my face she wrapped herself around my legs.
"I was lost" she sobbed, "I couldn't find anyone".
She pulled back from my legs and looked at me. Calmer now, but utterly confused she realized she didn't recognize me, yet had ran to me because she thought she had.
She knew my voice, she didn't know my face.
On my knees, I wrapped my arms around and her and promised her it would be OK. Encircled by my standing sons who just simply stared in awe at what was happening, I told her my name was Jen. That once, a long long time ago I was a special friend and that I would help her find that who she was searching for.
"I was really scared" she said, tears still streaming down her face.
I have begged God. Begged. Just one more hug. Please God I need one more chance to tell her I love her. I need to feel her weight in my arms just one more time. I need that chance to whisper to her that I will never, ever forget. Just.One.More.Moment. Please, God. Please.
Now? Here? Oh God I cannot do this. I cannot believe this is happening. Please let me remember this. Let me savor every single second. This is going to end. Oh God this is going to end too soon.
With instructions to my sons to keep looking for the missing grownup, I took my finger and tucked her hair behind her ear, and took my sleeve and wiped the dusty tears from her face.
"When you were a little, tiny baby and were feeling sad or scared I would sing you this song and it would make you smile"
And there, on that dusty, packed dirt parking lot, surrounded by 1000s of people bustling around to enjoy the celebrations of the day oblivious to a mother's broken heart, the cry of that heart was heard as she sang a lullaby to big girl sitting on her lap.
Tanner came back, having spotted who we were all looking for, oblivious to the parking lot drama, sitting a fair distance away visiting with a friend.
"I love you so much. I never want you to forget that you are a loved and beautiful girl"
I stood her up. I placed her hand in Tanner's and promised her that he was a big, safe boy who loved her very much too and he would take where she needed to go.
She walked off once again with a smile on her face, holding the hand of my son as he pointed her in the right direction and she scrambled off from a past she doesn't remember to happily reunite with her present.
And I cried. A blessing I had begged for. A curse that ripped off the scab of healing.
And it took me six months to be able to write about.