I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone before, partly because it makes me sound slightly crazy:
About fifteen or so years ago, when my oldest daughter Holly was around eleven, I thought I had received a visit from her from the future. See? I told you….
Ok, full confession, I have always had a special fondness for time travel plots. But, I swear, this just ….happened. I was walking my dog in our new neighborhood, we had just moved that past winter into a house in a different part of our Connecticut town, and I was exploring an unfamiliar path that kept winding around in confusing ways. One minute I was on a suburban, impeccably landscaped cul de sac, the next I was in a dark forest, the next an un mowed field, my dog Phoebe ecstatically dolphining in and out of wild flowers and weeds that, on this early summer day, came up to mid thigh. I was pleasantly lost, not quite sure how to navigate my way home. I had a couple of hours before I had to go and pick up my kids from day camp, and my new neighborhood seemed exceptionally quiet, no kids playing, no cars going by. I remember having this passing thought….where is everyone?
It was just Phoebe and me for quite some time, I am guessing more than half an hour. And then, suddenly, we turned out of the woods and back on to a street, with a stop sign intersection. As I put the leash back on her a car seemed to appear out of nowhere and pull up to the stop sign. Curious, I looked at the driver. She was a strikingly lovely young woman in her mid to late twenties. People that age were exotic creatures in Weston. With the exception of a tiny town center and the public school, it is completely residential, all single family homes. No industry, no apartments, virtually no rentals, no nightlife. No young adults. This woman and I looked at each other, and she broke into such a warm, friendly I know you smile I thought for a moment she must not be looking at me, she must be looking at…who? Someone behind me on this desolate street? She had auburn long curls, huge blue eyes, pale skin, and looked to be petite. My daughter Holly had long auburn (maybe slightly lighter) curls, huge blue eyes, pale skin and was petite. Holly doesn’t really look much like me, her mother, at all, but she looked so much like her, this…appartition. From her appearance, this woman, SHE could have been Holly’s mother, except, no, she was only about fifteen years older….so maybe she could be her older sister….no, wait, it’s HOLLY, Holly at a different age, Holly all grown up. And she seems so HAPPY, and she clearly wants me to know that she is so HAPPY. These thoughts tumbled through my head without me thinking them in what had to be just a few seconds. It was as if I was hearing these thoughts in an excited, breathless voice. They were very shortly followed by another kind of voice, a deep, knowing, Morgan Freeman kind of one —you do realize that this is all completely nuts. Beyond surprised, I doubt I even returned the smile before the woman, who seemed to be in on some private joke and amused by the whole encounter, gave me a very friendly WAVE before driving off. I never saw her again.
This all came back to me recently when for some reason I realized that Holly is now around the same age that her apparition had appeared to be. Only, of course, she doesn’t really look like that woman. Perhaps not so oddly, that woman’s face is etched into my memory. Apart from the fact that Holly now dyes her auburn hair and they no longer fall into ringlets, she just doesn’t particularly resemble her. So, in case you are wondering, no, that wasn’t Holly. No, I am not insane. And, even at the time, while somewhat enjoying my fantastical narrative, I had a sense that this was a moment when something, whatever you want to call it, was trying to tell me something. Perhaps it was that eleven year old Holly was not going to stay in my life, nor was (at the time) eight year old Lily. I knew it intellectually, but I had no idea how different 12 year old Holly would be from 11 year old Holly, and monumentally different thirteen year old Holly would be from either of them.
I purposely do not post close up or recent photos of my daughters, nor do I use their real names, in order to try and at least somewhat protect their privacy. But, just to illustrate my last point, how different a child can look/be at, for instance, ten and thirteen, I submit to you two images, taken, like an objective mug shot by my orthodontist, of me at those ages:
It seems to me that the girl on the right barely resembles her younger self, and not just physically. That older girl KNOWS things that the younger one simply can’t. This is not the least bit scientific, but it FEELS like the ten year old no longer exits, whereas, somewhere in me, the thirteen year old does, or is at least much more recognizable to the fully adult me.
When my daughter Lily was twelve up until the time she was around fifteen, she was just the best companion. We liked to do so many of the same things, Pilates, hikes, going to the movies or especially theatre. Holly was in high school then, and very pulled into her social group as well as athletic and academic responsibilities. Lily had friends who we often included, but she also enjoyed spending time alone with me, or with my husband and me. Lily was so EASY in those early teen years, actually unusually so. She was kind of like….sure, whatever you want. She was so interested and interesting at that age, open, transparent, wanting advice and then….the door closed. In her case, it was still left a bit ajar, but I got the message. It wasn’t like there was one particular week or month that I can point to, but around her sixteenth birthday it changed and she began to rely more on her peers than me. And it was completely normal. And it was a loss.
Sometimes I will indulge myself and watch a video of my kids when they were young, but more often than not I find it painful. I am trying to sort out what, truly, I am missing. Some of it is their silliness, their young personalities, their high pitched giggling, the bossiness, the playfulness, the ridiculous games they would invent or plays they would put on. But some of it is missing that time in my life. That particular pile of clutter next to the phone (permission slips for upcoming field trips, pediatrician check up notices, old worksheets from earlier in the year that should have been thrown away) panned over quickly by the video camera, will just sink me. It’s gone, all gone. Not just them, not just 5 and 8 year old Lily and Holly, but that house, that moment, and, even though we mostly see just our kids on the screen, my much younger self, all that joyful energy moving in and out and around all four of us, that time in our marriage when so much more lay ahead rather than behind. Yikes.
But then….huh?….if I see videos of myself and my husband (then boyfriend) and other friends when we are still in our twenties, there is a melancholy of the time passing but we are THERE, recognizably ourselves in those videos. My little kids are more like other people, people who have disappeared, gone from the planet. And this has nothing to do with not loving and appreciating the interesting adults they have become and are still becoming.
As I have said elsewhere, I don’t often miss being the mommy, but I do miss six year old Lily with her glasses and strawberry blonde bob, Holly at eight posting her tiny body up and down on a pony in her first riding lessons, a million visuals that I tend to curate towards the happy, the sunny, the optimistic. Because of course it wasn’t all wonderful. There was disappointment and worry and mad rushes to emergency rooms and the sounds of one of my darling daughters sobbing herself to sleep with a heartbreak I couldn’t soothe.
Maybe that apparition was letting me know that Holly would be ok. She had been going through a bit of a rough patch with a friend group in fourth (fifth?) grade, and at the time it all felt pretty big. Of course it wasn’t, but maybe that young woman appeared (and, sorry, but she DID appear) for me to interpret that Holly would be fine, to try not to worry. I don’t know. I don’t know why it happened and I don’t know why it has popped back up into my head with such clarity. The woman at the stop sign seemed so happy, excited, even, to see me, and gave me such a friendly good-bye wave. She would be in her early forties by now. I can’t help but wonder, if just for a moment….how is she doing?