Originally posted February 2009 and specially requested by a favorite reader of mine! This is actually the most favorite thing I've written and the only thing I've written that makes my own self cry...
I miss my daughter, though she is not even gone. I see her reflected in my rear view mirror as I drive her to preschool. She is four and a half and in her face are both the rounded features of a toddler and fleeting glimpses of a teen. Her expressions and mannerisms reshape her babyhood into something resembling budding maturity. Soon, the little girl I cuddle and cover with kisses will be a blurred memory, jogged only by photographs. I watch her in an animated discussion with her cousin who is spending the week with us. Their heads tilt together forming an inverted V. Silken threads of hair gently overlap and hang like a privacy curtain from my parental gaze. They whisper and giggle, the cadence of their child-voices a melodic hum under the dominant beat of a Hannah Montana CD.
My daughter catches my eye in the mirror, and barely registers or returns my smile. "Can you turn this song up, Mom?" she asks with nonchalance. I oblige, aware that her world revolves around a different sun now. It rises and sets with her older cousin, her best friend, the one she emulates and admires. In her presence, I fade into the background; a haggard, boring old mother though just yesterday I was the beautiful Queen of her Universe. It certainly is bitter sweet when you notice your children inching away from you. Oblivious to the distance they have drifted until they are skimming the horizon, too far to see you as you wave goodbye.
As my four year old is at school I commence the rituals of my day, youngest two children in tow. I run errands, visit the library, go through the car wash, fetch the starched shirts, fix the cheese sandwiches. All the while, I feel a dull ache in the center of my being. It exists everywhere and nowhere; both overwhelming and depleting me. Not quite longing, not quite grief, not quite heart break, but reminiscent of all three. A familiar yet uninvited feeling. It's the verge of tears, the echo of emptiness, the cost of loving, needing, and wanting. The place in the pit of your stomach, the center of your chest, the swell of your throat. You know it is there because you feel where it is not. It's "The Missing."
The Missing overtakes me at infrequent intervals, never when I expect it so seldom am I prepared. Curiously, I am missing my four year old today. However, I have been missing the eldest of my four girls, my teenage daughter, her entire lifetime. I miss her though she is right there in front of my eyes. I see her. I touch her, yet she is not there. Autism has taken her place. Her permanent stand-in. The understudy who staged a bloodless coup. I miss the voice I have never heard in the conversations we never had. I miss the girl I never knew and the woman she'll never become. I miss the family I thought we would be and the life I thought I would live.
The Missing pulses beneath my skin with a current of its own. It's a slow bleed. It stays hidden most of the time, not only from others but from my own consciousness. I am convinced that I feel whole, complete, normal; then the currents shift and suddenly hollowness in my soul is exposed. Waves of tearfulness swell and are swallowed. The Missing gains strength in the shadow of my subconscious, subtly influencing my mood by inviting me to drop into bed early some nights, feeling exhausted, empty, aching, and inexplicably sad.
Today I will feel The Missing. Tomorrow I will wake up restored to equilibrium. Emotionally recalibrated. Or so I think. Or so I pretend. I will watch my four year old as she drifts away from me, incrementally, in spurts and fits. All the while, we'll both try to hang on and let go with a simultaneous dysrhythmia. I'll watch her two younger sisters follow suit, in their own time, in their own style. It shouldn't be any other way, nor would I ever long for it to be. I'll burst with pride, love, and joy as they navigate the world without holding my hand. I'll watch them transform into grown-up versions of who they are now. They will go, imperceptibly at first and then as if overnight. I'll watch them, one at a time, as they slowly recede into the distance of my rear view mirror. I'll watch them all go - save one. One will remain with me always. The one I'll never know. The one I miss the most. The one who is already gone.