I had seen my mother like that once, when I was a young girl. She was standing on the porch holding the screen door and looking out over the cornfield, calling to me.
I had been hiding in the cellar, playing a trick on her, but I came out when her voice reflected a twinge of desperation and fear. This was new and brought me out of the cellar and into my mother’s arms. That day she hugged me tighter than ever before and stroked my hair and whispered my name over and over.
She held me at arm’s length and looked at me intently, and I got scared. “What’s wrong, mommy?” my rising fear reflecting the intensity of my mother’s stare.
“Nothing,” she replied, “I just missed you.” We walked back into the house holding hands, the reassurance of each other’s grasp calming us and carrying us back into our familiar, comfortable world.
It was years before I understood my mother’s anxiety. She never spoke of it, she just said, “Someday you will understand.”
It was not until my mother was gone and I was married with a child of my own; a fresh-faced little girl, named Victoria - full of life and wonder, who spent hours wandering the farm digging up precious treasures lost by generations of careless ancestors, placing each new item carefully in the box she kept under her bed, in the same spot where I had stored my own keepsakes years before.
It was on a Thursday. I was making lunch and looked out at the cornfield where Victoria had been playing. The knee-high corn rustled slightly in the breeze, but there was no other movement. No prancing, skipping little girl. No curious artifact hunter. Just the corn, swaying slowly in the gentle summer wind.
A shudder ran through me and I felt the sharp pain of losing my daughter, experiencing a flash of anxiety about where she had gone, and in the same instant understanding for the first time that my daughter was going to grow up and leave me. Not today, but someday. I went to the back porch and swung open the screen door, calling out her name.
When I received no response, I called again. A touch of desperation edged into my voice as the possibility of not seeing Victoria again nibbled at the edges of my consciousness. A gentle dread started to creep through me, bringing with it an emptiness that frightened me even more. I called out her name again, this time a plea for the rising darkness inside of me to stop.
When I heard my daughter’s voice and saw her coming out of the cellar, I ran to her and took her into my arms, squeezing her tight enough to push away all the darkness and fear, whispering her name over and over.
I had seen my mother like this once before. And now I understood.