By Nancy Smith
Web Exclusive - September 29, 2008
Long ago, there was a little girl who pranced through our living room in the guise of a fairy. She was four-years-old with blond, curly hair, cheeks like ripe peaches, and a canary-eating grin, both prideful and shy. She had on a light pink leotard, a short skirt of lavender and teal that looked like the petals of a flower, and wings made of wire and crimson satin. In her small hand she held a wand—a yellow star on a wooden stem with long, multicolored ribbons flowing from its base. She was fairy Emma. She was unburdened, free, and in the magical years of life.
Last night I came home from sharing a few beers with friends. Our conversation was friendly, familiar, and fed me for the evening. By the time my head hit the pillow, it was well past 11 PM. I fell to sleep quickly with the parting thoughts of rising early to attend my exercise class and do penance for my earlier consumption. Around 12:45 AM I was startled awake by my 20-year-old daughter, my fairy Emma all grown up. This girl, this outwardly competent, beautiful young college sophomore was at my bedside, waking me from sleep. She needed me.
"Mama," she whispered, "could you come down to my room for a little and talk to me?"
Ugh, I thought, I'm tired. I'm so tired, yet, as always, my priority is my child, my fairy. I gather glasses, robe, quickly pee, and follow the darkened hall to her room.
We sit on her bed and I quietly ask, "What's wrong, sweetie?"
She begins to softly cry—it's him; it's the unknown; it's a scaly patch on her arm; it's the inability to find sleep and composure. She cautiously asks, "Can you just lie with me for a while?"
We turn out the lights. I take off my glasses and nestle under the covers with fairy Emma.
At 20-years-old, Emma is three inches taller than I am, yet here we are together in the darkness. We talk and I work to calm the anxiety that is overwhelming her, robbing her of ease and kind breath. He called her today. He called her and told her he was an idiot; he wished he'd done things differently; he missed her. Saying it brings a measure of tranquility to her chest. She is not crying anymore. Her voice is soft, sad, wounded. I stroke her arm while trying to push away the sleep that was mine only a few moments ago.
I do my best to give my wisest motherly advice and then ask, "What is in your heart?"
I touch her hair, her arm, her hip. Mostly, I am amazed that I am in bed with my 20-year-old daughter. Beyond the rawness of her broken heart and the fear of a dry patch on her smooth, right shoulder, is my concern for her inability to self-sooth, to calm her own chaos. What if she were not here? What if she were back at school? What would she be doing if her mother were not mere footsteps away, if her mama were not willing to beg off her own sleep and climb into bed with her daughter to create warmth, safety, connection? I wonder, what happened to my fairy Emma?
Our conversation eventually subsides. She will talk with him tomorrow to try and navigate through this relationship. She will call the doctor and make an appointment to have the spot looked at which has caused so much angst. We fall into silence with just the sound of the clock and the rustle of silk curtains billowing in a slight breeze. We spoon together without touching. I try to make my breathing deep and regular to will hers to do the same. I think about best-laid plans and how children never follow those, how your children are your children forever, how they will always need you, how I hope I can always be there for them. I listen to Emma's breathing. It is slowing, deepening. I let go enough to actually fall asleep as well. Around 3 AM I wake up not knowing where I am, then remembering, then listening. I reach for my glasses and quietly ease myself from covers, from bed. I pick my way over the piles of clothes and debris from a year at college which now create a second surface on the floor. I carefully open the door when I hear a soft, "thank you." I pause and kiss the air then make my way back to my own bed, the bed I share with my husband whose arm has been reaching over every hour or so to check for my hushed return.
"Are you all right? Is she all right?" he asks as I slip back into our warm bed.
"She was sad," I tell him softly. "We can talk more about it in the morning."
This has been a familiar pattern for me. She used to come to me often in the night for comfort, reassurance, warmth. I had always given it; I will always give it. She is my daughter. She is my fairy Emma.