I heard your cries from my room where I wasn't sleeping.
It was 2 o'clock in the morning and I flipped over to my other side, adjusted my pillow and exhaled loudly. I closed my eyes and began to think about the next day; we would find out what we got on our Math test - I hope I got an "A", I'm pretty sure I only missed one...
An ice cold wave cut through me in less than a second as I remembered you, and I jumped to my feet and ran for the door so fast that I ran into it. I was propelled backwards from the impact and staggered to regain my footing. Grasping around in the dark for the doorknob, I found it and flung the door open so hard that it came right back at me and nearly got me again.
Your room was only a few doors down from mine. I ran inside and saw the shadow of your body sitting up in bed. My heart stopped beating as you reached your hand out towards me and choked out my name through your tears. I sat down on the bed across from you, grabbed your little 7 yr. old body and hugged you hard. You hugged me back and re-positioned yourself so you were on my lap, arms wrapped around my neck. I felt your tears on my neck and your body heaving with sobs.
"Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, shhhhhhh," I said over and over again as I rocked you back and forth, lips pressed to the side of your face. "It's OK, it's OK. I'm here. You're OK."
"I, I, I, miss, miss, miss...DADDY," you wailed. You were so upset that I could only make out bits and pieces of what you said for the next few minutes as you cried the kind of cry that only comes from a broken heart.
"Shhhhhhh, shhhhhh, I know. I know, baby girl. I know," my own voice broke in a muffled sob that stopped somewhere in my throat. We continued to rock back and forth together and soon your cries subsided to whimpers and catching of breath sounds.
"Is he going to come back?" you asked me quietly, still grasping me tightly with both arms around my neck.
"I don't know," I whispered in your hair.
"Why did he leave?"
"I don't know."
"Did I do something wrong?"
I disentangled myself from your grasp and pulled back just far enough so you could see my face. I needed you to hear me; needed you to see me; needed you to believe me.
"No. No. No, you did not. It doesn't have anything to do with you. He loves you very much," I said.
"But if he loves me, then why did he go?" you asked with genuine confusion in your voice.
I hesitated and grabbed you close again because I needed time to think. I needed to say the right thing. I couldn't let you down. But I couldn't break your heart again by lying and giving you false hope. I didn't answer for quite some time and you allowed the silence.
"He's confused and needs time to think," I answered finally. "It's like when we get in trouble and mom sends us to our room to think about what we did. It helps to be alone to think sometimes."
"Did he get in trouble for something?" you asked.
I realized in that moment how unprepared I was for this; how short I fell from where I wanted to be for you. And I felt a surge of anger that started in my stomach and slowly made its way up my throat and then out my eyes as silent tears fell unnoticed on the top of your head.
"No, it was an example. Hmmm, let me think of another one...you know how when I get home from school I go up to my room to write in my journal and I shut the door and I get mad at you guys when you come and bother me?" My throat ached with the tears I needed to cry and it made my voice sound funny but you didn't notice.
"Yeah," you said sheepishly.
"It's like that. When you get older, you will need to be alone sometimes to think and just be by yourself. It helps sometimes, you know," I said with as much resolution as I could muster.
"I don't like to be alone. I always want you to be with me," you said firmly.
"Then I will be," I answered quietly.
"That's what daddy said, too, and he left still," you said and looked up at me for answers.
"Yes, he did. He did. Now, I'm going to read you one little story and then you have to go back to sleep, OK?" I said brightly.
"Oh, yay! Can I pick out which one?" you asked as you leaped for your bookshelf.
"Yes, but I have to approve it," I answered. "We have to get some sleep before school tomorrow. So no long ones! I know how you work."
"Okayyyyyyy," you said, looking at me sideways because you had a long one in your hand and were hoping I didn't notice. I didn't have the heart to disappoint you and was sure you would fall asleep soon anyway so I didn't say anything. Smiling to myself, I gathered you in my lap and began to read. Soon enough, you fell asleep and I turned off the light, covered you up and went back to my room.
I remember crying myself to sleep that night and praying that mom or dad or both would come home soon because I felt like I was either going to die of heartbreak or drive myself crazy if I had to do this alone for much longer. The alarm woke me after sleeping for not much more than an hour and I shuffled down to the kitchen to make three lunches.