This book has been an obsession since I started it last year. Unfortunately, I’ve had to set it aside several times for pressing deadlines, leaving it as about 35,000 words, which is where it still stands. One of my goals this year is to finish it.
This is the first chapter, which doesn’t really hint at the fantasy element in the rest of the book. But this is me we’re talking about, so trust me; it’s there. You can get another hint about the book from the picture.
Hope you enjoy it!
I tried not to look suspicious as I sat across the street from the school, waiting for the kids to stream out the back door.
I shouldn’t have been worried. I’d been careful to dress like the moms I saw in the grocery store, the ones wearing faded jeans and stretched out t-shirts, their hair usually in a ponytail or cut short for minimal styling.
I’d forgone my usual skinny jeans and black t-shirt, digging a cardigan out of my bottom drawer to wear in place of my leather jacket. I hadn’t worn the sweater since Abby’s last birthday, and I’d lifted it to my nose when I pulled it from the drawer, inhaling deeply. It was stupid. It wouldn’t smell like her, and I wouldn’t know if it did. Like so many things about Abby, I could only imagine what she smelled like.
I’d finally put the sweater on, getting a whiff of wool and old wood as I tugged it up over my shoulders. I’d pulled my long brown hair into a ponytail and slipped on some tennis shoes before getting in the car and driving across town to Verrazano Elementary School. I knew it was Abby’s school both because I’d used the Moser’s address to look it up on the district map and because Grace Moser had mentioned it in her yearly letter, something that made me squirm a little in the car, guilt worming its way through my veins.
Grace wouldn’t like the idea of me sitting across from the school, watching Abby. It’s not that she would be angry. She’d just wonder why, if I was starved for a glimpse of my daughter, I didn’t take her and Dan up on their offer to have me over. And that was something I’d never be able to explain. I couldn’t even think about it long enough to explain it to myself.
A breeze, the perfect mix of late summer warmth chased by the slightest chill, drifted through the open car window as a bell cut through the air. I sat up straighter, eyes trained on the school. Ten seconds later the side doors opened with a clang, and a stream of small bodies emerged, some bounding down the steps, others showing more caution.
Abby was one of the first ones out. She hit the blacktop behind the school with so much speed the momentum seemed to carry her forward, her blond hair streaming out behind her like a handful of yellow ribbons. My hands rose from my lap, reaching for the window, as if I could catch her from where I sat in the car.
But she didn’t fall. She just kept running, her pale legs bare under a green dress.
My breath caught in my throat. She was bigger than she’d been last year, just like she’d been bigger last year than the year before that. For a minute, I saw it; the years and years ahead when I would only bear silent witness to Abby’s growth. Years when the loss of her would etch itself deeper into my bones until they were worn as smooth as a river stone.
I shut the thought down before it could cripple me.
I lifted the picture in my hand, comparing it to the little girl running back and forth across the playground, playing tag with some of the other kids.
Abby’s hair was longer now. Ditto her legs. Her face was slightly less round, and every now and then, I thought I caught a glimpse of the girl she would be in a few years. I tried to project myself forward five, six, seven Septembers into the future, to see her sitting with other girls at recess, their heads bowed as they shared secrets and talked about classmates.
Then again, that was just the way I imagined it would be. The way I hoped it would be for Abby. The truth was, I didn’t have a clue. My own childhood had been about as far from normal as you could get. But normal was what I was hoping for for Abby. What it had been all about.
I watched her run, her laugh falling through the air like glitter. I wondered if her happiness was a product of her environment or if it was some kind of throwback gene, some long-lost chromosome that allowed her to play and smile and be carefree without worrying and wondering and being afraid. She definitely didn’t get it from me.
I took one last look, committing every detail to memory even though I knew Grace would send me a picture taken on this very day. She always sent me a birthday picture.
Still, this was the last time I’d see Abby in person until next year. I would need to call up the image of her countless times to make the journey from now to then, and I drank her in until my heart was so full of her it felt like it would explode.
“Happy birthday, Abby,” I said softly.
I put the picture back in my purse and started the car.
* * *
It had been an open adoption. Not because that’s how I wanted it, but because Daniel and Grace Moser didn’t believe in keeping secrets. And I had my heart set on Daniel and Grace Moser.
I’d looked through hundreds of profiles before I’d chosen them. Daniel was a Senior Vice President for a computer consulting company. Grace was an artist who liked to cook and wanted to stay home with their adopted child. They made a good living, but not enough to make them a member of the financially elite. I liked that. I wanted Abby to have a happy, stable home. I wanted her to have a normal life. Extremes went both ways, and while I didn’t want her to worry about where her next meal was coming from, I didn’t want her to become some stuck-up little bitch who thought she was better than everyone else, either.
The Mosers were perfect. Sweet and sincere, Grace had the kind of inherent warmth that made me wish she was my mother. Daniel was a big, solid man with intelligent eyes. I liked the way he put his hand on Grace’s back when they’d entered the room at the adoption agency, the way he seemed to watch over her even when we were just talking. They talked about how they liked classical music but listened to Otis Redding when they cooked dinner, and I had a flash of my child, dancing around a homey kitchen to Sitting on the Dock of the Bay or doing homework with Brahms playing the background.
Choosing them had felt right, inevitable. They’d supported me through my pregnancy without being obnoxious, giving me small gifts to make me more comfortable and covering all of my medical expenses. But they never intruded. Never asked questions about what I was eating or whether I was taking the prenatal vitamins or getting enough rest.
Maybe they just knew they didn’t need to worry. For once, it had been easy to be good to myself because everything I did for myself was really for Abby.
After Abby was born and they’d taken her home, Grace and Dan had offered to have me over. It was a standing invitation, they’d said when I declined. As Abby got older, they even offered to tell her I was a family friend, if it would make me more comfortable.
But I just couldn’t. I felt like if I saw her up close, the scream that had been building inside me since the night I’d let her go might finally wrench itself free, and I’d never be able to stop. I’d consigned my memories of her birth to the shadowy place in my heart, the place where I swept all the things I couldn’t bear to think about. I allowed myself one day a year — this day — to see her. To think about her. I was already shuffling through life. Already trying to find a way forward, a way to navigate the world and the people around me the way everyone else seemed to do so easily, so effortlessly.
It was all I could do. I’d already learned that spending too much time in the past would undo me completely.