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The Missing

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 4 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, this little girl will be a blurred memory jogged only by photographs. I watch her in an animated discussion with a friend, heads tilted together forming an inverted V. Silken hair gently swings and hangs together like a privacy curtain from my parental gaze.

She 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 certainly is bitter sweet to feel your children inching away from you. Oblivious to the distance they have drifted until they are skimming the horizon; too late to wave them back, too far to wave goodbye.

While my 4-year-old is at school, I commence the rituals of my day, youngest two children in tow. I 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. It's the verge of tears, the echo of emptiness, the cost of loving, needing, and wanting. It lives in the pit of my stomach, the center of my chest, the swell of my throat. 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 4-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 here in front of my eyes. I see her and touch her, yet she is not there. Traumatic brain damage from a series of seizures during infancy staged a bloodless coup, re-assembling the dream of what might have been into the heartache of what almost was.

The missing occupies my core, worm-holing into my marrow. Pulsing beneath my skin with a current of its own. It's a slow bleed. Scar tissue. A phantom limb. Its very presence often goes unnoticed by my busied mind. I am convinced that I feel whole, complete, normal. Then without warning or cause the currents shift and the hollowness in my soul is exposed, inviting me to drop into bed early feeling exhausted, empty, and inexplicably sad.

Today I will feel the missing. Tomorrow I will wake up restored to equilibrium, emotionally re-calibrated... or so I’ll pretend. Today I will watch my 4-year-old as she drifts away from me in spurts and fits. 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.  They will all go, imperceptibly at first and then as if overnight. I will watch them, one by one, as they slowly recede into the distance of my rear view mirror.   I will watch them all go, save one. The one I'll never know. The one I miss the most. The one who is already gone.

Categories: essays

Alicia DiFabio

Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D. is a freelance writer, blogger and published essayist with a doctorate in psychology. Her personal essays and parenting articles have appeared in various magazines and newspapers. She writes about her daily adventures in motherhood with four young girls, one of whom has multiple disabilities, at her blog Lost In Holland.
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