End of the work week, bevvies, date nights, house parties, Netflix and chill, me time.
Every other Friday is also the day I go with my partner to pick Little up as she will be staying the week with us. This has been relatively new. It has been three months, give or take, so far. Maybe one day I will have the guts (and clarity) to write about how this all came to be, but today is not one of those days. I have always loved picking her up. We built a ritual where I would hide her snacks in my pockets so that she can look for them. She would run over, pat me down and do a whole thing about how she wanted this snack or that. On our way home she would tell me about her day while doing a sort of kiddie parkour and I would rush her home because I would need to get dinner on the table for the family. It was new every single time. It was fun. It was great.
Since the separation a few months ago, however, we have been having some difficulty setting a rhythm for pick-up because of the summer holidays and so forth. But every time we go now, there is an immediate sense of anxiety and panic even before reaching the school or the meeting place. How is she going to be this time? Will she scream and cry for her mother? How long will it take before she calms down?
I have been close with Little since the first day I met her, when she was still in her nappies. The memory I have of her from that day is when she began to grimace at me while holding the edge of the coffee table. I was so confused and worried until I realise that she was looking at me while doing a poo. Standing up. In the living room. I remember playing horsey with her so much that she started calling me Horsey, instead of my name. I remember when she started developing the habit of asking me really deep questions about life and love at really weird moments (like when we were taking a shower). I remember when she started using drawings to describe how she felt when she would throw a fit. Our relationship is special in the sense that she is not my biological daughter, but we have a bond that goes beyond traditional understandings of family ties.
I love her more than life itself and seeing her in pain– knowing that she is suffering– rips my heart out. I know that when she cries when she sees me now is not personal, that when she screams for her mom now it’s not because of me. I know that, but that understanding has not made its way to my body yet.
The panic was well on its way of rushing through my body several hours before pick-up time, despite my telling myself the things that I know (that she loves me, that I love her, that she has fun with us, that we nurture her and that we just need time). I felt myself getting squirrelly walking with the traffic rushing past me and with people coming up behind me. I tried to steady my breath, but all I can think about is her little face and how she howled the last time I picked her up to start the weekend. I tried to counterbalance this with memories of last week, when she first started school and when she spent the week with us. How she asked me to draw something for her to leave in her backpack so that when she’s nervous, she could look at it. How she asked me to “forget” to put her afternoon snacks in her bag so that she could possibly see me when I drop them off at the gate during lunchtime. But to no avail. By the time we reached the gate, Little was nowhere to be seen. We asked after her and told her teacher that she is meant to go home with us at this time. Waiting for what seemed like hours with her tiny scooter in hand, with parents and kids crowding around us, I finally saw her and the look she had on her face.
Framed by a mess of sweaty hair was the look of pure disappointment.
At that moment I felt myself melting into the ground, leaving only my head sticking out of the ground, screaming but with no voice and to no one in particular.
I never ever, ever want her, or Big, to have the burden of managing my feelings, but this is the pain that I am feeling every other Friday and the only sane way of managing it is by letting myself feel it and ride through it.
The only way out is through.