An exploding moment.
One that stretches out inexorably like a slow motion sequence in film.
When tragedy occurs at breakneck speed, but your body cannot catch up; cannot speed up to stop it.
My four year-old teetered on the edge of a boulder that stretched in a line of them on the causeway. My mind was already fast-forwarding to the next scene, the one where her battered and broken body lay below or plunged into the icy depths of water beyond.
My voice exploded from my lungs in a staccato screech more piercing than that of the gulls above.
“Michael, the baby, the baby, she’s going to go over the edge, get the baby!”
Stuck to that spot by fear, I didn’t spring forward; I shook my arms, I stamped my feet. I screamed for her father to do it.
He saved her, while reprimanding me for just standing there. If I were going to have such a violent reaction to it, surely I’d do something about it . . .
In the instant replay, she hadn’t been teetering on the edge. She’d been dancing on the top, but not close to falling below. From my vantage point, it looked like she’d surely fall away from me.
From my vantage point.
My nine year-old watched me in the moments that followed. I caught her studying me. Sizing me up. Not like a cruel critic, but as if she might be wondering just what my vantage point was. What would make me screech like holy hell at a threat that no one else perceived. Like she’d just had her first cognizant look at her mother’s mental illness.
I felt shamed. I felt like she’d seen the ugly underbelly that, between my disguises and her naivete, I’d managed to hide until now. That now she had seen the irrational powers that ruled me.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think I should explain it away – and didn’t have the words even if I thought I should. I returned her gaze and pulled her into a hug.
A little while later, I watched her as she stood at the shoreline, hands dug deep into her pockets, jeans tucked expertly into her boots. She is becoming a young woman. Yet, in the wake of the waves crashing upon the shore, she looked so small.
And I thought – is that why we come to the ocean? To be reminded of how small we are? How insignificant in the face of the universe? Comforting to think that our worries are but grains of sand. But suffocating to think of the press of dangers and concerns able to crush us out in one single second.
Which vantage point will my daughter take? Will she recoil from the threat around every corner, refusing to turn and meet it? Or will she refuse to be frozen by fear and tackle her problems head on? Will she see my struggles as problems or failings on my part? Or will she see that I soldiered on in spite of them?
This screenplay is an on-going saga. If only I had the control.