They were standing together, a group of female students. It was time for class, time to move inside. Without thinking, I lifted the bottom cluster of curls on one of my student’s shoulders and gave it a slight playful tug, saying, “All right, ladies. It’s time to go.”
As I turned from them, my breath caught and, in the next moment, my eyes filled. Walking into the classroom, I discreetly brushed away quick tears.
I had forgotten the gesture.
I loved Camila’s long wavy hair. It was so different from my own straight, thin strands. And I loved to touch it, especially those curls on the ends. They were the kind that would wrap right around my finger, as if they too wanted to cling.
I had forgotten that playful gesture, that special touch. It was one of my ways of touching Camila in passing. It was slight, non-intrusive. But it was touch for me and, as I turned from that young student, it was one I missed. My hand reached out – but did not find Camila’s familiar curls.
There have been other times a spontaneous gesture has taken me to a place of unexpected pain. Like everyone in the circle, I cannot recognize what will bring tears and what will bring laughter, and I cannot anticipate my body’s response or physical reaction. Muscle memory comes up from the heart.
The gestures of love are sometimes so small, so focused and quiet. Fingers lightly drawing across a forearm or resting briefly on a cheek, a brief squeeze on the shoulder or a slow press on neck muscle. I remember Camila moving her neck, dipping her head down into the pressure, enjoying the brief moment of massage.
All those touches, all those opportunities for contact.
I sometimes look down at my hands now and wonder at their stillness.
Since losing Camila, I sometime feel that I need to figure out my purpose, not just for my hands, but for my heart. Even as I fulfill my vocation – and find purpose in service and comfort in my students – I know my most intimate vocation has ended: to be that one person a child could trust to come every time they call.
There is something addictive about being needed, something so purely fulfilling in answering that call. Camila and I had a unique understanding. We never kept the other waiting. I don’t know how we arrived at such a respectful design, but every time she would call, I would put down whatever I was doing and go to her. And every time I would call, she would do the same. Once she was away from home, we were more sensitive to our rule, more selective of using it, but use it, we did. When she called me, I would go to her. We understood that we needed each other, and we respected that need.
Now, I have to find ways to be needed so I can feel needed again. It is no longer an organic process, no longer based on the sweet symmetry of parenthood. Instead, it sometimes feels like a mechanical process, intellectual, taken on for the sake of survival rather than the sweet impetus of love. But loving our children and fulfilling their needs is such a natural task for most parents.
We all learn Parenting 101 the same way: through diapers, bruises, tears, and fears. We are, each of us, brought up by our children, becoming better people, more responsible and more fearless, because of those in our charge. In some ways, we become our best selves once we become parents, once someone depends on us, relies on us completely. We rise to the occasion – and are made the better for it.
I miss being important in my daughter’s life, miss being the morning text upon starting the day or the afternoon call on the way home from work. I miss that constant contact that some mothers and daughters share, the intimacy of being a part of their day, even when we were apart.
I was lucky. Camila introduced me to her friends, shared their stories, invited them home to sit, to play, to party. She shared her life with me, her energy, the dynamic whirl of her professional and personal world. My life now seems so quiet. I miss the force of her personality, the energy of her entrance.
The thing is, I want to see my girl. I want that intimacy back. I want to be needed again, wanted again, asked questions again, and bothered again. I want to hear her laugh in the hall and hear her whisper in her room. I want to see her in her sweats and in her short blue dress, in her jammies and in her jeans.
I want to take care of her. I want to fix her favorite foods, buy her a few new prized possessions. I miss going into Anthropologie and scouting around.
I miss everything. Even the laundry that seemed to travel with her.
I miss loving her – and I miss being loved by her.