Locals filed into the bagel joint. The air sat heavy with the scents of just-made bagels, bacon and hot coffee--a warm respite on a biting February morning. Hungover 20-somethings, young families, older couples, and our clan.
Our weekend had been filled with the familiar and comforting company of old friends. We decided on an impromptu breakfast out and half of us were still clad pajamas. Abby in her Merry Christmas PJ bottoms and Henry in his silly-monster-footy pajamas. Both sported their slippers--a very special treat, indeed. We settled into the comfortable din of the morning, enjoying decadently delicious bagel treats. (Is there anything better than a bagel made on-the spot?)
Suddenly (as it always seems to be), the kids expressed their immediate need to leave:
I'm so firsty, Mommy. I weally need some to dwink. Fidget, jump.
I'm sooooooo thirsty. Spin in a circle.
I'm ready, Mom. Mommy???
Mommy, can we go now?
Drinks were gone and it was time. Since my friends still ate their meals, I asked them to stay and enjoy their tasty bagels while I took the kids to the car. Hubby ventured to pay the bill. The kids waited for me by the front door. I grouped butter-soaked napkins into a neat pile. I adorned my Nanook-of-the-North floor length down coat and began to gather our strayed belongings from the dinged, Formica table:
A half-eaten cinnamon raisin bagel wrapped in its crumpled foil wrapper
My coffee cup
A hand-drawn picture of a man "with weally, weally long hair"
My huge bag hung over my elbow, opened to receive each item. Plunk, thud, thud each fell in, joining the crumbs, receipts and cluttered subculture of my purse. The restaurant continued to hum.
Peripherally, through the smudged restaurant windows, I saw it. A blurry flash of very familiar silly-monster-footy pajamas. I saw the blond bed head. In the parking lot. Running. A car approaches. A dark, salt-covered, winter-dirty car is driving. Right. Toward. Henry.
The din of the diners fades. I hear only the deafening, maddening thud of my heart.
I can't quite breathe. A black time warp threatens to swallow me away from the parking lot. I'm moving but I feel as if the tiled floor suddenly became three feet of wet sand. Time speeds and stalls. I'm moving in slow motion. I'm flying.
Their momentum continues, my eyes glued to the unfolding scene in the parking lot. Outside my reach. Outside my control. Outside.
I finally reach the door. Through the glass, I see his face, cheeks bitten red by the wind. His eyes cheerful, he and his silly-monster PJs obliviously run toward his sister. As I whip open the door, the cheap, metal bells crash against the glass, colliding with each other. The wind whips and rattles the local advertisements taped to the door. The wind holds the restaurant door open a bit too long, chilling the watchful patrons. Cold air crashes against my face.
Henry now safely stands next to his dumbfounded sister. Abby stands next to Henry in stunned silence. Terrified. Her pink cheeks flaming against her pale, frighted face. She understands the significance of what just almost happened. She's now old enough to comprehend. Her eyes and hands tremble. Her eyes tentatively search out mine.
The car sits in the middle of the drive--its driver and passenger also dumbfounded by a pajama-clad four-year-old frolicking, alone, in the parking lot. My eyes meet the driver's eyes. I sent my silent thanks:
for paying attention
for driving defensively
for seeing him
Thank you. Oh, thank you.
Large, lazy snow flakes fall around us. I turn to Henry and crouch to the salty, snow-stained black top. My long parka splays out around me. It's bright blue color in jolting contrast to the black hole I just left. I shake with terror. Pulsing relief, anger and desperate sadness threaten to swell into a tsunami of raw emotion and hot tears. I grab Henry's arms.
Our eyes lock. His blue eyes stare into my bulging, raw eyes, decoding all emotion simmering there. He wants to look everywhere but at me. He knows. My words, staccato and sharp, puncture our silence:
What you just did was so incredibly dangerous.
You CANNOT ever leave ANYPLACE without Daddy or me.
Why in the world did you think you could run in the parking lot?
Do you know what would've happened if that car hadn't seen you? Do you? I clench his arms in a desperate attempt to physically imprint my words into his being.
I am very upset. I am so sad because if that car had hit you...
My heart threatens to surrender to the almosts. The what-ifs. Alternate, dark endings clog my brain.
Henry rings his silky hands, working one over the other. His silly-monster-pajama-clad body safe. His blond bed-headed hair tousles ever-so-slightly in the raw February wind. I exhale. A shallow, slow exhalation, jagged and raw. Like the wind. The tears, they come. The murky, dark pit of almosts and what-ifs in my stomach? They stuck around. Heavy and leaden. For days.