By Shannon Brugh.
My oldest son E turned to me today- out of nowhere, in the middle of lunch- and said, “Mommy? When I’m big, can I go everywhere with my family? I want to stay with my family. I don’t want to be alone. I’m scared to be all alone.”
And my heart broke into a million little pieces.
Earlier today, he and my youngest son W, ran ahead of my husband and me in the hallway of our apartment building. They jumped into the elevator before we had even turned the corner. They’re normally so good about waiting for us. But this time, this time they forgot. And as we turned the corner and the elevator doors closed, I heard E yell quietly in surprise, “Nooooo!!!!”
We ran as fast as we could, but we couldn’t get to the elevator before it started moving. They had already pushed the buttons inside when the doors closed. My husband bolted down the staircase and I waited where I was, in case they followed the directions I had once given them to stay where they were. I was hoping they would come right back. But they didn’t. I could hear E whimpering softly. He was scared. I listened as the elevator stopped at this floor, and then that one. I didn’t know which. And then I couldn’t hear them anymore. And I couldn’t hear my husband.
I started to yell through the elevator doors, hoping they could hear me.
“Are you okay? Boys?!? Babe, do you have them?”
I opened the door to the concrete stairwell and yelled down the staircase.
“Did you get them? Are they there? BOYS?!?”
I had no idea what to do. The elevator was still moving up and down, up and down, but I couldn’t hear them anymore. Was I supposed to stay? Should I run down and try to find them? What do I do?
I was pressing the elevator button and trying to listen in the stairwell and the elevator shaft, when I finally heard them. I heard my husband quietly telling them that he was frightened. How scary that was. That they mustn’t ever do that again.
The doors opened. E walked out, looking stunned, and wrapped his arms around my legs. “Mommy. I was lost. I didn’t want to be alone. I lost my family.”
I knelt down and hugged him. I told him how scary that was. How I didn’t know where he was or how to get to him. I told him that he must never do that again.
W bounded around us, unfazed and babbling excitedly about his adventure. “Mommy! Lost!”
We talked about what happened with E as we walked back down the hallway- how he shouldn’t have run ahead, how we’ve talked about this before. We told him he’d done a good job staying with his little brother and that he kept him safe, and that was good.
I asked my husband where he’d found them, and he told me they were the first place he looked- the lobby of our building. We never go to the lobby. I have no idea why they got off there. I asked my husband why he went there first, since it seemed most likely that they’d have gone to the garage where we were headed. He shrugged. Said he had no idea. He just went there first because it was the closest to the street. And if they’d gone out into the street…
I shook my head. That wouldn’t have been where I would have looked. I’m glad he went down the stairs instead of me. I told E it might have taken me a while to find them, and that scared me. I asked him to please, please, never do that again. He nodded, but he just kept saying the same thing over and over.
“I lost my family. I was alone. I lost my family.”
I see so much of myself in this little big boy of mine. Some of it fills me with pride, and some
of it makes me worry for him.
I know his fear of being alone. I had the very same fear when I was a little girl. In some ways, I still do.
I got lost riding my bike to a park one day when I was seven and very nearly lost my little mind. I was inconsolable. People stopped their cars on the street to see if I was okay. I wasn’t. They helped me find my way, eventually, but the seed was already planted. I could get left behind. I could be left alone.
When I was eight, my parents tried to leave me home alone for a reasonably short period of time because they couldn’t find a babysitter. I was a responsible little girl and was perfectly capable of staying home alone for a little while. Lots of my friends stayed home alone for much longer. But I had never stayed home alone, and I was terrified. I begged my mother to stay home, to find me a sitter, anything but leave me alone. I remember so clearly the feeling of panic, tears streaming down my face as I pleaded not to be left alone. As I tried to explain how frightened I was.
When my mom tried to leave, I completely lost it. I sobbed and screamed and shook and implored. She tried to reason with me, to tell me that I would be fine. That it would be okay. I didn’t believe her.
Eventually, she made the 400 necessary phone calls and found someone who was willing to drop everything and come over. And I can still feel the absolute relief I felt at that moment- the solace of knowing that I would not be alone.
I don’t know how this fear became so entrenched in me, and I don’t know how I managed to pass it along to my son. I hope I can teach him that it’s okay to be alone. That, sometimes, alone is wonderful.
But until then, I will teach him that I am here. That he is loved and supported by his family. That we are watching out for him. And that even when those elevator doors close on him, we’ll be waiting on the other side.
Shannon Brugh has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, Rattle and Pen, where she is a regular contributor, and Luna Luna Magazine, where she is a staff writer. She is a feminist, a mother, a teacher, and a lover of art and humanity. She currently live in Seattle, WA with her husband and two young sons.
Featured photo credit: katy tuttle photography