I wrote this story in 1993, and it got lost in my many floppy disks. At the probing of my daughter, I searched through the disks and found it this morning. Here is my story, in its original format, errors and all. Preserved for all eternity. I hope you enjoy it!
I have two daughters, Amber age 11 and Cassandra age 7. Since Cassandra’s birth, I had always suspected she had a hearing problem. Doctors would check her and find nothing then tell me she was too young for a hearing test. She wouldn’t hear me when I talked to her unless she was facing me and it was impossible to get her to understand danger. When any door was opened, Cassandra would dart out of it and run right toward the street. I couldn’t begin to count the near-misses this child has encountered.
Finally, during her kindergarten physical in the summer of 1991, her pediatrician found that she had a moderate hearing loss in both ears. Now, with hearing aids, she has marvelous hearing. My most memorable Memorial Day was nearly four years ago when Cassandra was three and a half, and more than two years before she obtained her hearing aids.
It was Memorial Day weekend of 1989. My daughters and I were spending the holiday with my parents at their cabin in rural Indiana. The cabin sits at the end of a one-half mile winding gravel driveway off of the main gravel lane and is surrounded by acres of dense woods. There is a serene pond which sits in a cove about one quarter mile down a gravel trail from the cabin. Normally, on warm sunny days we would swim or fish in the pond. On this particular weekend, it had been raining quite often, but we seemed to be having a good time in spite of it.
Late in the afternoon on Sunday, I happened to notice that my car had a flat tire. Knowing that there would be no garage open on Memorial Day, my mother and I took the tire to town in their van so that it could be fixed. My girls stayed at the cabin with my father. We must have been in town for about two hours and it was now pitch black outside. As we were driving back on the gravel lane that leads to the cabin’s driveway, we found ourselves behind a slow moving jeep. It was my father. I wondered what he could possibly be doing out so late. I was looking for my girls in the beam of the van’s headlights through the jeep. I remember casually saying to my mother, “Well, I see one head.” I only saw Amber. We followed my dad just through the entrance of the driveway and he stopped. He got out of his jeep, came back to the van and said, “Cassandra has completely disappeared.” I could feel my heart falling to my feet as a rush of panic consumed my body like a jolt of electricity. My father said that one minute she was playing with her Big Wheel tricycle and the next minute she was gone. Amber told me that Cassandra had said she wanted her mommy and was going to find her. I guess they didn’t realize that she meant what she said, and knowing Cassandra as I did, I knew she could disappear before my father knew what had happened.
We then drove the one-half mile driveway to the cabin that couldn’t have seemed any longer if it were a thousand miles. I felt as though we were traveling in slow motion and I could feel the bump of every piece of gravel under the van’s tires. After what seemed an endless journey, we arrived at the cabin and we began our search for Cassandra. As my mother called the police, I grabbed the nearest flashlight and fled to the woods calling Cassandra’s name with my every step. I had the worst possible images going through my mind. Was she hopelessly lost in the woods? Was the brush scratching her delicate little legs? Is she close enough that she could see me if it were daylight; can she just not hear me calling to her now? I pictured her lost and crying for her mommy, or the worst, that someone had picked her up and was abusing her. I tried to maintain control of my emotions and told myself that we would find her.
The creek near the cabin was flowing steadily due to all the rain we had received and I feared that she had been swept away by the water. I pictured her little body laying somewhere downstream on the creek’s edge, entwined in branches and rocks. I could feel my heart beating harder with every step I took and I kept repeating to myself “You’ll find her. You’ll find her.” As I walked closer to the creek, the sound of the rushing water became louder and louder. An eery chill rushed through me and it was almost as though the creek was whispering to me. Perhaps trying to tell me where Cassandra could be found. I shined the flashlight up and down stream while trying not to fall into the water myself.
Through the rustling of the water I thought I heard Cassandra crying, but she was nowhere to be found. My next thought was, “Oh my God. The pond!” How could I have forgotten the pond? I climbed up the creek bank as quickly as I could in the muddy earth below me and after reaching the top, made a bolt for my car. I drove frantically to the pond hoping to find her and being terrified that I would. Had she drowned? If I would have thought about the pond one minute sooner, could I have saved her? It seemed as though everything was constraining me and I couldn’t move at the speed I so desperately needed. I kept repeating, “Lord, please just let me find Cassandra safe and sound.” It was dark and a heavy fog was resting above the pond. A feeling of dread and despair weighed heavy on my chest. Even with the flashlight, I couldn’t see a thing. I felt utterly helpless and as though I might collapse. I knew I had to find my little girl. “I just have to find her,” I thought. With a deep breath and quick prayer, I continued searching near the pond and then worked my way back toward the cabin. On my way, I met my dad who was on his tractor moving toward the pond. My heart pounded harder as we neared each other and I imagined him telling me that Cassandra had been found lifeless in the woods; in the creek; on the road. I was terrified to hear what he might have to say but still I kept walking faster and faster. As I approached him, anticipation filling every fiber of my being, my father leaned over toward me and said the words I will never forget. “They have her at the sheriff’s station.” The relief I felt was so intense it was as though someone had just drained all the blood out of my body. I was nervously laughing and crying at the same time. We then drove back to the cabin so that we could call the Sheriff’s station.
Mrs. Curzy, who lives one-half mile from the entrance to the cabin, had heard a continuous string of squealing brakes outside her house that afternoon. Curious as to what the problem could be, she looked out her front door only to see a little girl walking down the lane carrying a Big Wheel tricycle. Of course, this little bundle was Cassandra. Concerned for her safety, Mrs. Curzy brought Cassandra into her home. She tried to get information from Cassandra that would help to locate her parents. Unable to do so, she took Cassandra to the Sheriff’s office. When we called, she and Cassandra were still there. Mrs. Curzy said that she would take Cassandra back to her house and that we could pick her up there instead of having to drive the eight miles to town. I felt another surge of relief and my knees nearly gave out. The drive to Mrs. Curzy’s house is now a blur. I just wanted my little girl.
It seemed as though they had just pulled into the driveway when I arrived. Cassandra was asleep in the front seat of the car and her Big Wheel resting safely in the back seat. I was so numbed by the whole ordeal I could only stand there and look at the sweet sleeping child. I was amazed that she didn’t have a scratch on her anywhere. I thought how lucky this child was that someone hadn’t run her over in the street. This beautiful slumbering angel had no idea what she put her mother through. I then scooped her up in my arms and squeezed her as tight as she could stand it and she only slightly awakened. She was, understandably, quite exhausted from her mile long hike in search of her mommy. Feeling so relieved that my baby was now safe, I laid her in the seat beside me, and we started back to the cabin.
During the drive, I battled with the feelings of wanting to either hold her and cry or spank her bottom for running off like that. When we arrived at the cabin I took her inside and laid her on the bed. Within seconds she was again sound asleep. All my parents and I could do for hours was talk about the ordeal we had all survived. I believe my father may have been more shaken up than any of us as I am sure he felt a great deal of responsibility. If I remember correctly, it was about a fifth of Jim Beam that finally calmed his nerves.
Nearly four years have passed now and we still talk about the day Cassandra ran away and she herself remembers it. She simply says, “I just wanted to find you, Mommy.” Looking back, I realize that this experience taught me of the boundless strength which radiates from a mother’s love for her children. It’s that strength that allowed me to remain relatively calm throughout the crisis. It may not be until Cassandra has children of her own, however, that she realizes the effect of this most memorable Memorial Day. For only a mother could truly understand the utter horror that this mother has survived.