Come BackA Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Claire Fontaine
All right reserved.ISBN: 0060792167
It is its own religion, this love. Uncontainable, savage, and without end, it is what I feel for my child.
She signs everything she gives me, "Your one and only daughter, Mia," or, "Your One True Child, Mia." Curled into my lap, she reads about the baby bird that fell from the nest and can't find her mommy. Mia squishes into my chest, "I'm glad I came out of your egg, Mudder."
From the moment I take her out into the world, we hear it, every day — those eyes! Mia has huge, pale eyes, with pale blue whites, framed by a mass of amber curls. But the brows leap out above them — they're thick, wide, shiny dark swoops. Like the brows of ancient Persian women, painted in profile. "My God, where did she get those eyes — is she adopted?" "Are those brows real?" "She's not yours, is she?" This we hear often; it frightens her. She has no idea we look nothing alike. She thinks we are identical.
My fear that the constant ogling will make her vain seems confirmed when I overhear her, at age four, at the bathroom mirror, murmuring, "Those fabayous eyes! She is so gordzuss." I wince, moving to the door to have a little talk on the importance of inner beauty, then stop, still unseen by her. She's referring to Betty Ann, the doll that was once mine, smiling down at her. She then scowls at the imaginary idiot who'd dare question their relationship, "Of course, she's mine! Mine, all mine!"
I step back in silent mirth, happy that what she takes from those encounters is how much I love her. Before I had Mia, I had never deeply loved, nor felt deeply loved. I was unshared.
Mia is fifteen now, and she and I are in the clouds above Austria. The sun has not risen and she is spread across her seat and mine, asleep. I watch her sleep, as I have done nearly every night of her life. We are on our way to eastern Europe. Not to see castles or rivers or onion-domed villas. Not to see long-lost family. Not even to see each other. I am leaving her there.
Mia will be locked up. She is broken now. Thin, pink scars beribbon her thighs and stomach, her ankles are bruised by a felon's leg shackles, her wrists by handcuffs. She is medically malnourished and made up like a whore. Inside, she is dark and damaged and gone. I don't know when I'll see her again. I don't know if I'll ever see her again, my one true child. My desperate hope is that she can be repaired, even badly patched. Mostly, though, I simply hope they can keep her, that she does not escape, as she has done again and again and again and again. Each time to do worse things with worse people, criminals finally. The only thing left would be death, hers or someone else's.
I look down at her, both of us just skin and bone and thin, little breaths. What's left of me staring at what's left of her.
January 30, six months ago to the day, I am absurdly happy. I'm adapting a book I love into a screenplay for an Oscar-winning producer; my husband, Paul, is my best friend, and tomorrow we're putting in a bid to buy our first home. Most of all, I'm Mia's mom. The wise, funny, sparkling Mia who still wants lullabies and butterfly kisses each night. My mother is flying in tomorrow to visit; Mia hasn't seen her Bubbie in two years.
It's a cold, gray day. Mia woke early with a sore throat and fever. I made her favorite soup before I left because I know I'll be working past her bedtime tonight for the first time in her life. The story outline of the screenplay is due tomorrow.
The book I'm adapting is beautifully written but has no dramatic structure, no story to film. Creating one has been my task. It tells of a woman who has lost a child and found herself in another world, foreign and hostile.
Mia calls my office twice to tell me she loves me. There's something in her voice, subtle. It's not her usual, comfort-me sick voice. This voice is tender, as if I am the one in need of comfort. She calls again at nine in the evening to ask for a lullaby. I've sung them to her across the nation. Hushabye, my little darling and I'll see you in the morning.
I have no idea.
I drive home after midnight, feeling such a sense of good fortune. I'm pleased with what I've written, I'm buying a house tomorrow, I have the weekend free to spend with my family. The rain has cleaned LA's dirty sky and the moon and stars are brilliant.
As I walk to my back door, I see that Mia's bedroom window is open, the one by her bed. It's freezing outside. I come in asking Paul about her. He's still at his drafting table. He's a graphic designer and has a deadline tomorrow, too.
"I checked her twenty minutes ago, she's sound asleep."
"With the window open?"
He looks up from his drawing, puzzled. "Of course not."
We walk back to check on her, wondering if she opened it because of her fever. Her room is dark, ice cold, the curtains billow softly at the open window. Paul goes to shut the window as I go to her bed to check her forehead — but she's not there.
"Paul, where's Mia?"
Paul checks her bathroom.
"She's not in here — "
We're suddenly a tornado of fear and sound, hollering Mia!Mia!
Mia!, slapping on lights, whipping through rooms and closets — ohmyGodohmyGod, she's gone, someone's taken her — someone's kidnapped my daughter, my baby girl!
The laws of physics and biology change. Air thickens, has substance, like oil. Light is suddenly crystalline, astringent; my pupils screw down. . . .