Garden of Dappled Light

September 3, 2021

Oh Emily ran away. Her bed was empty when I went to wake her for school, and the back door was wide open when Paul went downstairs to make coffee. Heart pounding. Head spinning. Palms sweating. Can’t breathe. Time stood still. Such an incredibly long 2 minutes from when my alarm went off at 5:24 until I called police at 5:26. Two minutes of running outside and calling for her and hearing nothing except bugs and birds and leaves. Pfafftown is DARK, but it was Vantablack when we went outside searching for one of our Treasures not knowing if we’d see her again.

After the police came and left, Paul thought clearly enough to make a plan. “It’s not time to lose it. We have to act fast and do something. We have to search for her.” So Paul, Lauren, Grace and Eli all drove off in separate directions to look for her and canvas businesses asking people to keep their eyes open for Emily. I stayed home in case Emily came home. But really, who was I kidding? If Emily wanted to be home, she wouldn’t have left home. God graciously gave me a minute to completely freak out and get it mostly out of my system, and I made the bed. I. MADE. THE. DAMN. BED. I couldn’t fix anything that was happening around me, but at least I could do the most useless thing ever and make the damn bed.

“I need you to sit down,” is never a good way to start an early morning phone conversation. I’m sorry, Rebecca, that those were the first words out of my mouth, and I’m surprised you understood anything I said after that. And Jennifer, I’m sorry you had to help me pick and sort through such a pile of crap looking for clues while trying to convince this puffy eyed momma that everything would be ok. I’m still not convinced, but I appreciate that you tried.

And it was Lauren’s and Rebecca’s sleuthing that led them to fumble and stumble on the right clue that brought her home. I wish I could say that I had something to do with it, but I was just a big mess, slumped over in a heap of confusion sitting on Emily’s bedroom floor when the pieces came together.

She’s home now. Details don’t matter, except they do, meaning the important thing is that she is home, but now we have so much crap to sort through. When she got home, Paul took her outside to talk privately. Then I went for a walk around the neighborhood with her and we talked and we didn’t talk. I told her that when everything first happened, there was a split second when I thought maybe she was just outside hiding in the shadows, the whole yard was shadows, and maybe she was laughing at us from behind a tree. Maybe what she had wanted was to watch us freak out, pacing and panicking, flipping on lights and grabbing flashlights, calling her name and crying, doubling over in pain. Maybe she wasn’t really gone. But she was. She really was gone.

I’m tired. Tired of talking. Tired of not talking. Tired of trying to explain myself and justifying my actions. Tired of arguing. Tired of trying to be there for Grace and Lauren and knowing I’m not doing a good job at that. Tired of hearing the next criticism of my parenting. Tired of realizing that yeah, when the 3 objects of my parenting speak up and criticize some of my parenting, some of it might be true. Tired of wasting my energy figuring out what isn’t true. Tired of sleeping near the back door. Tired.

NC is fickle. It was stifling hot and sticky a few days ago, and now it’s cool enough to be outside. In some ways, it’s chillier and frostier inside my house than it is outside. I weeded the Garden of Dappled Light yesterday. The garden was supposed to be a project for Emily and me, but she hasn’t helped much. It was just an empty space nestled between the storage unit and the yard surrounded by a tall canopy of trees, and my plan has been to plant things that would catch the light coming through the leaves. Moonlight gardens like this are planted to show off whites and silvers and grays and blues whose hues stand out at twilight, or as I have planned, during the day in the dappled light beneath the tree branches. Angel Wing Caladium is the star in my garden right now, and it’s doing great next to the bird bath. I’ve moved my Zen meditating frog statue over here because he calms me. I’m hoping my 2 white hydrangeas will really pop next season. White Vinca, Lemon Balm, Portaluca, Japanese Spindletree, Big Leaf Periwinkle, Hair-awn Muhly Grass, Bugleweed, Creeping Jenny, Hosta, Miner’s Lettuce, Woodland Stonecrop, and Spotted Laurel. But my favorite is my Mother’s Day Gardenia. Her perfumed little self was the first thing I planted in this garden. She’s bloomed a few times since May, and I noticed Thursday that she was wearing 3 blooms. One was wilted and falling to pieces. Same Gardenia. Same. And how appropriate.

I pulled out a ton of weeds from the garden and tossed them aside. What a shame to waste what seemed to be thriving, but they didn’t belong here. I’m not sure how they got so rampant. I’ve worked really hard planting exactly what I want to grow here, but somehow there’s all this extra stuff trying to choke out my pretties. It just takes so much effort to keep everything healthy, and it’s just a shame that some weeds flourish so well in dappled light.

Paul has been amazing, as you’d expect. If you’ve ever sought his counsel, you know he goes to some place deep inside where experience and bruises and scars are fertile ground for empathy and insight. And Grace is seeing tragedy from without this time instead of from within. And what she really wants to see is either just a pure white gardenia bloom or just the Vantablack darkness, so she struggles with the grays in the dappled light. Lauren put on a brave face and went to work Wednesday night because she hates to let her coworkers down, then realized she really needed a mental health break to process what has happened. I’m trying to remember the last time I smiled. I think it must have been Tuesday, because I don’t remember smiling at all since I woke up Wednesday morning.

Thank you to the WS Police who were quick to respond and thorough with their tough questions. Thank you to everyone. We’ve been loved well. We got your texts and private messages and posts. We know you’ve been praying. I knew you’d pray. We’ve done this before, haven’t we? We’ve prayed for one another with Bible verses and with petitions and with unspoken requests and with wordless gasps. Thank you, Emily’s bestie, for doing what you could to help. Thank you for getting in your cars and driving around looking for a girl some of you have never met face to face. And thank you for sharing Emily’s info so others could help be on the lookout. Thank you to the 8th grade softballer who prayed for Emily with the school assistant principal. Thank you for clearing my schedule and covering my workload and for offering to come sit and hold my hand. Thank you for announcing, not asking, that you’re bringing us a meal tomorrow evening. Thank you for reminding me that it can be my turn to cry over Starbucks tomorrow morning. Thank you for checking your security cameras to help us figure out how and when she left. Thank you for being the neighbor who doesn’t cuss, but cussed anyway Wednesday morning because “oh shit” was exactly the right thing to say.

Let’s remember that God was not off His throne when this happened. He knew. He was and is in control. He already had a plan and a purpose for our pain. He is good through and through. He is good in the dark when the bed is empty and the back door is wide open. He is good when the angry, belligerent teen comes home. And let’s please keep praying for all the students, faculty, and families from Mt. Tabor High School, 10 minutes down the road from here, who are dealing with unimaginable tragedy and loss.

Update…I just smiled. I’ve been in the hammock in my garden writing, and Emily came outside. I wasn’t sure she knew I was out here, so I just watched her wondering if maybe she was trying to sneak away. No. She came to me and asked if I would help her catch a butterfly. She smiled, and I’m 100% certain I haven’t seen her smile since last Friday when she got into trouble. There was nothing worth spending an expensive smile on all weekend. Now she’s got a full face of makeup, and her eyes are breathtaking. We sneaked around our whole yard carrying a pickle jar looking for a butterfly. When we found one, we chased her into Alison’s yard before we lost sight of her. Then we spotted a moth at the butterfly bush, and almost caught her. Emily turned over some stepping stones and found a caterpillar. No butterfly for Emily today, but she laughed and scampered and lit up like she used to. She asked questions and wanted my opinions. It’s nothing, and it’s everything. Thank you God for my Garden of Dappled Light.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carla says:

    You are an incredible writer! I’m sorry you had this experience to write about, but at least it had a…maybe not happy, but at least a “home safely” ending. I prayed and friends who lived in every direction of your area shared the post. So that maybe no matter where she was heading there would be someone who would recognize her. I was relieved she made it home, but I worried for you all and prayed for you all throughout the day. Knowing that getting her home was only a small portion of the battle you were about to face.
    I’m not sure how we are going to get through my cleaning Tuesday. Through tears and a snotty nose I suppose. (That’s my description of me.)
    Hugs my friend. ♥️


    1. Thank you friend. We will get through Tuesday because I’m sure you have been flossing and using your waterpik. Love you.


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