Third night in a row I woke to the rustling and bustling noise of bed sheets being tossed about and, in a sleepy stupor, shook the crust and tiredness out of my eyes. Like clockwork each night, I nearly shot up in bed in a confused daze and scolded a one-time boyfriend, now an ex presumably, who no longer inhabited my bed with me but with perhaps another woman instead. My sheets remained untouched on the other side of the bed, neatly folded as they had for the past four or so years.
When I came to, my mind no longer flooded with sleepy-time merriment, I remembered my four-year-old daughter cradled in her bedroom sheets, now probably tossed to the floor as she made her way downstairs without me. And there is nothing more frightening in the world than looking in your daughter’s room next to yours, and seeing she’s gotten up from bed again in the midst of the night and have no idea what she’s doing downstairs. Frantically, for the fourth time that week, I veered into action and super-mom bolted down the steps taking two at a time until I had clicked on the kitchen light and flooded the entire cramped downstairs with a brutal humming light.
Kadie was standing at the giant glass doors of the kitchen, staring out into the dark abyss that was the backyard. “Honey, oh, honey.” I sighed but stifled a small giggle as I realized she was following the same ritual she had every night this week prior, water glass in hand and looking out the back door like some mesmerized zombie whose slumber I had just woken her from. I embraced her in a light hug, light enough to show that I cared but not enough to scare her in case it was a rare case of sleepwalking. “You can’t be coming downstairs in the middle of the night without me, sweetie. What do you say we get you back up to bed and –“
“It was Daddy!” she cried suddenly, knocking me into a slight state of shock with the intensity of her words. “Daddy came looking for me!”
“Honey, you had a dream,” I told her, slightly disturbed and put off by the content of the conversation and hoping we could seize its existence right then and there. Kadie had no father in her life as far as any of us were concerned after he had slept with me briefly (one hell of a night four years ago, and never again or prior) and exited my life thereafter. The embarrassment and shame hung loosely in my mind as I hadn’t even gotten his name, just a random pick-up on the street after drunken escapades, somebody who smelled of a decent cologne and helped me back to my apartment. He was a gawky fellow with a pointed nose and through my beer goggles I had seen a shine in his dark eyes, something magnificent at the time that shone like heaven itself casting a glare into me as he made love to me. My hands caressing his back and the way he slapped them away and laughed under his breath as he told me that he was new at this and didn’t like people touching him there, and that was all that I remembered. I felt him move in the middle of the night against the bed sheets, probably rising to capture a drink from the bathroom.
In my half-drunk, halfway-to-hangover moment, I called after him to leave his number for me in case he was gone by the morning. I don’t think he ever made it back to bed after that, but in the morning my downstairs window was pried open and I searched everywhere for a sheet of paper with a number on it that I would never find.
I found out I was pregnant six weeks later, and never found the guy again. I didn’t want to tell my friends or relatives and steamed over the fact for quite some time, but the embarrassment faded when they told me the guy was obviously just bad news against my better judgment and that I could do it all myself. I still considered abortion briefly and had my moments of failure, but I did everything for her where nobody else had. My Kadie, my world.
She never knew she had a father, and never asked about one. And that’s what set me off this particular night, and left me sleepless and staring at the ceiling after I nursed her in my arms back to sleep and placed her softly in her own bed. Daddy came looking for me. If that was the case, we needed a better security system.
Kadie continued on about her regular week. I worked at the high school as a teacher’s aide for special needs children and when work called, I fled, leaving my daughter with Antoinette, the best nanny I had found in the entire countryside. She was a lonely Mexican woman who had migrated here with her family years ago but the children had moved on and the husband was now deceased, so she cooked and cleaned and lived her family life through my own. Kadie and she had a special closeness that only a nanny-to-child could have.
I barged through the door one night deeply exhausted, bustling around and throwing my bags to the floor. There had been an issue, dispute mind you, between a teacher and a child that day and a fist was flung, rendering Mrs. Troutman a bloody nose. Filling out paperwork, dealing with a mess, trauma to some of the students. I sighed as I repeated Violence is never the answer over and over in my head that entire day.
Then it hit me how silent the house was.
When I walked into the downstairs living room, I saw Antoinette with her back turned to some boisterous talk show, feverishly dusting the hell out of my ceramics above the couch on a mantle. She turned to me and smiled a warm sort of smile that I usually received and then said, “Kadie is upstairs in her room taking a nap. It was an awful fiasco trying to get one out of her today. She just wanted to go, go, go!”
“Oh, I’m sorry…” I blushed, imagining she must have been a mess and that Antoinette was withholding some information from me.
“No, it’s no problem, and you know that.” She smiled again and sat down her duster and pan. “But, I do have to show you some things she made today. She is such a comical and creative young girl…” She trailed off as she walked back into the kitchen, waving me along with her hand to follow. All I wanted to do was hit the sack but supper needed made before Kadie awoke and the daily chores weren’t complete just because Antoinette had aided me greatly already.
In the kitchen, there were a few noticeable designs on paper. Kadie wasn’t much of an artist though I always told her she was and kept her going. She was mostly full of scribbles and incomplete short sketches of animals and children in the neighborhood. Antoinette nodded toward the table and replied, “There they are. She really is improving.”
When I approached the table, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Kadie had sketched out birds upon birds upon birds, all the same black crayon used in each one with huge, black eyes and open mouths. They stood with wings sprouting awkwardly from their backs and presumably wore clothing, something she must have picked up from a children’s television show. On the last page, in different vibrant colors, she had sketched out the letters “A, B, C.”
“Did you teach her the ABCs and how to write them?” I asked, astonished by my four-year-old’s accomplishments.
Antoinette was shaking her head side to side. “She must have just been very observant watching somebody else do it. She’s such a bright girl.”
About an hour later, Antoinette had packed up and left and I heard rustling movements coming from upstairs in my baby girl’s bedroom. She stumbled around a bit and then came to the opening of the stairs where I was standing at the bottom, ready to greet her with a smile and a hug. She was frowning and wiping the crust out of her eyes, glazed over from a good afternoon’s sleep.
“Hi, Mommy,” she said.
“Is everything okay?” I asked, curious about her monotone way of greeting me opposed to the one she usually gave.
“Yeah, I guess so. I just lost my pictures.”
She bounded down the steps and I led her into the kitchen, where supper had just been completed and the pictures were still laying out on the table.
“My pictures!” Kadie gasped and smiled, obviously excited to see that they were still there. She took a seat and dove right into her plate of hamburger helper.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about those, Kadie,” I smiled, happy to see the eagerness restored to her tiny face. “Who helped you with your ABCs?”
“Daddy did!” she exclaimed as if it were the most normal, acceptable thing in the world.
“Daddy?” I asked. “Who is…Daddy?”
“He comes to see me sometimes,” she shrugged.
Immediately suggesting in my own mind that it must be an imaginary friend and quite stunned by this, I ceased the flow of questions for a bit to allow her time to eat and me, to think. Something very off about that, and the fact that she knew she didn’t have a daddy wandering around the house like she did a mommy – something was up. Perhaps she had created a step-in friend to be her daddy, but how could that explain the letters she learned?
“What else does Daddy teach you?” I questioned, feeding into what I believed to be some strange delusion created by a four-year-old’s mind. And why I was letting it bother me so much, I didn’t know…it was just one of those feelings you get when something seems very wrong.
“Well, today we learned the ABCs. Daddy sat in the window upstairs and told me to say them out loud and then taught me how to draw them. But he left when Antoinette came upstairs to check on me.” She put a finger to her chin and looked off into space as if she was thinking, for a dramatic pause. “And then…we practiced our squawks.” She stopped and giggled for a second, expecting me to play along. “He makes bird sounds like this.” She tipped her head back and the most raucous noise flowed out of her neck, like some horrible gurgling created by an enormous amount of woodland animals in the forest all at once.
“That’s really something,” I said, putting my fork down and pushing the rest of my half-eaten plate back to the center of the table. “Is there anything else I should know about Daddy?”
“He told me that sometimes you’re not fair to him,” she shrugged, obviously not knowing the true meaning behind her words. “He told me that he should be able to have me when he wants me. He told me that one day I would get my wings and fly.”
That night, it was severely difficult to get an ounce of sleep. I would fall into a lucid state and then bounce right out only to be jolted up in bed by what I thought were the slightest of sounds in my house. It was as if I was afraid to be inside my own house, inside my own body where I had to deal with all of these conflicting thoughts about what my daughter had told me that day. I worried for myself very seldom but I worried for my daughter in tremendous amounts, who should have never had to deal with the distresses plaguing her mind. An absentee father now making imagination run wild inside her childhood mind, a place where all things are sacred and learning means the most.
At 4 A.M. I awoke for the final time to the sound of the downstairs kitchen window opening and closing much too quickly for Kadie to have been the culprit.
I flew down the stairs in my routine two-at-a-time without even checking into Kadie’s room firsthand. Truth be told, looking back I never would have had to.
Out on the highest limb of the highest oak standing at the tree line of our backyard, I saw two sets of eyes peering in at me. In the pitch blackness it was difficult to see, so I turned on the back porch lights and the brightness flooded the yard. Through the open window I could hear the most terrible screeching sound mimicking only sounds you would hear in Hell itself, a mocking tone that appeared like a thousand swallows and disappeared as quickly as it arrived.
I scurried into my slippers, screaming out Kadie’s name the entire time. I don’t know why I did at that point, somehow I just knew she wasn’t inhabiting her bed that night. The neighbor’s lights all clicked on in a row down the neighborhood and people appeared on back porches, watching me in a flurry as I rushed into the forest in nothing but a nightie and slippers, calling after a daughter I knew was out there.
The police arrived and stayed until late morning, promising a search team could do their best to come up with something, just to get me whatever answers they could during this crucial time. A four-year-old who just ran off, as they called it. Something so rare and unseen, but somehow unlikely to be a kidnapping in their eyes. When questioned further about this, they just shook their heads and told me that the window had been opened from the inside and Kadie had clearly done it herself. She opted to run away. They never said that outright, but I knew my daughter ran away. To something else, to something she thought was better.
I never told them about the things she had said and drawn, about how her father had come to visit her. Everything about it was off, everything was just messy and unbelievable as is.
But that early morning before the police crew finally left with statements in hand, an Officer Jervics looked up into the oak tree and shielded his eyes from the light of the sun. He turned to me and with an amused look on his face said, “I’m sorry Ma’am, but I just have to laugh. You have a serious bird problem if you have birds in your yard that are that large.”
We both stared up into oblivion at the five foot wide nest that was big enough to hold two large humans.