It’s just past midnight and my 13-year-old is not back from her babysitting gig. Abbie’s a couple of hours late now and the parents’ cell rolls directly to voice mail. Likely it’s just drained of charge from the weather. It’s that cold. Days of Arctic fronts have animated our newscasters, who brandish their arms over the Minnesota map as they issue dire warnings. The air is more than raw, it’s dangerous.
I palm my face, rubbery from sleep, trying to dislodge the nightmare I’ve just had. In it, she was rolled into the snow, hair obscuring her face, not moving. I blame the excitable weatherman.
“Go up to bed, I’ll wait for her,” says my husband. Jason will take care of it, in the way that dads take care of things. He’ll drive the couple miles to the house where our daughter is; ensure she’s okay.
I make my way upstairs.
From behind, I see her ambling in the cold night, coat flared open, pushing a snowy path with boots made with velvety fashion. She’s lost, she needs her mother and just as I’m about to touch her shoulder, Jason’s weight on the mattress rocks me out of sleep.
I sit up, sucking in breath like I’d been held underwater.
“Everything’s okay; she’s home,” he says. I stare at him, uncomprehending, until he turns me on my side, pulls me into the C of his body. “I’ll tell you about it in the morning.”
The darkness is illuminated by the hard, white snow and I am pulled behind her, just out of her reach. I want to bring her insulated gloves, the blue ones I’d given her for Christmas that match her thick coat. But when I’ve nearly caught up to my girl, I wake, covers off and rubbing my hands together.
In Abbie’s room, I step over the piles of teen detritus – clothing, books, plastic objects. And though I trust Jason, thoroughly believe him when he says she’s home safe, I need to see her. Standing above her, I hear Abbie’s rhythmic breathing, see her light brown hair swooped from her left eye across to her small chin. I work my way in beside her in the twin bed, filling in around her lanky body. I take in her light fragrance of hair product and adolescence.
But despite my arms around her, she’s drifted off again into the night, stumbling into the snow. I’ve seen this place before, I think. It’s from the earlier dream. And with this splinter of cognition, I could widen it enough to step out from this disturbing vision, rouse myself.
But I stay.
I don’t want her to be alone. And though my dream arms do not function, I stand sentry in the dark.
In the morning, Abbie looks at me with wonder and I’m sheepish when I say, “I had a bad dream.” She laughs at me. I laugh at me.
I’m still smiling when I go downstairs and make us coffee, nearly missing the radio story droning under the buzz of the grinder.
Catching a few words, I lift my finger from the appliance, “…young woman found outside in Duluth in critical condition…”
The computer has the full story where I learn the undergrad had laid only steps from where Abbie had tended the children. Indeed, her footprints are later found around the house. My eyes take in the article, but keep returning to the smiling photo – a grownup version of my daughter.
“I think I’ve … seen her,” I say to Jason as I scan the piece. “But it doesn’t make sense.”
The college sophomore had been dropped off, abandoned in her intoxicated state, unable to unlock her own door. Abbie was already home in bed when she wandered the neighborhood – trying doorknobs, looking for shelter. The frostbite that would later take her hand, but spared her life, hadn’t yet begun its work.
Jason shrugs, not unkindly, as he turns the page of the newspaper, “I don’t know what to say, Lu.”