Abigail looks down at me from her horse. I can see nervousness pulling at her eyes and in her half-way-there smile, not her usual full-on grin that animates her whole face. It’s show day and she’s jumping – only the second time ever in competition. Last month, her first time, her horse spooked slightly on one of the first jumps and then Abigail was spooked the rest of the class. So, I put her nervousness off to that playing around in her head. I put my nervousness off to the fact that, try as hard as I can to fight against it, helicopter mom is my resting mama position.
I watch her and her horse, Dixie, enter the ring and then trot to the far fence. I can see them clearly through my telephoto lens,even though they are 50 yards or so away. They turn and take the first jump – much more smoothly than last month’s show. I start to relax, thinking she has started to relax, too. They turn and complete the second jump and I start to breathe. The third jump comes and I’m clicking away with my camera as they cross it and then I see something that doesn’t compute for a millionth of a second. Abigail is moving through space headed to the right and the horse is not. I think, incongruously that she looks like a rag doll flying through the air, her purple hair bows and short hair that I worked so hard just minutes ago to get into neat French braids blowing in the wind.
In an instant, she is flat on her back on the ground, still as she has ever been. “She fell, she fell” I mantra, as if that isn’t painfully obvious to everyone in the arena. “She fell, she fell” as if somehow saying it enough will act as some kind of incantation to undo what has just happened. As I process what I’ve seen, I think or say or scream or cry. “She’s okay. She’s okay” – she’ll get up and shoot us all a thumbs up – it wasn’t a bad fall. Was it?
A second passes and she doesn’t jump up, get up, give us a thumbs up. She lays there, completely still, a tiny figure 200 feet from me. And I’m not so sure anymore, but I’m still pretty sure. “She’s okay. She’s okay” I say as I start walking toward the other end of the ring.
Five steps, ten steps, twenty steps. “She’s okay. She’s okay.”
But she doesn’t move – not a single gloved finger. And I start to run and “she’s okay” changes to “PLEASE be okay, PLEASE be okay, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE” and I’m running and jumping the ring fence and I’m in the ring and running the last thirty feet in the sand and she still hasn’t moved and the last few steps, I force my feet to run because I don’t want to know what I’ll see. The brim of her black show helmet is obscuring her face and I don’t know if her eyes are open or closed. And I don’t know whether open or closed scares me more.
I get to her and drop to my knees and her eyes are open and suddenly her trainer is beside me and a man I don’t know and another trainer and the mom of one of her barn mates. And her trainer says, “Abigail? First, can you talk?” And Abigail, finally shaking off the shock, says quietly and with a slight lilt as if she’s not quite sure herself,
She tries to hop up but we all convince her to stay flat and move her legs. And she does. And then her arms. And then she’s standing up and walking out of the ring with me and everyone is clapping. And I text Steve at work and type with shaking hands, “she fell. she’s okay” and two seconds later the phone rings and it’s his voice and I can’t even talk but can only choke out “yes” when he asks if she really fell.
The rest of the day passes in a blur of watching her and making sure that she truly is okay. Later that afternoon, she starts to complain of her back and head hurting and she seems more tired than she should be, so off to the ER we go. We luck out again – the doctor says her back is bruised and she probably has a mild concussion but other than that, she is unmarred. A couple of days of rest and she’ll be just fine.
But I’m not just fine. I’m playing the What If game in my head. What if? What if? What if? And yesterday afternoon, the tears I’ve managed to keep mostly in check erupt into wracking sobs as I cling to Steve in the kitchen.
I’m not sure if it’s the reality of the fall that hits me so hard or if it’s the reality of Abigail. Whenever something happens to her, I am right back at the moment of her birth where she wasn’t breathing and was whisked off to the NICU and I couldn’t see her for more than twenty-four hours. That feeling that every day we’ve had with her is a miracle and who am I to ask for more? Or, was it that the day of the fall was one year to the day of my grandmother’s death, fifteen months to the day of my mother’s death? And all that loss, loss, loss of 2015 is still floating around in my heart and what if all this time when I thought the other shoe dropping was my mom dying, my grandmother dying, my grandfather dying, all within ten months of each other, what if that other shoe is actually something happening to my little girl? And where there should be joy that she is okay, there is only fear. What if? What if? What if?
Today, she is home from school with me mostly because she’s still sore, but a little bit because I want to be able to run my fingers through her hair and hear her giggle at cartoons to remind myself that what if, what if, what if didn’t happen. Tomorrow she goes back to school and tomorrow night she goes back to riding lessons and the what ifs will start to quiet down and things will go on their merry way until the next what if. I don’t want to forget, though. I don’t want to forget to be thankful; I don’t want to forget that having her here with me every day is a gift; I don’t want to forget that being brave is sometimes nothing more than not listening to what if, what if, what if and letting that girl do what she loves.