- a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain; contrition; remorse.
- any uneasiness or hesitation about the rightness of an action.
By the time Raquel arrived at her daughter’s school, she had ran through two red lights, ignored several stop signs and mercilessly interrogated herself, wondering what she could’ve possibly missed.
Her afternoon meeting had lasted longer than expected. An hour later she realized she had missed the school’s voicemail, reporting that her daughter was in the nurse’s office after collapsing on the track during gym class.
Raquel tried to maintain her composure, but the thoughts of her own past at her daughter’s age were haunting her. Like skeletons that had been revived, memories came out of the closet to torture her, whispering questions of “what if…”
What if she’s not eating?
What if she’s following in your footsteps?
What if you lose her the way your parents almost lost you?
“No; she eats. I see her. We have dinner together almost every night,” Raquel said aloud, uncertainty tinting her words.
Yeah, but what if she’s waiting until after dinner is over?
With every fear-inducing thought, her speed increased until she was careening into the school parking lot and racing toward the building, her heart beating erratically.
The nurse’s office seemed to be nothing more than a small room with a few chairs. Raquel noticed her daughter immediately, sitting slumped in the corner, staring at the floor.
Her daughter stood slowly, struggling to look up at her mother, the heaviness of compunction causing her gaze to waver. The guilt that covered her daughter’s face made Raquel’s stomach turn.
“Mrs. Johnson-Jones, I need you see one form of government ID and have you sign this paperwork, saying we discharged your daughter to you,” the nurse said flatly.
Raquel flashed her license at the nurse and scribbled some semblance of her signature on the form, keeping her eyes trained on her only child. Ashley seemed to be looking everywhere except at her mother.
“What’s going on and don’t lie to me Ashley Marie Johnson-Jones! Because I promise you, if you tell me some–”
“Mom!” Ashley held up her hands, wishing her mother would wait until they got to the car.
Raquel stopped herself. Her daughter didn’t have to say it, she knew was making a scene. She was scared and rambling and ready to do anything to keep her daughter from hurting herself. She took a few slow breaths, straining to regain composure. The last year had been crazy with work and Ashley’s dad leaving, but she didn’t think she had missed the signs of something that was all-too familiar.
“Let’s go home,” Raquel said, quietly.
Ashley nodded, slipping on her jacket as they left the office.
The two sat in the car in silence. It took a few minutes before Raquel trusted herself to speak.
“Ashley, you’re beautiful and you have a solid future ahead of you; I don’t tell you that enough,” Raquel said quietly. “So please tell me what happened–just the facts–because it’s not like you to pass out in class unless something is seriously wrong that I’ve somehow overlooked. Has something changed? Have you been feeling sick?”
Raquel bit her tongue, determined to wait for her daughter’s response. The wait seemed to last for half of an eternity as she watched her daughter pick at he frayed edges of her sleeves and look out the window, before turning to her with tears in her eyes.
“I…made a new friend a few weeks ago…” Tears spilled over onto Ashley’s cheeks that were looking a little thinner than Raquel had realized. “Mom, she’s really smart and funny and she’s really…skinny…”
Raquel tightened her grip on the steering wheel, reminding herself not to interrupt or scream.
“She’s probably the best friend I’ve had since Melinda Peters…”
Raquel felt like she’d give anything to have boy-crazy Melinda Peters and her piercings and purple hair back over this mess.
“Nina is really nice, Mom, you’ll love her…”
Raquel forced herself to nod and remain quiet.
“But she was having trouble concentrating in class and I would hear her stomach growl sometimes when it was quiet and after a while I just asked her, everything was okay. She said yeah, but I noticed she wouldn’t eat lunch. She’d say she wasn’t hungry or her stomach was upset or something…”
Ashley covered her face, her sleeves soaking up her tears.
“But Mom, I knew she was lying,” Ashley said between sobs, “she doesn’t eat. I don’t think she has food.”
With a few deep breaths Ashley attempted to compose herself.
“So I lied, Mom. I told her I didn’t like what you made me for lunch or that I wasn’t hungry or that I had an extra snack in my locker and I’d eat it later…” Ashley shook her head as she looked out the passenger side window.
“Mom, I lied to my friend so she would eat, because we have tons of food at home and I can have dinner… It’s just today it was hard to run around the track. But it’s hard for Nina every day.”
Ashley dissolved into more tears, her shoulders shaking with each sob.
The breath Raquel had been holding finally escaped her tired lungs as she she blinked several times, the truth registering and calming her heart and mind. Her daughter was fine, but someone else’s daughter was not. She placed a steady hand on Ashley’s shaking shoulder.
“Ashley, honey, look at me,” Raquel said firmly. “I am proud of you for wanting to help your friend. You’re doing a noble and kind thing…” She searched her daughter’s eyes, wanting her to believe what she was saying.
“I wish I had actually had a friend like you when I was your age,” Raquel admitted.
Ashley’s eyes widened and then narrowed in disbelief.
“Here, let’s go get some late lunch? And then we can think of ways to keep you and Nina well fed…and maybe talk about some other things, too.”
Ashley nodded enthusiastically, wiping the remnants of her tears with her soaked sleeve.
“Thanks Mom…” Ashley said, “…thanks for not yelling at me for lying and being dishonest…”
“Yeah, well lying is wrong and dishonesty is wrong, but I’m not going to yell about it right now… maybe after tacos though… I think I’ll have enough energy to do some serious yelling after I get the No. 3 with a side of yuca.”
Raquel released a small laugh and felt her shoulders loosen slightly.
“Mmm…yuca…” A small smile spread across Ashley’s face. “I want some carnitas and rice and beans!”
Raquel kissed the top of her daughter’s head before starting the car and heading to their favorite dive for a No. 3, a No. 7., and some serious honesty and brainstorming.