I was shooting an event over the weekend when I first noticed this little girl, maybe two years old. I can try to describe why she caught my eye and never let go of my attention, but I'm not sure if it would make sense. She was pretty, with impossibly big eyes and a serious expression. She didn't play with the other kids, but she played, lost in an internal world as she danced and ran happily but alone, in a room full of people. When she wasn't in that realm of her own making, she watched, carefully studying the actions of everyone around her. There was nothing wrong with her, nothing broken or amiss. And yet, she was different from any kid in that room, but not from any kid I'd ever seen, which was why I couldn't stop watching her.
She reminded me of Schuyler. Not Schuyler now so much, but Schuyler a few years ago, before we knew her monster's name or nature, but after she had already embarked on her life's path, a path that she would travel alone.
I pointed her out to the photographer with whom I was working. I didn't know exactly how to describe what I was seeing, but when I opened my mouth, I suddenly knew exactly how to say it. "Whatever planet Schuyler comes from, that little girl comes from there, too."
Which, as it turns out, is exactly how her own father described her. A visitor from another world.
I feel a little self-indulgent in telling you all this, but I suspect my own behavior isn't all that different from that of any other parent of a child who is different. I'm not just talking about kids with broken bodies or broken brains or broken spirits. I'm talking about any parent who knows, for whatever reason, that their child is going to have a life full of obstacles that other kids don't have.
I'm talking about any parent who gets overwhelmed in a way that ninety-nine out of a hundred other parents around them won't ever get.
So yeah, I feel weird talking about what happened next, but maybe a hundred of you will read this and one of you will say "God, me too."
The thing that happened next was that as I watched this little girl run and play and walk through this world without ever leaving her own, and watched how some people reached out protectively as she passed, I realized that in watching someone else's ethereal kid, I was seeing how the rest of the world must see Schuyler.
I'd never seen that before. Not really. And it was more than I could deal with.
I'm not going to get all maudlin or dramatic about this. I simply took the first opportunity I had to step out of the venue and go outside past the reach of the lights, and then I lost my shit for a few minutes. That's all. Sometimes the way broken parents of broken children get through it all is to step into the dark and lose their fucking minds, to cry hard and insult God as the bully that he undeniably is, and just stop being the brave little soldier for a while.
That's how it happens. You exhaust yourself of the frustration and the unfairness of it. You empty out that part of you, the little pit in the center of you that stores away the fear and the anger and the protective fire that you can use against child molesters and internet bullies and mean bitey dogs but not against God and Fate and a child's brain.
And then you wait for it to slowly fill again, I guess.
When I returned to the event, I bumped into the little girl and her father outside, and I took her picture. I told her, and her father, how much she reminded me of my own little girl, and while I don't think the dad noticed how emotional I was, she did. She opened up to me and followed me around for a while.
Later, she danced with her father, who looked at her with the same intensity that I find myself watching Schuyler, the one that shows that we have a visitor's pass to their world. As father and daughter moved past me, she caught sight of me over his shoulder. As I raised my camera and took my favorite photo of the evening, she smiled her mysterious little smile and reached out as if to touch me.
I don't know if this entry makes any sense. I'm not certain this world makes any sense, either.