It's not that there's anything wrong with her, just that she tends to brood on things for a long time, and then, after everyone else has forgotten what she was brooding over, she'll react to it. It's like watching an old teapot on a slow boil. You know the water's going to boil over sooner or later; you're just not sure when.
At the end of her last year of elementary school my wife decided to cut her hair. I can't remember if my wife did this to "punish" her or not, or whether it was simply a well-intended haircut gone wrong. Whatever the case, my daughter's hair was cut very short.
I didn't think it looked that bad. Yeah, it was short, but not that much shorter than her other haircuts. She also seemed fine with the haircut, if a little unhappy. Her hair was cut on a weekday afternoon, we did our usual weekday things, and then we all went to bed, thinking nothing of it.
The next morning my daughters and I rode our bikes to school. My older daughter was in the sixth grade, her younger sister was in the first, and I was an English teacher in the same school. We chatted off and on, and I said goodbye to each of them near the front entrance. They went off to their classrooms, and I went upstairs to my desk in the Curriculum Department.
After that I taught a class or two, and got lost in other aspects of my work. Then the phone rang at another teacher's desk, and I was told the phone call was for me.
I picked up and it was my older daughter's teacher. "She's gone," said this teacher, "Have you seen her?"
"Who?" I asked, "Who's gone? Have I seen who?'
"Your daughter," answered the teacher. "She ran out of class. I don't know why. She just disappeared. She's not with you?"
A series of semi-frantic phone calls followed. A party of us searched the school grounds. I went back to where we parked our bicycles that morning, and found my older daughter's bicycle missing. A couple hours passed. We thought about calling the police, but then someone suggested I go home and look there. I bicycled home, looking for her at a couple places she might have gone to. Nothing.
Arriving at my apartment, I found her room empty and no sign that anyone had been there since that morning. The cats were sleeping just as they'd been sleeping earlier, and all the lights were still off.
Where could she be? I was trying not to panic, but as any parent knows, when you can't locate your child it's terrifying. It's one thing if they're 20 and getting home late from their job, it's quite another when they're 12 and have vanished under mysterious circumstances.
Unable to think clearly in the confines of our apartment, I decided to go up to the roof, where I often went for a think. I wanted to think about where my older daughter might be, and why she might be there. Taitung City wasn't that big after all, and she couldn't have gone far.
I walked up the steps to the roof and noticed a red storm door already open. There, cowering behind one of the rooftop vents, I found my daughter. "What happened," I said, "Why are you here?"
It wasn't easy to figure it out at first, but after talking things through I few times I realized that it was because of the haircut she'd received the day before. It had been cut too short, she'd felt embarrassed, and she hadn't said a thing to us about it. Then, overcome by the shame she'd thought awaited her at school, she'd fled back home without a key to get in. She'd been on that roof for at least two hours by the time I got there. The security guard hadn't even seen her go in.
Later that evening my wife and I had a long talk with our older daughter about telling us when something bothered her, and also about how much she'd scared us by disappearing from school. She agreed that she'd never do that again, and to her credit she never did. We've had our disagreements since, but she's never disappeared, and she's been very conscientious about telling us where she goes.
Maybe you've got kids, and maybe they've done something similar. Maybe they've scared you in the same way. We parents try our best - or at least I hope we do - but it's a big world out there, and you don't always know what's going on in your kid's mind. In the greater scheme of things, disappearing from school isn't an unforgivable sin, but even thinking about it now makes me a little shaky.