I woke at 3:00 am this morning. I stumbled out of bed and lurched my way to the bathroom like a zombie freshly raised from the dead – somehow my right leg hadn’t woken up along with the rest of me and every step was staggered and unsteady.
I noticed the light coming through the cracks in my bedroom door as I made my way, a bit more steadily, back to bed. I glanced at the clock again – 3:03 am. My heart seized up a little, because I knew where that light was coming from.
When any of my children are going to be home late, I always turn on the front porch light so that they can see to unlock the door when they enter. They know to turn off the light after they have secured the door behind them and before making their way up to their rooms. That way, when I wake in the middle of the night, I can simply raise my head from my pillow, look at the cracks in my door and, if everything is dark, I’m assured that they are home safely.
This morning, at 3:03 am, the light was still on.
My daughter had texted me before I had gone to bed the night before to let me know she was going out with a friend and would be home late. But there is late, and then there is “Where the hell is she at this hour?” I threw on my robe and opened the door to go downstairs to investigate, tripping over one of the cats in the process.
The porch light was still on and the front door was still locked. I peered through the front room window blinds and saw that my daughter’s car was not in the driveway in its normal parking place. There was a light shining in the kitchen, which had not been on when I went to bed – but when I went to investigate, there was no one there. It must have been my son who had left it on, getting a bedtime snack before turning in. I turned it off and went back upstairs, stopping at my daughter’s room and quietly opening the door. Perhaps her car wouldn’t start after they were done doing…whatever it was they had planned to do…and perhaps her friend had brought her home. Perhaps in the frustration and excitement, she had simply forgotten to turn off the porch light.
Her room was dark, but I could see from the faint illumination of the streetlight through her window that her bed was empty.
I went back to my bedroom and picked up my cell phone, first calling my daughter and, when there was no answer, texting her.
“Just making sure you’re OK. Will you be home soon?”
My initial thought was to text, “Are you still alive?” But the worry had already started – what if she wasn’t? What if I was jovially texting asking about her quality of life when she was laid out in a hospital morgue? Of course, asking if she was fine if she was trapped in the trunk of a rapist’s car was probably no better. Why wasn’t she texting back? Why hadn’t she picked up the phone?
I turned up the volume on my phone’s ring and didn’t bother to reinsert my ear plugs – I wanted to be sure to hear when she texted back. Then I got back into bed, staring at the ceiling, running the various scenarios through my head, and arguing with myself.
She’s fine – she’s just having a good time with her friend!
But what could they be doing? Any movie would have been out hours ago! The bars all shut down at 2 am. Did they go to a 24-hour restaurant? Did they go to his house? I don’t even know his phone number to see if he dropped her back at her car! Should I drive to her work and see if her car is still there?
Give it time! You just called and texted her – she’ll respond.
Maybe they were in an accident! Maybe I should call the hospitals to see if any young people were brought into the ER. If she was unconscious how would they know to call me? Her phone is locked, so they couldn’t look at her contacts.
For God’s sake, Jana, calm down – this is just like Italy all over again!
Have I told you the story about my daughter’s trip to Italy? No? Well, when she was in her third year of college, she decided she wanted to do a semester abroad. Her school offered a 6-week culinary program in Florence, Italy and she really wanted to go. She had asked me about it the year before, but we just didn’t have the money for something like that. Not to be deterred, she had researched, found a friend who wanted to go as well, and she took out student loans to pay for everything. She explained that she was planning to go a week early and stay several days after the program ended – in addition to the time in Florence, she and her friend were going to also see Milan, Venice, Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast.
I wasn’t thrilled with her decision – I hated the thought of my kids starting out with debt hanging over their heads – but she was over 21, she had thought things through, she had a plan…and now she had the funding. At the last moment, her friend pulled out – but my daughter was undeterred – she would go to Italy alone.
To say I was anxious about her traveling by herself would have been a tremendous understatement. The extent of her solo trips had been the 3.5 hour drive between her college and our house – and even those made me nervous, as most of the drive was through lonely swaths of desert, sometimes with no cell phone service. All I could do to assuage my apprehensions about her trip was to offer to pay for her hotel rooms before and after the school portion – so that I would know she had a decent place to stay and a number to call if she went off the radar. I also signed her up for unlimited texting and she agreed to text me at least once a day to let me know she had not been abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Don’t roll your eyes! Have you seen that Liam Neeson movie, “Taken?” Not the second or third ones – the one where his daughter was abducted in Paris and he had to go kick a ton of bad guy ass to get her back? So, see – it happens!! And quite frankly, neither Doc nor I had the skills or stamina needed to track down white slavers and rescue our daughter in a hail of bullets.
Her trip went fine – she made it to Florence and checked into her room. School was going well. And then her birthday came. We had made arrangements to call her on her birthday – overseas rates be damned. So, about 6:00 pm her time, I texted and asked if it was a good time for us to call. She responded that she was just going out for a birthday dinner with her friends, but she would text when they returned and we could call her then.
I waited until 10:00 pm Florence time and then texted her again. No answer.
I tried again every hour, becoming more and more worried when there was no reply. I looked through the paperwork she had left us and found the number for housing she had called when she got to Florence, but I only got an answering machine. The message was in English and it told me that the office opened at 11:00 am in the morning. I also found an email address for her teacher, and so I sent a query to him, explaining the situation and apologizing for my near hysteria, but asking if he could let me know if my daughter made it to school the next day. Then I went to bed, tossing and turning all night – my mind playing out the various tragedies that may have occurred. Why else wouldn’t she have responded to my increasingly alarmed texts to her?
At 3:00am, I threw back the blankets and went back downstairs, calling the housing number again. A pleasant woman answered in broken English and I explained my situation and panic. Was there someone they could send to her apartment to see if she had made it home the night before? Was there a way of knowing if she had made it to class that day? The woman told me that she would contact the school and have them send someone to talk to my daughter’s teacher.
I couldn’t go back to sleep – my stomach was in knots.
A few hours later, I checked my email once again and found a response from my daughter’s teacher. It was obvious that English was not his first language, but I had no problem understanding his response. My daughter had been to class that morning and she was doing very well in school. He then told me, “I understand your feeling. I have three daughters and would worry if they went to strange lands alone. No need to apologize for your feeling – it is not unreasonable. It is only love.”
An hour later, my daughter called me. Her cell phone battery had died while she had been out to dinner and, when she returned to her room, she couldn’t find her charger. She had tried to text me from a friend’s phone, but couldn’t remember my number. She was fine – but a bit embarrassed as a school official had walked into class and loudly asked for her, telling her in front of everyone else, “You need to call your mother – she is worried!”
This is just like Italy, Jana – she is probably fine. You’re worrying for nothing.
It was now 3:35 am. I checked my phone again to make sure it was still working. I called and texted again, with no response. Should I just keep laying here waiting? Should I get up and write, or clean, or something to keep my mind occupied? Should I start calling hospitals?
I heard the faint sound of a car door closing. Was that a neighbor or was it her? As I got out of bed again, I heard the front door open and close. I went out to the landing and there she was, in the entryway below, taking off her shoes.
“Are you OK? I’ve been texting and calling!”
“I’m fine. I forgot to take my phone with me. My friend and I were here and I just drove him home.”
Oh – that is why the kitchen light had been left on.
“Sorry! I hope you weren’t worried about me!”
I shook my head, “No — I was just curious where you were. Um….and you can just delete all those messages on your cell phone”.