I’m at work, and for the first time ever, I’m not watching my phone like a hawk. (During school days I keep an eye out, worried of course that someone will be sick or maimed or, well, fall off a chair like my children are habitually doing.) I’m not even thinking about my phone, tucked away in my bag while I work.
About 1.5 hours into my day, I think gee, I should take a peek, just to be safe. You never know.
Missed call an hour previous. The school. (Of course, the school being the smartest place I know, shows up as a private number, meaning I then need to scramble to find the number.)
I log in to my land line voicemail and hear a message which chills me. “Vivian doesn’t appear to be here today-can you call and confirm if she’s out sick or late?”
I’ve never felt such a sick, greasy fear before, but it shot straight down my spine, and settled somewhere near my liver while I sprinted off the floor to call.
The lady answering asks, not unkindly, “Is she sick? We noticed she isn’t in today.”
I sent her. She walks to school. She went. I walked the same way, back and forth since Rosalyn made me miss the bus, and I didn’t see her. She must be there.
A hem. A haw. She puts me on hold while silently, I pace and I slowly burn with a million thoughts. The rational ones are buried in the back, drowned out by self doubt (why did I let her walk? Is it worth it, letting her have this freedom at 8, these 4 blocks, barely even a km to school?) by anger (it’s not like her to not go straight to school! If she’s somewhere else I’ll lose it I swear to crap…) and by cold fear (oh sweet hell, is she somewhere cold? Did she get hit by a car and they didn’t stop? Is she lying behind a house, her leg broken? Did someone snatch her?)
Is she ok? Please, please, let her be ok.
The woman comes back. “All the kids are in the gym. Let me go look and call you right back.”
Let. Me. Go. Look?
I can’t breathe waiting for the call. I’m on fire, my nerves tense and strung, and all I can think is the possibility that my sweet girl in hurt somewhere, or scared, or all those horrible things you don’t speak of, not out loud. Did I tell her I loved her as she left? Did I hug her enough, distracted as I was by the morning, and getting her sister dressed, getting her sister to eat breakfast faster than she does? I pace and gnaw on my fingers and stay as tightly wound as I possibly can.
She calls back. “So sorry. Teacher marked the wrong kid absent. She’s here. She’s fine. I’m so sorry.”
I barely choke out my understanding before I burst into hysterical tears, heaving the words “holy fucking shit” from my lips. I catch my breath and run to the bathroom so I can let it go, the fear, the panic. The fucking cold fear.
This was maybe 15 minutes of my life. And it was terrible, horrible. How parents lose their kids, and carry on, survive-I cannot imagine. A few minutes of not knowing ate me up inside for the day, and all I could think was that some people life with that pain, daily, forever. Their kids never come home. Their kids, are just gone.
And I just couldn’t imagine it, hope I never, ever have to worry.
What I hate the most is that I automatically questioned my judgement in letting her walk, something which, honestly, is likely safer than if she got on a school bus in the morning or drove. It’s 4 blocks, through a residential area full with her peers and other families. It’s absolutely safe, unless you really worry about some random person smoking weed.
But I doubted myself. Instead of assuming, rightly, that everything was fine, and someone just made a mistake, I doubted me, just like all the media and the hyperbole and the paranoid suburban housewives want me to. I fell prey to believing in the boogeyman, even if just for a minute.
But there wasn’t a boogeyman. Just a miscounting teacher, and a secretary jumping the gun. A little girl who seemed oddly surprised at the extra tight hugs she got the other night. And a mother who should trust herself more often.
(Is it just my kid’s school that just does not have it together? Is your neighborhood safe, or would you doubt yourself first too?)