I like to think I’m a grateful person; that I live my life mindful right here, right now, of my many blessings; that I don’t need the scare of a lifetime to be humbled.
And then I get the scare of a lifetime and I fall, Scrooge-like, to my knees.
Our daughter Ellen, 20, transferred to Wayne State University this year and lives alone in a downtown on-campus apartment. Because she doesn’t have a roommate and attends two night classes that have her walking back to her apartment alone in the dark, we agreed at least until I got acclimated to my baby being in the big bad city all alone, that she would shoot me a text when she was in her apartment for the night.
Which she dutifully did — God love her — every night for the last three months. It was just a short text — “I’m back” or “In for the night.” Until last Thursday night.
At around 8 p.m., I surreptitiously asked her dad to text her with an innocuous question. (I didn’t want to be the only one keeping tabs.) By 9 p.m., there was no word back. So, I phoned her. It rang four times before it went to voicemail, so I figured she wasn’t charging the battery. (I also figured that whoever had abducted her was — and for this I was grateful — pretty stupid to not have disabled her phone because now police could then track her cell tower pings.)
By 9:15 p.m., I left my first message: a cheery, albeit faked: “Hi honey, give me a call.” By 9:45 p.m. I left my second message. I was stern and adamant. “I need you to call me, Ellen Mariah. Right away.”
When I plopped down on the couch, my exaggerated sigh timed to oxygenate the entire room with despair just as the Red Wings breaked for commercial, Mr. Compassionate finally took notice. “What is the matter?” he said, utterly clueless.
I recited my litany of her consistent check-in texts; how, even when she’d lost her phone, she called me via Google chat.
He looked at me thoughtfully, but this was not borne of affection for the mother of his children for fretting so. ( I know this because after 26 years, I can read his mind.) Instead he was pondering Google chat, and likely wanted to ask if it was similar to Facebook, which he pretends to loathe, all the while craning his neck behind me. Instead he asked: “Why don’t we wait to call again until the end of the second period?”
While some might take umbrage with a father who gauges his concern for his daughter’s imminent peril in 20 minute periods during which Neanderthal brutes use sticks to shoot an oversize rubber lozenge into their opponent’s net, I honestly took some solace in his complacency. Maybe I was overreacting.
But by 10:30 p.m., I was in a fetal position on my bed. I knew in my gut something was not right. The bottom line was this: Ellie knows me. She wouldn’t let me worry needlessly.
And so, at 11:30 p.m., I was driving down I-75, making Grand Bargains with the spirits of Christmas past, present and the things to come. I could not stop thinking of the mothers of missing young women: Hannah Graham, Theresa DeKeyzer, Lauren Spierer. Would I be joining their ranks? My fingers started cramping from gripping the steering wheel. I felt nauseated.
The polite but protocol-adhering student/resident adviser would not let me accompany her in the elevator up to the sixth floor to knock on the door of my own flesh and blood. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if she’s not up there,” I said to Chris on my cell. He said: “If that happens, then it’s time to call campus police.” Gone was the last sliver of hope that I was overreacting.
Just then, the elevator doors opened.
It was the resident adviser and she was very much alone. “Please wait a few minutes,” she said, walking back behind the desk. Just as I was about to bite her head off, a second elevator opened and out walked a sleepy, somewhat bewildered and very apologetic answer to my prayers.
I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas morning; Dorothy waking up in the arms of Auntie Em; George Bailey joyously leaping four stairs in a single bound, the broken banister globe held high, a tribute to life’s gold-plated problems.
Turns out Ellen had taken a nap at 7 p.m. and had fallen into a deep sleep, her phone left on silent from her afternoon class.
I felt a tad foolish, knowing that a phone left on silent was all there was to blame. Then again, it never hurts to be struck deeply by the abundance of love in my midst, right here and right now.