Sunday, March 23, 2014
It was a cold morning, and I was alone in the car when the call came the first time. It was my mom calling, telling me that I needed to come as quickly as possible because my dad’s condition was getting worse.
It was on another cold morning just over two years later when the call came the second time, and I was alone in the kitchen of my house when I answered the phone and heard that I needed to come. But this time it was my brother-in-law David, calling to tell me that my sister Nancy was in labor, news that I was so happy and excited to hear.
Looking back to the time just before the first call, I was expecting the call to come at some point, although on some level I believed that there could be another outcome, better news coming instead or at least the bad news being delayed for a long time. The second time, though, I knew the call was coming soon, and I had been eagerly awaiting hearing the words at the other end of the line. We would be gaining a new member of the family this time.
Both times when the calls came, I dropped what I was doing and frantically packed a suitcase. Both times, as I backed out of the driveway, I promised to my husband that I would keep him posted about what was going on after I’d gotten there. Both times as soon as I'd gotten on the road, I called my sister Jennifer to talk to her about her plans for travel from where she was in California, and then I drove in silence while so many thoughts and emotions ran through my head that I finally had to turn on some music. When Jennifer gave me her flight information after the second call, we both realized that the departure and arrival times of her flight that day were identical to those after the first time the call had come. And we both knew that she would again be racing the clock to get there in time, with none of us having any control over whether or not she would make it there soon enough.
Both times after I’d started my drive along the same route, I struggled to control the panic I felt rising up in my chest. Both times, I felt desperate to talk to the person about whom the call had been made: the first time, my dad, and the second time, Nancy. I wanted to call one of the people already there but knew my call would be intrusive in the midst of what was happening there. Both times I knew that there would be little to nothing I could do to make things any better, and yet both times I felt an almost indescribably pressing need to get there, a magnetic force pulling me east along the interstate. As I drove, I thought about how odd it was that that particular day was just a regular day for the people in other vehicles I was passing along the road.
I stopped for gas along the way both times, and, as the fuel pumped into the car, I texted others in my family to see what was going on and to report on my estimated time of arrival. Both times I called Jennifer again once I got back on the road, and we talked about what we thought would be the quickest way for her to get from the airport to where I would be when she arrived. Both times I heard the rising panic in her voice when she talked about having to be cut off from communication with the rest of us while she was in the air, and both times I assured her that I would take care of things until she could get there and that transportation would be arranged for her by the time her flight had landed. Both times I told her that I believed she would make it there in time, and both times I could only hope that that prediction would hold true.
The first time when the call had come, my destination was my parents’ house, but the second time it was the hospital, one chosen by Nancy for her delivery because it was a different hospital from where we had been both times during my dad’s inpatient stays. Both times when I arrived, I turned the car off and made myself take a few deep breaths before I hit the ground running. Both times I was acutely aware that life for everyone in my family was about to change.
On both of those days, there was a flurry of text messages and emails being sent between family members across the country. Both times, I knew my mom and my brother-in-law David were keeping things under control as I traveled, but I wanted to be there to see what was going on for myself. After I had arrived and had checked things out, both times I reported in to the rest of the family, and only then did I feel like I could breathe.
On both of those days, I considered driving to the airport to pick up Jennifer when her flight came in but was afraid to leave, and so both times I asked my aunt to get Jennifer to us as quickly as possible. Both times I remember feeling relieved to be there but at the same time feeling restless, as if I needed to have something to do in the chaos of what was going on around me. On both occasions, there was an air of surrealism in the knowledge of what was about to occur, and both times the room was filled with emotion.
Jennifer swept in with a sense of purpose like I’d seldom seen before in both cases. Both times I watched her hug Nancy, David, and my mom, and then when she hugged me I felt such a sense of relief that she was there with us. There was an intimacy in the room that is difficult to describe, one that created an odd sense of control in a situation that we knew could not be controlled.