Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The Auntie Vanishes
My aunt pulled a disappearing act last week that would have made Houdini jealous.
I call my aunt every morning from work to see how she's doing. She's my mom's sister and a few years ago she lost both my mom and her husband in less than a year.
She lives in Manhattan and several days a week she'd go downtown, take the ferry out to Staten Island and visit my mom in the nursing home. Then she'd go home and take care of her husband, who was dying from cancer. I don't know how she did it.
When these two people she loved so dearly died within such a short period of time, my aunt had a terrible gap in her life. I started calling her daily to see how she was doing and I think I wanted to stay "in touch" with my mom in a way.
Obviously they're two different people, with two distinct personalities, but she's still my mom's sister. And, in better times, she and my mom used to speak to each other on the phone every day.
So I feel like I'm keeping up a tradition and checking up on my aunt, who is healthy (Thank God!) but still in her seventies. If either one of us knows we won't be around in the morning, we tell the other one ahead of time so no one gets worried. Simple, no?
Last Wednesday I came into work as usual, called my aunt and got the answering service. Fine. She went somewhere and forgot to tell me. It happens, nothing to worry about.
I called her again an hour later and get the answering service again. And then again. By early afternoon I left her a message saying, "I am now officially worried, please call me back."
This happened to be one of the few nights where I didn't have to go anywhere after work. I could leave the office and go straight the hell home. Some days that's all I need to be happy.
But now with this busines, I was getting all sorts of horrible images bouncing around in my head. I pictured my aunt slumped in the shower, I imagined her laid up in a hospital bed, the victim of a terrible accident or even worse crime. And I wasn't around to protect her.
I called her apartment building's front desk and they told me they hadn't see her. They promised to have her call me the next time they saw her. If you see her, I added in my fevered brain.
At 4:30 p.m., I still hadn't heard from my aunt and so I left one more message: I'm coming up to your place. If you get this message before 5 p.m. please call me and save me a trip uptown.
That sounds pretty selfish now that I'm reading it, but I was tired and my aunt's apartment was in the exact opposite direction I wanted to go.
I got to her place at about 5:20 p.m. and I was sick to my stomach. The nightmare pictures started flashing through my head faster, with more detail. I picture myself shouting for help, dialing 911 on my cell phone and screaming for an ambulance.
The doorman called upstairs and told her I was on the way up. That meant she wasn't in a coma, she hadn't been kidnapped by terrorists or renditioned off to Cairo by a squadron of black ops. She was home having dinner with her friend.
She was waiting in the hallway for me when I got off the elevator and I had the dual urge to hug her until her ribs ached and shriek "why the hell didn't you call me?!?" at the top of my voice.
God knows I got that when I was a kid. If my parents couldn't find me they'd hit that panic button with reckless abandon. And when I finally got home they'd shout at me so much I wasn't sure if they were really glad to see me.
It turns out my aunt hadn't checked her messages, something she's done, or failed to do, in the past. That's hardly a crime and I was so happy to see her safe, I didn't care about the uptown detour. I didn't notice how upset I was until the danger had passed and the knots in my stomach uncoiled.
My aunt apologized profusely and she also thanked me for caring enough to check up on her. That last bit made my little ego feel good. Yes, she is lucky to have me, isn't she?
Before my mom entered the hospital, never to return, we tried to take care of her at home. I remember one time helping her into bed and she looked at me with these beautiful brown eyes and said softly, "good boy."
Good boy. Actually I was a middle-aged teen-ager with a rather spotty employment record and an even more dubious future. But to my mom I was a good boy doing the right thing for her. I wish I could hear her say it one more time.
I realize I'm never going to stop worrying about my family or anything else for that matter. The panic button has been handed down to me like the Olympic torch and I'll keep hitting it at the slightest provocation.
I know worry is useless and it gives you a false sense of control, but I can't help myself. There's too much grief going on in the world to assume it can't reach your door. All you can do is pray and hope your relatives pick up the damn phone.