Archive | July, 2012

The Sound Of Tragedy

3 Jul

Tragedy has its own sound, a horrifying timbre that imprints forever on the heart and memory of the person who hears it.  It’s that phone call so late at night that it can only be bad news; it’s the voice of the person on the other end breaking news so shocking that you will never forget one word, or exactly how the caller sounded.

Tragedy sounds like horror. Excruciating pain. The realization of something so terrible that your own life will never be the same.

I’m thinking of this because I just got one of those phone calls from my daughter.  Since the day she left for college three years ago, and I lost the ability to KNOW she was safe at home, safe in her bed, safe on the other side of a wall, I’ve dreaded, deep down, that phone call. Every parent’s worst nightmare is a strange voice on the other end asking, “Are you _____’s mother?” So when the phone call comes, and it is your own child’s voice, there is a tiny measure of relief – whew, ok, at least she’s alive, which means I can handle whatever is coming next…

This phone call sent chills up my spine. Even though I survived the never-ending drama of her teenage years, I have never heard my child so uncontrollably UPSET.  She could barely breathe, let alone speak, and her shrill, uncomprehendable words mingled with her sobs, and I couldn’t calm her down enough for the first three minutes to understand a word of what she was saying…my head was spinning…I had a vision of the car, a mangled, tortured wreck, and my daughter, equally broken on the side of the road, making her first – and possibly last – phone call to her mother.

“What’s the MATTER?? What’s WRONG?” I screamed in fear. “Are you OKAY???” Her answer was more unintelligible, choked words and tears. At this point, I started to panic. “TELL ME WHAT’S WRONG?! WHAT HAPPENED?? ARE YOU OKAY???!!!” My son heard the sound of tragedy in my own voice, and came running from his bedroom, and I saw the fear in his face too.

By this point, I had made out a few of her words, enough to realize that there was no wrecked car, no accident…another slight moment of relief…followed in a split-second by the thought that if this wasn’t an accident, then what could have HAPPENED to my BABY GIRL?? I have to tell you, I was completely freaked out, terrified. From the sound of her voice, and knowing it wasn’t a car accident, I momentarily thought she’d either just been attacked, or had witnessed the brutal slaying of her dearest friend.

You never, EVER, want to hear that sound in your child’s voice. Ever.

I couldn’t be right there to shock her into compliance with a slap to the face (like they do in the movies to calm the hyper-excited), so my mother instinct took over and I yelled at her. I’m pretty certain that no matter how old a person gets, when your mother throws her authority at you, you respond; in that moment, I needed my daughter to tell me what was wrong, so I could FIX it…HELP her…so I could get my baby SAFE again. So I yelled at her as loud as I could to CALM DOWN so I could understand her…and it worked, finally. She was able to drop her voice a few octaves closer to normal, and breathe enough to tell me…

(are you ready for this?)

She had driven out of the supermarket with her wallet on top of the car.

I’m going to say this once more for the cheap seats – she’d lost her WALLET.

(I’d like to ask any parent reading this to stop right now and take a deep breath. A moment of silence, if you will. A moment of solidarity…just between us.)

I’m certain that by morning, my heart rate will have returned to normal, and that extra box of hair color I bought last weekend will take care of the fifty shades of grey that appeared in that frantic three minutes.  The worry lines around my eyes…well, they’re probably here to stay.