Alone in the Dark

For a year and a half, I talked to Mom on the phone every day. She insisted. The cost of a long-distance phone call was no longer prohibitive because I had convinced her to move from her apartment in Pennsylvania, to one in Kentucky, about ten miles from the house my family and I rented. Every evening after work, I was to call her, and on Saturdays and Sundays, she would call me.

“Mom,” I had said earlier in the week, “can’t we skip a day sometimes?”

“Why?” she asked in the hurt tone of voice I had grown accustomed to. “Don’t you want to talk to your old Ma? Sorry for bothering you.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “You’re not bothering me, but when we call each other every day, what’s there to talk about?”

“Janemarie, I just want to hear your voice so I know you’re okay. And stop taking God’s name in vain.”

“All right, fine, but don’t ask me what’s wrong and why we never have anything to say to each other,” I said before exchanging “I love you” with her and hanging up the phone. I knew I would maintain our daily phone call ritual. Lord knows it was easier to be annoyed than to live with Mom-guilt.

On a typical Sunday morning, I was fully immersed into the “me time” that I longed for all week. My two children, Bridget and Ben, were still sleeping, and my husband, Wes, was at work. I even had a small respite from my mom because I knew she had gone to Mass with her friend and wouldn’t be home before one or so that afternoon. I popped “Beaches” into the VCR and didn’t have to fight back the tears as I watched Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey portray childhood best friends who had drifted apart but reunited after Barbara’s character was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition.

One o’clock. Mom would be home soon, and “me time” had already ended after Bridget and Ben woke up and hijacked the TV with Nickelodeon and its re-runs of “Spongebob Squarepants.”

One thirty. Mom and her friend must have grabbed lunch at Burger King. I knew sometimes they did, and I was glad my mom had a friend who would take her places she couldn’t normally go to since she had sold her car before moving to Kentucky.

Two o’clock. I decided to go ahead and call her. No answer. I bet she and her friend had hit up the local dollar store and were rummaging through the plastic flowers or personal hygiene products, looking for a bargain.

Two thirty. Mom must be changing out of her church clothes into the faded Navy-blue cut-off sweatshirt and matching sweatpants she liked to wear. Two thirty-five. Bathroom, maybe? Two forty. Pick up. Pick up. Pick up. Pick up.

Two forty-five. Where the hell are you?

A few months earlier, obsessive worry held me captive in its extreme grip when I called my mom after I came home from work, and she didn’t answer her phone then, either. I’d pounded the “repeat” button on the phone every few minutes for at least an hour, convinced a tragedy prevented her from answering, before she finally answered. “Mom,” I said, “where’ve you been? Are you okay? You scared me half to death.”

“Jesus Christ, Janemarie–and I do mean that prayerfully–stop worrying about me! I was playing Bingo in the activity center. Not that I’ll be doing that any time soon. These old people here? Boring as hell, plus I can’t smoke.”

“Well, don’t be mad at me. You’d feel the same way if it was the other way around.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice softening. “I promise if I ever go out, I’ll let you know.”

Three o’clock. Four. Still no answer, but my friend, Polly, had stopped by with her husband, Tim, and their son, Erik, so I had to give my frantic phone dialing a rest. I poured Polly a cup of coffee and looked out the window, watching Tim toss a football to Ben. “I can’t get a hold of my mom,” I confided. “It’s weird. She always calls me after church, and she hasn’t yet, and she’s not answering her phone, either.”

“Do you want me to take you over there?” Polly knew I didn’t drive. It is a secret I only reveal to my closest friends, and only then when I have to. I’ve always been ashamed of allowing anxiety to control my life in such a way that traps me and sets me apart from most people over the age of sixteen.

“No, but thanks anyway. I’m sure she’s fine,” although I was anything but sure and had already decided to call Wes and see if he could come home early and drive us to my mom’s because at this point, I know longer knew what I would find when I got there.

I wished there was someone I could call there at Mom’s apartment complex, a friend of hers, maybe, or someone who worked at the front desk. But Mom didn’t have any friends that I knew of, and the front desk was closed for the weekend. Besides, even if there were someone I could call to check up on my mom, I was sure she would have been furious with me. I remembered a time when I was in high school, and Mom was out with one of my aunts. I couldn’t sleep until I knew she was home, so by midnight, I was pacing down the sidewalk in front of our house, bare-footed and wearing only a summer nightgown. I eventually broke down and called my uncle, waking him up, to see if Mom was at his house with my aunt. After my mom found out about that, she was embarrassed. And angry. “Don’t you ever, ever do that to me again. I am an adult. I do not have to check in with you.”

By five, Wes was home, and I no longer cared about my mother being mad at me. We were almost at Hathaway Court Apartments when Wes said, patting my leg, “I’m sure your mom is okay. It is weird, though, her not answering.”

“Don’t say that!” It was one thing for me to worry, but another for my husband to confirm one of my greatest fears.

It was almost dark outside when we pulled into the parking lot outside the complex, where I fumbled for the key that would get me into the secured building. A few minutes later, I was in the hall outside of her apartment door and realized Mom had never given me the key to her apartment.


12 thoughts on “Alone in the Dark

  1. It’s was a captivating piece of writing, no doubt. Truly touching. I sometimes think that way myself. My parents are alive. Every time they did not pick up the phone when I called, I would get worried… Exactly the way you did.

    All this while I thought I was paranoid. But after reading your this piece, I know I am not. The fear is universal I think.

    I could not stop reading this the last word of this post, just hoping (and praying somewhere at the back of my mind) that maybe your worst fears will turn out to be baseless. But when it did not, my heart sank… probably I felt a vicarious pain at the thought that sooner or later even I have to experience a day like this.

    Thanks for writing this.

  2. To be in that place was somewhere I never wanted to be, for sure. I’m sorry you have felt the same way because I know it is horrible place to be, the mental trap of worrying. That our fear is universal is, I believe, what unites humanity in its similarities and experiences. Thanks so much for reading this. I’ll be adding to the story soon. Take care.

  3. I watched my mother on thanksgiving night,at age 52 get ready for her liver transplant and gave her a kiss as she was taken away. This would be the last time I would see her as who she really was. A strong woman of God. After her surgery, she suffered and struggled to overcome as she overcame so many trials and tribulations in life. A week later she left this earth to be with her Lord. The year before her passing, my father died of heart failure in prison. i know what it is to loose those who have given us our identity. After loosing a mother, you actually have to learn how to become a different person in a sense. no longer a daughter, and filling that void takes a lifetime.

    • I’m so sorry you had to go through that with your mom and dad. Like yours, my mom was a woman of deep faith who struggled for most of her adult life; I take comfort in knowing she is in heaven with those she loved, and I’m sure your mom is, too. I knew at the time of my mom’s stroke how blessed I was to have the time I needed to atone for my actions and love her the way I knew I needed to; like I’ve written, her curse was my redemption, and eight years later, I still believe it and am grateful for that time. You and I are different but, I suspect, stronger. Thanks so much for your comment and for reading my blog. Best, Jane

      • I know your writings will bless many who have experienced this type of heartache. Yes, we are stronger because our journey has brought us to examine who we are. I know many young girls who have lost their mothers in different ways; some to cancer, suicide,and automobile accidents. Some are older women. Loosing your mother, no matter what the circumstance is a traumatic experience.The death of a mother brings out all the suppressed feelings and emotions.Grief brings the feeling of hopelessness, but through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have the promise of eternity, we have hope to see them again. I look forward to reading your blog!

      • Tina, I agree with everything you say. It is my mother’s strong faith that comforted me, for I believe with all my heart that she went to Heaven. While I struggle with my faith, she continues to inspire me. Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my blog. I look forward to reading more of yours as well! 🙂 Jane

    • Thanks for your comment, Marisa. Your mother was very young. I hope her dying in your arms was a good thing for you, expected, like the way my sister held our mom in her arms when she died. Jane

      • Actually, it was a traumatizing bloodbath. And so wierd now that I’m older than she was. Ah, the stories we have, no?

      • I’m sure your experience has impacted your entire life. My dad died unexpectedly in 1968; he was 32. I’ve surpassed that age (and then some 🙂 ), and I agree, it is weird. Jane

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