In the Late Morning

In the Late Morning February 22, 2024

A noon sun in a blue sky with one cloud
image via Pixabay

 

I didn’t wake up to the sound of my phone that morning. I was sleeping in, again.

We have a routine now. Adrienne is very good about getting out the door herself, after Michael gets her breakfast; if she misses her bus, she leaves with Jimmy the mechanic when he drives his children to school. I can sleep in until ten or eleven and then get up to write. This accommodates my winter insomnia, and everyone is happy. But this particular morning I slept until almost noon.

Michael had been out hours before dawn at the laundromat when he realized that Adrienne didn’t have clean jeans, which is how he came to fall asleep and sleep in as well. I heard him get up, downstairs on the sofa where he’d dozed off.

I  heard a cry of surprise.

He was in my doorway in another minute. “Mary… the school says Adrienne was absent today.”

The call was left two hours before we woke up. I was out of bed in a moment, in Adrienne’s room, ready to chide her for playing hooky and scaring me like that. But of course, she wasn’t there.

“Did you see her get on the bus?”

Yes, she’d gotten on the bus with her friends. The school had called us both, but I keep my phone downstairs because scrolling at night makes the insomnia worse. I went down and listened to the robotic voice in my voicemail, scolding me for not calling her in absent.

All I could think of was the infamous Barbie Barnes kidnapping, which took place right in this neighborhood, in sight of the very same middle school, when I was Adrienne’s age. Barbie’s mother had found out she was missing when the school called to chide her for not calling her daughter in absent, just like this. The actual abduction had taken place early in the morning, about half a mile from here, and the child was never seen alive again. Of course I’ve never told Adrienne that story. I’ve just begged her to be very careful when going to school by herself.

For some reason I was getting dressed next. I don’t know why I did that. I just found myself in the laundry room, choosing an outfit, in case I had to run out the door and talk to somebody at a minute’s notice. The laundry room is on what used to be a back porch in our rickety old 1920s foursquare; it doesn’t have its own heating vent, and the walls aren’t very insulated. I shivered as I wiggled into my sweater. It took about a minute and a half to find clothes and jump into them, and while I dressed and shivered, I imagined every possible catastrophe. A bus accident. A school shooting. A terrorist attack. A bully at school doing something unspeakable, even though her school is wonderfully free of bullies so far. Maybe she ran away. Why would she run away? I’ve always felt so guilty about every single aspect of her childhood, and worried she’d resent me. I’ve worried that she would feel unloved and think I resented her, just as my mother resented me, and we’d have a falling out and I’d lose her. What if today she walked out and I never saw her again?

And even as I worried, I knew it was all nonsense. I was sure there was some mundane explanation. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t panic.

After I got dressed, I called the school.

Do you know how long two rings of a telephone can last?

Do you know how long it takes to listen to a robot voice read a list of extensions, when your child is missing, and you’re panicked?

Finally I got the secretary, a friendly lady who put me on hold while she called the fourth period classroom.

I think I only waited on hold for two minutes, but it felt like five or ten. And as I waited, somebody else’s life flashed before my eyes. That day in early January, when I saw two lines on a stick. The catastrophic childbirth. Hearing her cry for the first time, and calling to her with my arms strapped down on that operating table, and the nurse pressing her slimy face to mine for a kiss. The colic. The baptism at that giant Baroque church downtown with the font that looked like a punchbowl. Going on the bus to Tot Time to hear Miss Misty read picture books. Walking through the woods in the old cemetery to the grocery store to spend our food stamps. The teddy bears. The bedtime stories. The dollhouse. The martial arts lessons. The trips to Pittsburgh. Asking me to call her by her first name, Adrienne, instead of her nickname, Rosie, because it was more grown up. The First Holy Communion. Giving up on homeschooling and apologizing for taking so long to realize it wasn’t working. Finding a new life this past year, and being so proud of her even though it hurts me so much to see her not little anymore that sometimes I want to die.

I reminded myself that this was likely nothing, just a misunderstanding, and it was almost certain that my child was safe.

I wondered, not for the first or the thousandth time, if God’s final punishment to me for failing so spectacularly to be what I ought to be would be taking Adrienne away. Because Adrienne is the only good thing I’ve ever done and the only thing that made life worthwhile these past twelve and a half years.

And then the secretary was back on the phone, with reassuring laughter in her voice. Just a false alarm. The substitute teacher at homeroom had checked off the wrong box on the attendance list by mistake.

By the time Adrienne came home three hours later, oblivious to anything that had happened, I almost felt normal again.

Of course, in another way, I’ll never be normal again.

No one can be normal ever again, after they’ve started out being a mother.

It is worth it, though.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

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