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do you know where your children are

It’s 11:00. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

I awake with a start. Disoriented, I look for the clock. It’s not there. I shake my head for clarity and realize I’m on the couch. Did I fall asleep, and Laura came in too quietly?

What time is it? I stumble to the kitchen and squint at the clock—3:30. Now I’m awake! My heart is pounding. I race up the steps to Laura’s room, banging my knee on the planter in the hall. Damn! I limp to her room and peer in, but it’s too dark to tell if she’s there. Not wanting to turn on the light and wake her if (I hope) she’s sleeping, I feel my way in and gently pat her unmade bed. Empty. My heart stops.

What Next?

“Okay, Linda,” I say, trying to calm myself. “Think.” I try to remember the plan. She was definitely picking up Jen and Tracy and driving to the concert in D.C. Did she say she was sleeping at Jen’s? Tracy’s? I don’t think so. Still, I could be mistaken, or perhaps she’d changed her mind. No, she would have called. She knows how I worry. But it’s so late! There’s no choice. I must call her friends.

I turn on the light to look for her address book. Ugh! Her room is a mess. Three dresser drawers are open, as usual, and half her belts and socks are spilling out. A mountain of dirty clothes blocks the closet. Or are they clean clothes she’d not put away? Who could tell? Oh, No! The mountain is topped with my favorite turtleneck I’d lent her two weeks earlier. I well up with anger at the carelessness with which she treats my things.

“Listen,” I tell myself. “You can talk to her about that later. You have to find that book.”

I check out the dresser: boom box, pictures, trophies, over-flowing jewelry box, books, tapes…but no phone directory.

The desk proves more fruitful. Among the textbooks, pens, pads, candy wrappers and empty milk glass, I spot her address book and thumb through the W’s until I find Tracy Williams.

More Worried Parents

“Hello?” Tracy’s mother answers, a breathless question, on the first ring. Her anxiety is tangible.

“Emily, I’m sorry to be calling so late, but Laura’s not home. Is she at your house?”

“No, and I’ve already called Jen’s mom, and they’re not there either. We’re really worried. Something must have happened.”

“Yes, it’s not like Laura to be so irresponsible. I’ll call the Capital Centre and see if there was some problem.”

“Well, call me when you know something,” she said with the strained voice that mirrored my anxiety.

Can Someone Help?

I call the arena after getting the number from ‘information’ but there’s no answer. I check the clock—3:45. Again, I reach for the phone. “Baltimore County Police,” a female voice announces.

“My daughter and two friends were at a concert at the Capital Centre. Would you know if there was any trouble there? It’s awfully late, and they’re not home,” I say, my voice quivering.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s Prince George’s County district. You’ll need to call the police there.” She kindly gives me the number. I bet she’s a mom.

“As a matter of fact, ma’am, I heard from an officer on duty there about an hour ago. The concert let out at 1:40, and the last of the parking lot was cleared out when he called,” reported the P.G. officer.

How could this be? “Um, do you know if there was any trouble, problems, fighting, something like that?”

“No, ma’am. Everything was fine. Took awhile to get all the cars off the lot, but that’s not unusual with a large crowd. As things go, it went pretty smooth.”

“But it’s so late, and my daughter’s not home yet.” Now the tears are spilling, and I can hardly control my voice. “I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do,” I begged.

“Well, now, try to calm down. I’ll put out an APB to look for any cars that may have broken down or are stranded. Give me your address and phone number and a description of the car. The license plate would help if you have it.”

Feeling a little better, I give her the information she needs and then call to report my findings to Tracy’s mom who would share it with Jen’s parents.

The clock. It’s 4:00 in the morning. I start to pace and remember the conversation two weeks ago that started this whole thing.

Giving In

“Mom, pleeeeease,” Laura begged as if she were a five-year-old. “I promise I’ll drive carefully.”

“Listen, Sweetie, it’s not that. But you have a provisional license. You absolutely have to be in by midnight. These concerts are never over by then. And even if it is, it takes forever to get out in the massive crowd and then to maneuver out of the parking lot. And D.C. yet. It’s a 40-minute drive for a person familiar with the area. Suppose you get lost? I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Mom, we won’t stay til the end. I don’t care about all the bands. I just want to see Kid ’n Play. If it’s not over by 11:00, we’ll leave. And then it won’t be crowded to get out, and there won’t be all the traffic to deal with. Pleeeeease.”

“Laura, honey, suppose it is over by 11:00. Then you still have to deal with the crowds and the traffic and couldn’t possibly get home before curfew. I just don’t feel good about it.”

“Ohmygod!” Tracy and Jen’s parents are letting them go! Why can’t you trust me? I get good grades, I help around the house, I don’t get in trouble. C’mon, Mom, be normal for once!”

‘Normal.’ What’s that? Isn’t it ‘normal’ to want to protect your children? But I relented because everything she said is true. She’s 17-years-old and quite responsible. She bought that 1978 Chevy for $300 with money she saved from her part-time job. My dad promised me the car wouldn’t break down even if it is almost as old as she is!

Waiting

Still pacing, I look at the clock again. 4:17. I start humming The Man who Never Returned and then laughed a sinister laugh. “You’re driving yourself crazy,” I tell the haggard woman in the hall mirror. She nods in agreement. I sit by the phone, willing it to ring. It doesn’t. I shudder and turn up the heat, but it doesn’t help. I hug myself, but I am not warmer, and it does not comfort me. The only thing happening is I’m wearing out the carpet.

I enter my tiny kitchenette, even too small for a table. I sit on the floor to face the clock thinking perhaps if I were close enough, time would move faster. But it doesn’t. I watch the hands creep as slowly as a weary runner at the end of a 26-mile race. As the hand reaches the 5:00 hour, I hear the key turn in the lock, jump-starting me out of my hypnotic daze.

Relief

I raise my weary body, older now by at least 50 years, and face the door as my very tired, very forlorn daughter drags herself in. I cannot stop my tears of relief as my shaky voice whispers, “Where have you been?”

“Please, Mom. I’m so tired. Could we talk about it tomorrow?”

She is safe, she is in one piece, she is home. Tomorrow would be soon enough. I nod. And then my beautiful daughter walks over and hugs me. Crying, she says, “Thanks, Mom.”

. . . . .

Event took place in 1989 (before cell phones)

Just in case my readers are wondering: they got lost.

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Read more by Linda Miller.

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