My niece's son. My sister's grandson. My boy. Of course he's a grown man now, old enough, whip-smart enough to take care of himself. A tiny worry fissure opened when my first husband––Antho's Uncle George who always knows how Anthony is––stopped responding to my messages. And then Anthony's sister, who keeps track of everyone in the family, said she didn't have his number anymore, and the tiny fissure spider veined. How could I lose him like an old sock? From toddler at home with mom and big sister to CASA to great grand parents to Aunt Dawn. Sitting at my kitchen table, head bowed like a wrongly-convicted prisoner. "Why was I the one that got sent away?" To high school not-quite-graduate towering over me in my garage, exhaust fumes scenting our mutual exhaustion, me sending him back to his mom. "God, Anthony, I don't know what to do with you anymore. Maybe your mom does." One last "love you" and "love you too." And me sitting at my kitchen table, head bowed. Collapsing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. I failed him. Maybe one more school, one more social worker, one more therapist. Whenever he walked through my dreams, because they did not end in death or violence, I took the dreams to mean he was alright. I stopped believing in dreams. I need concrete evidence: citizen journalists with cell phones have been reminding me that young black men cannot be presumed to be okay. And my center where I used be clear as glass fractured into how do I find him and what if he doesn't want to be found and are you crazy it's always good to tell someone they are thought about in the middle of the night. I need to hear that bass voice, which I still decades after the fact cannot believe dropped from a kindergarten falsetto. Where are you, Anthony? Where's my boy?
My alumni magazine profiled Bill Keller, class of '70, Pulitzer Prize winner and "one of the most familiar and respected figures in American print journalism." Upon absorbing this information, my brain wept.
Keller joined an infinitely expanding throng of Pomona College alums whom my brain envied. Kris Kristofferson graduated summa cum laude before going on to … well … you know. John Whitney, Sr. fathered computer animation. Norris Bradbury worked on the Manhattan Project. John Cage (whose polysyllabic accomplishments I could not even pronounce, much less comprehend) pioneered interdependency in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments.
The Great All That Is sent me to a college of hyperactive overachievers. I graduated from Pomona highly trained in research, analysis, problem solving, and staying up all night to finish term papers. The Solver of All Equations prepared my brain for greatness. Why then did The Composer of Everything drop this highly skilled lump of clay into the slacker lifestyle of a writer? I am confounded that Big Smarty Pants in the Sky imprisoned my brain inside the head of a woman who lies on her bed studying the ceiling fan.
This puzzle cried out for the data processing skills of my eager cerebellum. I set to work deciphering possible reasons and trying to draw rational conclusions. The riddle refused to yield an answer. I felt sorry for my brain. Pomona taught it nothing about koans.
My husband went to the airport to pick up Victor and Nhien on their return from an overseas vacation, but they weren’t on the plane. He texted Victor. No response. Back home he triple-checked the itinerary. I phoned the airline and learned our friends had canceled their return flight.
I refused to submit to my initial nervous twinge. "Maybe he didn't get messages. You know––dropped calls."
As I tried to answer emails, butterflies stirred in my stomach. The airline gave me the wrong information.
The butterflies turned into bats. There's been an accident. Leathery wings flapped. They're in a coma––yes, both of them.
Half the time I knew they were fine, but concentration proved impossible, so I lay on my bed to visit with my fears. Heartburn commanded me to call the police. The quivering in my knees said, no, call the FBI. Call Interpol. I pictured Ben's worried face. He'd been trying to reach Victor for two days, and I'd only been involved for a few hours. I breathed in his anxiety and breathed out calm. How many other people had shown up at airports and train stations and bus depots, and were shaken when their loved ones did not appear as planned? I breathed in everyone's where-the-hell-are-they and breathed out they’re-okay.
One sleepless night later, Ben heard from Victor. He'd accidentally provided the wrong flight information and hadn’t responded to messages because he was out of phone service range.
Nothing had happened. Yet there was no denying my heartburn and wobbly knees. And no denying the relief: the exhale that relaxed clenched muscles, the sigh of oh-silly-me.
It was all in my head. And completely real.
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