When we were little, my siblings and I used to do hide-and-seek with my mother. It wasn’t a game. She was really hiding. And we were seeking. It was a big house–three floors plus a basement–and as we climbed the stairs calling, “Mom! Mooooooooooooommmmmmm!” we were sure that she must have gone down to one floor while we were ascending to another. Years later, when we were in high school ( and a smaller house), we learned that Mom had been hiding in her walk-in closet. It was her only refuge. We always found her if she tried to sneak a minute of peace in the bathroom.
My cell phone rings. It’s my sister. The one who wasn’t born yet when Mom played hide-and-seek.
First thought: How the heck should I know?
Second thought: It’s the day she volunteers at the soup kitchen, but she would have been home hours ago. Maybe she’s napping.
“I’ve been texting and calling her for days and she doesn’t respond.”
First thought: She’s lying on the floor of her condo unresponsive and/ or dead.
Second thought: My sister is calling me because she’s having the same first thought. She could just go over to Mom’s and let herself in, but she’s calling me because she doesn’t want to go over there by herself. She wants me to go with her and call 911 and read the advance directive that Mom has posted on the fridge.
“She was alive on Sunday, ” I say. “She rsvp’d for Thanksgiving.”
“I know,” my sister says, ” I saw that she signed up, but she hasn’t responded to me since.” (We use an online sign up program, so everyone coming to Thanksgiving knows that Mom is bringing shrimp and her famous Vienna Cake.)
Ok. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. I saw her sign up post but haven’t talked to her for a couple of weeks.. Days have passed with no word from her.
Oh wait…was this the week she was going on a bus trip to West Virginia with her church friends? Or did she already go on that trip? I talked to her about a trip…wait…that was the trip to Cape Cod. The trip where none of the other travelers drank and she felt awkward having her vodka at dinner.
More guilt. I should know if this is the week she is going to West Virginia. I should have it marked on all my calendars in bold letters: MOM IN WEST VIRGINIA.
I tell my sister, ” This might be the week she’s on a trip to West Virginia.”
“Why doesn’t she tell people these things?”
“She told me.”
“She should tell more people.”
“I think she doesn’t so that we will have to get worried and call each other.”
“Well, I am nearly hysterical with worry!” says the sister who decades ago called Mom in post-partum distress threatening to harm someone. Mom flew in her car to save the baby from a crazed mother. When she arrived, the baby was quietly settled down for a nap while my sister calmly prepared a cup of tea.
“You do have a history of overreacting.”
“Wait…she’s texting me. She’s in West Virginia. I have to go. I’m going to call her and yell at her for scaring me.”
Poor Mom. She has forgotten the most important part of hide-and-seek….stay hidden.