Yesterday I received the call I’ve been dreading ever since I fell in love with my husband over a decade ago – it was the police and something had gone wrong. OK, actually, it wasn’t the police. It was my husband who, after having disappeared for an hour, called my cell phone to ask me why I had called the police. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all began with running late – but then again, every story in my life begins that way. My younger daughter had a 10:30AM doctor’s appointment. Her nose has been stuffy for about as long as she’s had one, and we were trying to get to the bottom of it (the problem, not her nose). The plan was for my husband and me to pick up our daughter from school, go to the doctor, drop her off back at school and then do some shopping before our 2 year old son needed to be picked up from his school at 1pm.
We weren’t even that late when the babysitter informed me that we only had 2 oz. of formula left for our baby, so I handed her a container of rice cereal and told her that we’d come back within a couple hours either to nurse or with more formula. And with that, were we out the door, now undeniably late.
My daughter, who is 5 and can’t tell time, didn’t realize how tardy we were when we got there, but the receptionist at the doctor’s office sure did and informed us of it. My husband had run up to the office with my daughter while I was left to find parking in a three level (non-interconnected) garage. The upper level was under construction, the middle level was over-capacity, and the lowest level was just right.
On my way to the elevator in this lobby-less building, my husband called to tell me that in order to get to the office, I’d have to take the elevator to the third floor, walk across the building to another elevator bank, and use that to get to the penthouse. I wasn’t really paying attention when he explained this, so I spent a while wandering aimlessly in this maze of a building until I finally found the place. By the time I arrived I was certain we would be called soon. But we weren’t. Not for a LONG time.
We read every book in the waiting room. I informed the receptionist that we would have to leave soon to pick up my son from school. Finally, after nearly two hours of waiting, we were led to a room where we were left to do even more waiting. (Incidentally, this room was freezing – they call it the “icebox” – with a wall made out of glass that revealed the cold, dank day outside and a vent that blew frigid air.) After several games of “I Spy” with my completely restless daughter, and still no doctor, my husband and I decided that he would have to leave in order to drop off food to the baby and pick up my son from school.
As I watched him walk out the door, a sense of foreboding came over me. “But wait,” I implored him, “how will we find each other again?” (His cell phone was almost out of juice.) My husband said that when he went home to drop off the formula he’d grab his cell phone charger and would call me when he was close to the office. We figured he’d be back 40 minutes later.
We finally saw the doctor, who poked and prodded my (now starving) daughter a bunch of times, and with a prescription and some food elimination instructions in hand, we walked out of the icebox. I called my husband, but his cell phone went straight to voicemail. “Now what?” I thought to myself. No missed calls or messages. No lobby to wait in. So I decided we’d go back down to the lowest parking level and maybe find my husband there.
Upon arrival, there was no sign of him and my daughter wanted to know what was going on. So I emailed a “where R U?” message to my man and hoped that the BlackBerry fairies would swiftly carry it to his inbox. “Where do we go now?” groaned my daughter. I had no good answer, but nowhere else to go, so we entered the labyrinth again, making our way through its twists and turns until we were back to the receptionist, who wanted to know why we had returned. (Cause we just love sitting on your couches, lady!)
All along the way, I kept calling my husband whose cell phone kept going straight to voicemail. A couple more emails to him and still nothing. And then the questions started popping into my head. Did he ever pick up my son? Did he ever drop off food for the baby? Is my 5 month old sitting at home, screaming for nourishment while my 5 year old is trapped in this God-forsaken building, about to scream due to lack of nourishment? (No snack machines. We checked.)
After several calls to the school, I reached my son’s teacher, who informed me that my son had in fact been picked up, and after several calls to my home, the babysitter answered our landline and informed me that the baby was fine and had gotten the formula, but that my husband had left an hour earlier.
Then I really started to panic. Why would a ten minute drive take more than an hour? Why does his cellphone go straight to voicemail every time I call? (“Because it’s smashed into billions of pieces on the side of the road,” answered my crazy head voice. What, you don’t have one of those?)
I called a friend who said she could pick us up. But where was he? What had happened to him? How would I find him if we did leave the office? Who should I call to discuss this with? My mother? Nah – she’s even crazier than I am! (I love you, Mommy!) My father. Yes, I’ll call him.
As I started to explain what happened, my voice was shaking. “It’s been over an hour and there’s no trace of him anywhere.” My father told me that he was sure that everything was fine, but if I wanted to be a little morbid (Want to be a little morbid? I can’t help not being a LOT morbid), I could call a couple police precincts just to make sure there were no accidents along the way.
Both police departments put me on hold and both came back to say that there was no news to report. “But what do I do now?” I asked the officer. (Police people are good with emergencies, right?) “What if I go home and he’s still not there?” “If he’s still not there when you get home,” responded the officer, “call us back.” Aha!” shouted my head voice. “The police agree that we’re on the verge of an emergency!”
“When will Daddy, be here?” whined my daugher. “Hopefully soon,” I responded, trying to sound strong, but my crazy head voice had a different answer. “Maybe NEVER!!!!”
I was already starting to mourn him (they can’t lock you up for writing crazy things on a blog, can they?) when in a daze we made our way out of the building to my neighbor’s car, my daughter, crying she was so hungry, me, fighting back tears as I thought about how much I love my husband and how sad my life would be now without him. And then my cell phone rang. It was an from an unknown number, but had the same area code as the police stations.
“You called the police?” began the man on the phone, and my heart dropped. I was sure it was the police calling back to say they had some bad news. “Yeah,” is all I was able to get out as I braced myself.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked the man who was starting to sound a lot like my husband. (HE’S ALIVE!!!) My heard skipped a beat! “Why didn’t you respond to any of my emails?” my husband pressed. “Why would you call the police?”
Apparently my husband had done all the things he was supposed to do when he left, except the one thing that was meant to reconnect us – remember to take his cell phone charger. But since he had a laptop with an internet connection in the car, he decided that he would just email me instead. Not a bad plan, except for the fact that none of his emails got to me and none of my emails got to him. (Those darn BlackBerry fairies!) Oh, and my son happened to fall asleep as they were driving over, so my husband decided to just wait in the parking lot until he woke up.
So what’s the point of this story? When we lose something (or fear we lost it) we can appreciate it in a way we might have otherwise taken for granted. Sure, I love my husband everyday, but for the hour that I thought something awful had happened to him, all of his annoying habits and imperfections were irrelevent and immaterial. I wanted nothing more than to hear his voice again, which thank G0d, I did.
On Passover, we go on and on during the seder about how God freed us from slavery with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” but didn’t that very same God make us slaves in the first place? What was the point of enslaving us if God was just going to free us later? Couldn’t we have just skipped it all and gone straight to Mount Sinai?
This is obviously a very big question with a very big answer and touches upon some of the toughest questions in Judaism: bad things happening to good people. Whle I don’t claim to know “the answer” as God’s ways will never be comprehended by human beings, after my crazy day with my husband, I wondered if it had any application to my question. Perhaps part of appreciating freedom could only come about by lacking it at first. Perhaps we needed to be a people who was not in control of its time, in order to understand how very precious it is so we’d make the most of it once we gained freedom.
(Time is valuable, dear husband. And so are cell phone chargers. So please don’t forget to take it next time!)