by Denise Smyth
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 – Sometime around 4:00 in the afternoon, while I was at work, Natalie called. “Mom,” she said, “Philip was supposed to meet me for lunch, but he didn’t show. What the hell??” “Oh,” I answered, “That’s weird. Well, you call him and I’ll call him and whoever hears from him first’ll tell him to call the other one.”
“What if he’s dead?”
I laughed. He’s not dead, I told her. She is a worrier; I am not. At least when it comes to my kids. I am the only parent I know who handed over the car keys and didn’t then picture my children splattered all over the road. Money, getting fat, dying without a significant other – these are the things I sometimes torture myself about. But my kids – I have faith in them, in their well-being. That might sound odd, worrying about the small stuff, but not my kids, who are the Big Stuff. Like, the REALLY Big Stuff. The Biggest Stuff EVER. But it’s not odd, not at all. It is precisely because of their Big-ness that I do not worry. I wouldn’t know how to picture my life without them, any more than I could picture my life without air, without the sun or the moon or the stars. All of which are always there, whether I can see them or not.
Whether I can see them or not.
I see no irony in this, in spite of what happened. Worrying prevents nothing. It just makes you miserable before the inevitable.
Besides, it’s Philip we’re talking about. My calm, well-adjusted, feet-on-the-floor, happy kid. Why I thought “calm” or “well-adjusted” or “feet-on-the-floor” or “happy” equaled “not dead” is probably because I was none of those things, most particularly when I was his age. And if I could survive my adolescence, which was dangerously unhappy, and included what I consider to be a serious attempt at suicide, then of course he could. He would.
Assumption is not a mistake I will easily make again. But I was living in my final 30 hours of assuming that that (and we all think we’re immune to those thats, reality to the contrary) is Something That Happens to Other People.
I hung up with Natalie and called my son. I knew enough not to leave a message. Natalie, in particular, gets irritated with the time it takes to listen to a voicemail asking her to call me when the “Missed Call – Mom” message pretty much says the same thing.
She has a point.
I didn’t think anything when Philip didn’t call back. I called him again that night. Still no answer. At 11:02 I sent him a text. I know it was 11:02 because it’s still in my phone with all of our other texts from the last few months. The ones I hadn’t deleted, that is. I delete old texts because I first owned a computer when hard drives were measured in MGs, and deleting was what I did to make room. Besides, it seemed cleaner or something not to have stuff hanging around.
I no longer think like that.
Anyway, the text read, “Hey. Where are you? Call me or something.”
See, my world was still intact. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? If your child is dead and you don’t know it, does the world still make sense?
© 2013 Denise Smyth
Continue reading Denise story on her blog website, Forever 21.
About the Author: My name is Denise Smyth. I have two children, Philip and Natalie, who are (of course) the great loves of my life. On February 23rd, 2012, I found out that my son, who had turned 21 the month before, died. It was sudden and unexpected. I was devastated, heartbroken, terrified, none of which comes close to describing what I really felt. It’s just the best I can do at the moment.
And in my devastation, the “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” quest that drove so much of my life ended. The essential question, the one that seems without the answer I’m so desperate to find, is “How do I live in the face of death? How do I make meaning in the aftermath of the unthinkable?”
For this, there is no one answer; there is no one meaning. The first and obvious thing was (is, and will always be) Natalie. For the rest of it, I just don’t know. Most of the time I can’t even imagine. What if I could do anything, anything at all, I ask? What does it matter, if this is how life feels, I answer? But someone recently told me something Joan Didion said: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking…what I see and what it means.” And that just made some damn good sense.