I woke up earlier than intended this morning to a different kind of alarm. One that growled, and hummed, and made me feel like I was aboard a turbulent airplane. I listened to my glass bottle vases jingle lightly and watched my desk chair shiver slowly to the left. After a few moments I knew what was happening and began to play a game I like to call What would I do if…? If this worsens, would I crawl under the desk? Cover my head? Call my family?
This game isn’t new, and at the risk of sounding paranoid, I’ll tell you it’s been a habit for a while. I thought it began when I was a lifeguard, imagining potentially dangerous scenarios while observing the city pool from a red wooden perch. But the truth is it started when I was a child. What would I do if there were an alligator under my bed; then, if robbers broke in while I was home alone; and later, if I were abducted while walking home late from a friend’s house.
As a nanny, this went on, and caused an admitted hyper-vigilance. Thankfully neither of the boys were ever injured in my care. Though I knew what I would do had they been and took occasionally drastic measures to prevent it (Hold my hand please; get down from there). I knew how far the hospital was from any given location, where the bricks jutted out of the sidewalk, and exactly when the sun was going to set.
What I didn’t realize, until yesterday, is that this comes directly and honestly from my mom. That seems natural, but it came as a shock, or as the case may be an aftershock. Yesterday I woke up to a different kind of alarm as well, a phone call from my mom saying she’d been in a car accident and that she was fine. I cried through the details, but what happened was a man ran a red light at seventy miles per hour and swiped off the front of her car, engine and all. This intersection is one we go through to get anywhere from our home. I thought of all the times as a teenager I sighed dramatically, exasperatedly from the passenger seat saying something sassy like “It’s green, you know,” or “Green means go, Mom” the moment the color changed. She would reply “I’m just making sure he’s going to stop,” or “That car is coming so fast.” I didn’t have to imagine the worst-case scenario, because she would do it for me. Because she is my mom and she possesses that kind of love.
I can’t bear to think about what would have happened had my mom eased into the intersection a moment sooner. Each fraction of a second the speeding truck would have struck an inch closer to her triathlon running legs, her huge heart, her beautiful mind. I am thankful beyond words that she walked away with only minor scratches, but I know that if my sister, or nephew, or I had been in the car with her she would have waited, and I feel twinges of guilt for not being there. For being here, for caring about myself more than others.
Then the earth goes and shakes, a reminder that life isn’t ours to control, try as we might.