Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Panic and Surviving the Surreal

My dad and I were toying with the idea of driving to Southern California last weekend, until he realized he had already scheduled a road trip to southeastern Utah.  It ultimately worked out best for me to stay home. But I was happy that Dad got a chance to get away.

Now for the panic portion of our program:
It's never good when the phone rings in the middle of the night. It was my brother, sounding anxious. "Have you heard from Dad?" he asked.  My brother (who lives with my dad) was calling at 3:30 a.m. to tell me that Dad was supposed to get home on Saturday night, and he was scheduled to teach on Sunday, but he never made it back. He said he woke up in a panic and realized Dad still wasn't home, a day later than he was expected. He was so distraught he even called the Highway Patrol, who told him there were a lot of accidents between here and Monticello, but they hadn't notified all the victims' families yet. That was helpful. (NOT.)

I am not a worrier. I felt no sense of impending doom. And I can usually trust my gut pretty reliably. So the steady older sister in me dutifully tried to explain it away. "He probably just decided to stay an extra day and forgot to tell us." "Maybe they just don't have any cell reception out there in the middle of nowhere." "If you think you can get back to sleep, let's make a few more calls in the morning."  He sounded okay with that, but then i couldn't get back to sleep. For the rest of the night I tossed and turned and ruminated. By the time my alarm went off I was in some sort of Twilight Zone...the space between waking and sleep, dream and reality, where you barely remember what's real and what's in your imagination. It was strange to start the day for the first time in my life wondering whether my dad was still alive.

It reminded me of the posts from Luann last summer when her grandpa disappeared for 30 days. That strange world of the unknown is not one I like to inhabit. I prefer to stand on more solid ground. But I had to get up and teach my class, in a dizzying fog that teetered between substance and surrealism. Not my best teaching day, to put it mildly. (Never mind that I met the dean in the parking lot, only to discover that the palette I was carrying had leaked orange and red paint all over my white shirt.) One can only hope to survive with a shred or two of dignity on a day like this.

In the car on the way home I started to fall apart. I broke out in audible sobs, finally confronting the mere possibility that my dad may have met his demise on the road over the weekend. The not knowing almost made it worse. To grieve or not to grieve? Now there's a question. And I'm sure the fact that I had just a couple of hours of sleep didn't help. At all. The once comforting thought I had is that I have no regrets. My dad and I have a great relationship. The last time I saw him we went hiking, and then I took him to UVU to see my students' paintings. We had a great time together. He's one of my best friends. So, truly, no regrets.

I ran in and checked the answering machine as soon as I got home. Hopefully Molly or somebody had some updated information for me. And sure enough, there was a shaky but audible message from Dad: "I'm on the top of an 8500-foot-plateau in Colorado. Having a great time. Please let Ben know I won't be home again tonight, but I'll get there tomorrow." So there it was. He was alive. In Colorado. Nobody knew. But at least he's okay. Turns out he and a buddy visited some old ranchers who owned this amazing property out in the middle of nowhere and invited them to stay in both of their ranch houses (one in Utah, another in Colorado) for a couple of days each.  

It took me the rest of the night to recover--both from the physical exhaustion, and from being emotionally drained. Even though I knew everything was okay, I still felt fragile, vulnerable, completely spent. 

Today was better. Dad came over with some Anasazi beans to share, told stories of their adventures, and best of all was completely excited and rejuvenated by all the sights. Said he saw two thousand paintings waiting to be made. That is huge. I hate to say it, but I think it was worth the worry.

Above: an old photo of the mountain flanking the ranch where they stayed. Notice the horse's head Mother Nature carved out of the center peak.


LisAway said...

Oh man. I would have gone crazy. Maybe as they get older they get to be like teenagers again and don't want to tell you what they're up to. So glad everything's okay!

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

I'm glad your Dad is okay. Having said that, I think you need to take his car keys away and ground him :-) Serves him right for scaring his kids. He would have freaked out if you did that to him when you were a teen-ager, wouldn't he?

Luann said...

Oh, Charrette! I know so very well what you went through. You wrote it all so eloquently that reading this brought it all back for me. Your account of feeling calm when first getting the news, not sleeping the rest of the night, walking in a fog all day and especially your "To grieve or not to grieve?" is spot on.

When Grandpa disappeared, I was a huge bundle of nerves and emotions bouncing back and forth between pragmatically pushing the search forward and falling apart in a panic.

I am pretty sure I stopped breathing until you got to the part where you heard his voice on your message. I'm still shaking. I'm so relieved that it all worked out okay, and knowing you have no regrets is a true blessing.

Thank you for posting this. The scars from my experience run deep, but it helps me a bit to know that you had some of the same feelings and reactions that I did. It helps me hope I'm not too crazy. Yet. :)

Hugs, my friend.

Kazzy said...

Pure panic attack. Sheesh. I think they do get a new sense of freedom and finally have the time to do some things they want, thinking we, the children, don't worry about them. I am so glad everything worked out OK.

Becky said...

Whew! I'm glad he was just fine.

Melanie J said...

Yeah, I'm a big time worrier when things run a little longer than planned and I can't get someone on their cell phone. Logic never works for me. The only way I can avoid panic is to shut down completely. So....this is why my children will never be allowed out of my sight except for school for as long as they live.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Oh, me! Oh, my! I'm sorry you had to go through that but glad it was worth it. Meanwhile, has anyone seen *Mary*? She seems to have disappeared (don't want to make anyone worry, though)

Jenny P. said...

Sca-rey!! I would have been a total mess.

Heather of the EO said...

Oh I'm so glad he's fine. And sorry you had to get all anxious and spill on your shirt.

The horses' head is waaay cool.

breckster said...

Terrifying! I find that one of the huge challenges of growing up, realizing your parent's mortality. Sure paying bills is hard, and parenting isn't a walk in the park, but once you start to like your parents again after adolecence they all the sudden seem really old.

Eowyn said...

That would have put me over the edge, just knowing how I feel when one of my kids gets away from me. I'm so glad he is safe and that you are sane again.

I'm so going back to school so you can be my teacher, now that I know where to find you. :)

Jo Beaufoix said...

I would have been very scared too. Did you tell him how worried you were? I'm really glad he's ok though.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

FYI, I came over to let you know I will be on blog-cation and will not be able to visit and comment for awhile. I will miss your posts but I will be back. Have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Mrs4444 said...

That horse head is very cool!

Moving back in the post, I was struck by a common occurrence; when one person's anxiety gets transferred to another (your brother's phone call). Doesn't that stink?!

I guess I could also state the obvious; we switch roles with our parents over time, don't we?

Pink Ink said...

Neat photo. I saw the horse's head. :-)

Showed it to my daughter who is horse-crazy.