*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, April 16, 2009
Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
When the phone rings at 2:30 in the morning, it’s never good news. It's not the lottery or prize patrol. Nobody is calling to salute your character or stroke your ego.
Most of us have experienced it; that moment when we are yanked unceremoniously out of what was a deep, restful sleep by the jangling sound of that accursed marvel of modern technology. For a moment, you are disoriented, caught between dream and reality. Then, startled to full wakefulness, you lunge for the nightstand and fumble for the handset. Usually, it's a wrong number. After a brief conversation you hang up, drop an expressively colloquial bomb or two, and go back to sleep.
But, life is uncertain and fragile. And one dark night, a disembodied voice turns your life upside down. On the other end might be a child in trouble, a relative sick or dying.
Or, a police officer steeling himself for the delivery of some very bad news.
In that moment of shock and dismay, the night suddenly grows very dark; all the horrors normally shielded by the stout walls and locks that kept you safe now flood the sanctuary of your bedroom and turn your heart to ice.
Looking at the clock, I see that its 2:30 a.m., a fuzzily indeterminent time of night my Navy shipmates and I usually called “Oh-dark-thirty.” In the silence, I could hear the sound of a sob. Then the voice I immediately recognized as our 21-year-old daughter blasted from the phone, fraught with fear and pain. “Daddy, I’ve been hit by a car!”
I haven’t been “Daddy” for at least ten years. Usually “Dad,” or in moments of extreme exasperation, “Father.” Her emotional use of this word tears at my very soul. “Are you hurt?” Another pause. “The paramedic wants to talk to you.”
This is getting worse by the second.
While the phone is handed over, I am gripped by the supreme helplessness of knowing that she’s 800 miles away from the healing, protective embrace I so desperately want to give her.
Presently, the EMT comes on the line. “Is this Dad?” he asks disingenuously. In my head, I retort, “Who the hell else would this be, you moron?” Out loud I simply say, “Yes, it is.” He says he thinks she’s okay, just a very small bump on her head and a sore neck, but he wants to transport her to the hospital for evaluation. I tell him to take her in. He then explains that she was riding her bicycle home from work (committed environmentalist, she) and was struck by a car, which then left the scene of the accident.
Suddenly, I feel a sizeable volcano welling up inside.
The bike is trashed, but my youngest daughter, my irrepressible “Tigger” seems to be okay. My relief at the news is fighting for space in my chest alongside the ferocious anger at the cowardly miscreants who would leave a young girl… excuse me, “woman,” lying in a heap alongside the road on a dark night. I pass the phone to my wife, get out of bed and begin to get dressed. She looks at me, incredulous and asks, “Just where do you think you’re going?”
“Missouri,” I reply.
I will spare you the biting content of her rejoinder, a product of 30 years of marriage and surgical nursing, but to make a long story short, I end up back in bed, feeling just a bit foolish.
I hate it when she makes sense.
A few hours later, Jamie calls back. Good news. Except for that very small lump, the doctors couldn’t find a mark on her. Our daughter was oh, so fortunate.
As a writer, I have a ridiculously vivid imagination and letting that contraption run wild for a time, I envisioned a hundred other outcomes, all of them tragic. My faith compels me to conclude that in that moment, the hand of God reached down and kept her from going under the wheels of that car.
And that would have been a nightmare. Unfortunately, like too many other parents who were overwhelmed by the darkness, it would have been a nightmare we’d never wake up from.