The evening flight from Dallas to Austin is thankfully short. It’s usually crowded and often late, full of tired commuters back from some business trip, just like me. I was particularly glad to deboard since I was squished into the middle seat next to a woman telling me all about her son, who had died in a car accident a few years previously at the age of 35. I wanted to be sympathetic – I have a 20-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter and losing them would be unbearable — but I hate listening to tales of dead children and worry irrationally that somehow it’s an omen. Stop thinking about it! Instead, I think about my house. The house I have been painting and decluttering and repairing for months in order to sell it. The house was all ready and my realtors were set to go. It would go on the market in about 36 hours. And then I got the call.
The Austin airport is dark and oddly depressing at night. Why the ‘Live Music Capitol of the World’ closes all its airport shops down by 10 is beyond me. I turn on my cell to check for messages and sure enough, my son Jacob had texted me an hour ago to ask if my flight was on time. I start to text him back that I’ve landed when a phone call from my neighbor interrupts me. “First of all, I just want to say that Jacob is basically ok.” Uh oh. That’s not good. You know something bad is coming. “There’s a fire at your house and the fire department is already here. The medics are taking Jacob to the ER to check for smoke inhalation. He was sounding hoarse and incoherent.” Oh my God Oh my God. As he fills me in, I keep repeating the same words – emergency room, fire, gas leak, oh my God. From the corner of my eye, I see a young woman in her 20s standing a respectful distance. She has obviously heard my side of the conversation and is waiting to see if I need help. The random kindness of strangers.
I quickly call my ex, already half asleep, and tell him to meet me at the ER. My neighbor is following the ambulance, so my son won’t feel alone. He’ll meet us there. I grab my work laptop, my suitcase, and climb into a taxi that smells of stale cigars. That ride was the longest twenty minutes of my life. Three blocks from the hospital, I get another call. “Hello, my name is —. I’m the social worker assigned to your son’s case.” Social worker? Why does that sound so ominous? The taxi pulls into the ER and I see my neighbor and ex waiting for me in a room with a dozen or so people. Then the social worker, actually quite kind and helpful, greets me and my ex and takes us to a smaller, private waiting room. There we sit together, awaiting news of our son.