Nineteen Years on 9/19
Here I am again, nineteen years later wishing that I had a number where I could call my mom just to hear her voice. I'm thirty five now, not sixteen as I was then, and part of me can't help but feel more than a little silly, yet today I really need to hear her voice. Nineteen years ago, on September 19, I thought I'd lost her.
I had just started at Rainier a couple of weeks earlier. I remember I had a radio-clock to wake me up and on that day something stopped me before I could hit the snooze button... it was a few seconds before my conscious mind recognized what I was hearing. An earthquake had devastated Mexico City and I knew my mom was there visiting some friends. I got dressed as fast as I could. I ran to the student union looking for a phone but the lines were dead and I couldn't reach her, then I tried every single one of her friends with the same results. It was 1985, before cell phones, the web, e-mail and CNN and that meant I was basically helpless, so I did the only thing I could: I stayed in the rec room, glued to the TV, waiting for any bit of news, growing increasingly frustrated when they turned to the local weather, sports or entertainment, turning to the radio when the soaps came up right on schedule as if it were a normal day. I needed to know but the news were few and far between and they weren't good. I had nothing but a few images of total devastation and the words of a self-satisfied anchorman who kept on smiling as he read the news from a far away place.
I stayed by the phone in that rec room for almost three whole days, glued to the news, barely getting up to pee, not eating, not sleeping and certainly not going to classes... not even changing my clothes. I was terrified that if I did so much as turn my back for a minute I would miss the call. I think the only thing that kept me from going insane was the fact that I wasn't alone... there were a few Mexican students with me who were just as anxious. Funny how that was the first time I was able to connect with some of my fellow students. It was also the first time I felt like some of the teachers actually cared as they tried to support us as best they could under the circumstances.
I was the first one to get some sort of real info, though I have to say the way in which the call came was almost enough to give me a heart attack. It was a heavily accented stranger who was unsure of how to even pronounce my name and claimed to be calling on behalf of a 'Noemi Sandburg'. I thought my worst fears were about to be confirmed but they weren't. My mother --ever resourceful in a crisis-- had managed to go to the airport and locate someone who was flying to Cascade and she had asked that stranger to deliver a message, telling me that she was fine. I wished I could see her but I knew that wasn't bound to happen any time soon. Her message said that there was so much need that she had decided to stay for a while and that she would try and contact me directly as soon as the phones were working again.
I never met the person who called me that day. I never even knew her name and I'm not sure Naomi did either.
Even after I had heard from my mom I stayed in that rec room for the most part, supporting the others as they waited for their news. I think we got lucky, for the most part, especially considering the tens of thousands of people I now know lost their lives as a result of that tragedy. All of our immediate families made it, though Gaby --one of the girls-- did lose an uncle.
September 19 is one of those days I'll probably never be able to forget so today I'm once again sitting by the phone, hoping to hear from my mom as I did all those years ago even though I know she won't call and Jim is giving me a funny look. I'm thirty five now, not sixteen as I was then, but today, today I really need to hear my mom's voice.
Author's note: Okay, I guess a little explanation is in order here: my Sentinel Angst dues were, well, due on September 19. This is my attempt to incorporate the date (and a bit of history... yes, the earthquake was real) into the story. Hopefully it makes sense.