By Anthony Casson
Engineering internships remind me of Office Space–tight work areas, coffee (lots of coffee), and mouses clicking, maybe a little TPS action from time to time. But instead of having an enclosed space of my own, I settled for a desk with a forward facing wall, smack in the middle of the room.
Most days passed with little to no excitement: I received tech writing jobs, Excel document maintenance gigs, and opportunities to rush to the kitchen to pound a Diet Coke. The highlight of my day was usually lunch–Subway or Whole Foods? Either way, it was usually scorching hot outside, and long-lasting shadows appeared beneath my armpits during each stroll for a meal.
This was my summer 2009. Oh what a joy. But late August, days before my birthday, “shit hit the fan.”
My mom sometimes called me, despite my constant disagreement, so it wasn’t surprising to see her name glow on the front of my phone.
“Hey mom, what’s up?”
“Umm, I talked to Mike (my boss), and he said it’s all right if you come home. There’s an emergency, and I need you to come home.”
I could practically hear the tears dripping down her cheeks, the stresses of a terrible situation echoing from her voice and grabbing hold of my heart.
“Mom, what’s the matter? Are you all right?”
I thought she hurt herself; my step dad was working, and she was home alone.
“I’m okay. I just need you to come home.”
“We’ll talk when you get here. Don’t speed. Take your time.”
In the midst of sudden fear and worry and minor anxiety, it was more the confusion of not knowing the issue that so suddenly engulfed my mind’s eye. My boss said I could leave. Everyone in the office sent me off with best wishes. I smiled but still couldn’t hide my worry. Then I headed for my car.
My mind’s motor skills on autopilot, I slid into the driver’s seat and turned the key. For a brief moment, I sat and thought about my mom’s panicked phone call; but it quickly erased, and I shot towards the highway. There’s plenty of time to think when you’ve got 30 miles of commuting…
The car was uncomfortable. Late-summer heat, even at mid-day, crept inside the large driver space–’80s Volvo sedans are heat conductors. No air conditioning forced the window down, the rush of interstate air supplying subtle satisfaction. But my mind still sprinted in circles.
I perhaps can liken this day’s commute to when a parent receives a call from the local police or fire department: “Mr. Smith, this is Officer Jones of the Seattle Police Department. I’m here with your son Johnny…” The brief time of silence leaves the parent semi-paralyzed waiting for the rest of the story. But even half a second is enough for a mother or father to think the worst-case scenario: “Oh my god, is he dead,” the parent asks himself, a sense of hope lingering in his mind.
Now, imagine driving 30 miles, alone, open freeway ahead, a panicked mother waiting at home–an emergency you know not the details of. Yeah…it was easily the worst drive of my life. My mind didn’t have half a second to think, it had 60-times longer.
First scenario: Something happened to my grandmother in California, my mom’s mom. I had lost my other three grandparents over the course of a year; could it be the last has been taken away from me?
Second scenario: Something happened to my step dad. Maybe he’s in the hospital, so he’s OK. But my mom wasn’t in hysterics; she was sad, yes, but there was a sense of frustration in her voice, more like it was going to affect me above everyone else.
Bingo…it was my dad.
I’m still not entirely sure how I knew something happened to my dad, but I did. It hit harder than anything else. All of a sudden, my hands gripped the steering wheel harder, I pierced my lips shut and forgot to blink. It was too hard to accept my feelings, which were so real, so pure. What the FUCK happened to my dad?! Tears formed, my lips quivered, and I stepped harder on the throttle.
Anger fueled my driving, but I slowed up knowing that the closer I got the sooner I must face the reality of the emergency. It’s funny…you so desperately want to know the situation, yet a part of you refuses to step past the threshold–self-inflicted pain is never fun, unless it’s in football.
I opened the door to the house and found my mom sitting at the kitchen table, eyes starting to flood a bit when I walked through the entry and saw her.
She hugged me and asked me to sit. Her voice was soft; I could feel the anger and sadness as she began to tell the story. She sort of laughed and shook her head.
“I’m not sure how to say this…FBI showed up at your dad’s motel, looking for him, and he tried to kill himself.”
…10 minutes later, and I was still sitting at the table, eyes fixed on the closest wall, hands flat on the wood, a drizzle of tears trickling down by my lips, the muscles in my jaws flexing as I kept my teeth glued together.
Twenty minutes driving and bracing myself for news of my father helped numb the situation. I didn’t cry until later that night…