We used payphones back then. I’m sure there were payphones in the hospital, but I wanted to go outside. I think it was around 11 pm. I was on the West Coast, in Riverside, California.
I walked a little over a block away, and saw a payphone. It was Sunday night, and there was no traffic. Just the stop lights going through their cycle, slightly changing the hue bouncing off of the road.
I had to phone the Mountain time zone (mom), the Central (brother), and the Eastern (dad). It seemed to me to make sense to work my way west across the time zones, but since it was after midnight in all three I figured I might as well start with my mom. That seemed to be what most folks would do. So I pulled the calling card from my wallet, picked up the plastic receiver, and began pounding the numbers.
I don’t recall what I said precisely, nor whether everyone answered or I left messages on machines. But it was something like this.
Hi mom. Kris had an accident earlier tonight—massive head trauma. He’s had surgery—they inserted shunts in his skull to try to relieve the pressure, but it doesn’t look good. We won’t know more til morning. I’m sorry to dump this in your lap.
And she responded as one might expect, expressing sorrow; wanting to know what she might do; telling me she loved me; sounding more or less blown away.
I need to make some more calls, so I’m gonna go.
And I hung up, eyeballed the card, and again poked those numbered buttons. Once. Twice. Three times.
Two days later we would request that the attending doctor disconnect the life support machines and let Kris die. He was about five months short of his sixth birthday.
My experience is that one does not wonder whether one is alive in such moments. One knows.
I wonder who is making those calls as you read this.