Keeping Watch

On Wednesday evening, I’m pretty sure Denver International Airport was tracking an Unidentified Flying Missy.

As Heather waved me over to the car, Missy began bouncing in the passenger seat. And bouncing. And … well, you get the idea. She had a cold, she had a seat belt, and at that moment, absolutely none of that mattered.

“Hi, you!” I called out. Missy was too excited for anything but a laugh and a hug. And oh, what a hug!

Longmont was still most of an hour’s drive away. But I was already home.

***

For a lot of movie fans, Oct. 21 was Future Day, the 30-years-ahead date reached by the time-traveling DeLorean in “Back to the Future II.” For me, it was more like Back to the Present – or maybe Back to Reality.

I had been off to Austin, Texas for four days on my first extended business trip since changing jobs. That meant a lot of planning, and not just for plane tickets and hotel reservations. It also meant dealing with the two biggest unknowns for an out-of-state stay: the health of my wife Heather, and the reaction of our disabled ward, Missy.

As it turned out, we hit a good patch with Heather: the symptoms of her MS began to subside about two days before takeoff. Neither of us were sure how long it would last, but we weren’t going to complain, any more than a pilot gripes about hitting unexpected good weather.

Missy … was a little more complicated.

Mind you, Missy’s dad used to be a traveling salesman. So having a relative away for large chunks of time used to be nothing new. But that had been a long time ago and Missy had always been a “Daddy’s girl” – after Heather and I moved in, one of her most common questions while I was at work was “Where’s he?”

Missy’s perception of time can be interesting. On the one hand, she easily recalls faces from more than 35 years ago. But she can also worry when someone is gone for more than a couple of hours, keeping a vigil in the bay window until their return. Our first real test for an extended absence had been the flood, when I was working 14-to-15 hour days for the newspaper, but even then I was still coming home at night.

Then, she had dived into artwork, her blues and browns evoking the deluge around her. We could only hope to be so lucky a second time.

We weren’t.

***

“She slept for maybe 2 hours” came a text from Heather on the first day. Part of that was from a head cold, part from waiting up for me.

Further updates: Missy was spending time in her room, except for a little bit of painting and puzzles. She was trying to talk into the telephone. (I had called the other night to reassure her.) She wasn’t taking her bath.

In the middle of it, Heather pointed out the upside. Missy hadn’t done this when other relatives had moved out, or when Heather had taken her big trip to Devil’s Tower. That at least pointed to something special.

“U are very awesome,” the message on my phone read.

It had become a Dorothy moment for all of us, when you realize the value of something through its absence. For Dorothy, lost in Oz, it was the Kansas farmhouse. For others, it might be a lost relative, a longtime job, an old home that had to be left behind.

We were lucky. Ours could be cured in four days, without the intervention of a humbug wizard. And we’d realized more than ever how strong a family we’d become.

***

Toward the end, Missy began to perk up a little. She worked out her new stereo (especially the volume) and even dressed herself – a bit creatively – for the trip to the airport. Even so, I’m not sure she believed I was coming back until the moment she saw me.

Then there could be no doubt. Or escaping the force 5 hug.

Home was healed. Missy had learned I would come back. And that night as I closed her door, I re-learned the five most magic words in the universe:

“See you in the morning.”

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