Waiting for the Phone to Ring
I was out near Benning Road SE. I’d just interviewed a boy who’s going to camp this summer. I was driving back down his side street when an SUV came racing down the narrow road at close to 50 mph.
“Wow,” I thought. “That doesn’t seem very safe.”
Ten seconds later a D.C. police car came roaring past, his lights flashing. Hot pursuit, like something from TV. “Hill Street Blues,” I chuckled to myself.
I flipped through the radio stations. A bulletin interrupted WAMU: There’s been a Metro train collision on the Red Line near Takoma Park. There are injuries.
I looked at my watch. My younger daughter, Beatrice, volunteers at the American History museum three days a week. She’d be on the train about now. My guts went cold.
I called home “Is Beatrice there?” I blurted when my wife answered.
“Yes, she’s here.”
“Thank god,” I said, relieved. “There’s been an accident on the Red Line.”
“Gwyneth went downtown today.”
“Where is she? Is she home?”
In a heartbeat I went from worrying about my younger daughter to worrying about my older daughter. I hung up so my wife, Ruth, could call Gwyneth’s cell phone. Ruth called back to say that Gwyn’s phone would ring a few times then go to voice mail.
She’s on the train, I thought. Of course she’s on the train.
Where would she be sitting? In the front car, so she would be near the exit at Forest Glen. That’s where I would sit anyway. But she doesn’t take the train as often as I do. Maybe she would have sat in the back car. Neither seemed a good place to be in a collision.
Ruth called back to say she had phoned the Levine School of Music, where Gwyn volunteers in the library, to see if she was still there. They said there wasn’t a phone in the library so they would have someone run up there to check.
The radio said one person was dead.
I hoped Gwyn was still at the Levine School.
Ruth called to say Gwyn wasn’t at the Levine School.
The radio wouldn’t say which direction the trains were heading. Were they northbound trains or southbound trains? Would it make a difference?
The radio said two people were dead.
I didn’t want to listen to the radio.
I thought of heading in that direction, just driving towards the Red Line. My arms were getting weak on the steering wheel. I prayed under my breath. I prayed aloud. I noticed that it wasn’t raining.
So much of life is chance. And so much of death is chance. Did you leave the office early or late or on time? Did you sit in the front of the plane or the back of the plane? Did you tarry in the liquor store? Did you look away from the steering wheel for an instant when the SUV came roaring down the hill?
I felt sick to my stomach. I thought about how all over Washington people were doing what I was doing: waiting, helplessly, sick with worry. But at that moment I didn’t care about any of those people. I only cared about me.
I prayed that Gwyn was injured. That would be okay, I thought. If she was injured that would be okay. As long as she wasn’t .....
My cellphone rang.
“She’s okay,” Ruth said. “They’re offloading her train at Rhode Island Avenue. She said there would be a shuttle to Silver Spring.”
I breathed again.
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