From the May 2004 issue of True Romance Magazine
A sad valentine to good daughters everywhere
“My name is Ann Solomon and my mother is missing,” I said, gripping the phone.
“And when was the last time you had contact with your mother?” the woman asked, her voice slightly bored but still professional.
I wanted to reach through the phone and shake her. This was my mom, for crying out loud! The person I loved most in all the world—and now she had just vanished—on Mother’s Day!
I tried to stay calm as the woman asked me more questions. Finally, she said I couldn’t fill out a missing person’s report until Mom had been missing for forty-eight hours. I was crushed.
“Isn’t there something you could do right now?” I asked, my patience gone.
“Have you checked with her friends, the places she usually goes? These things usually turn out fine. Somebody misses a bus or forgets the time . . . ”
But I didn’t know about Mom’s friends, aside from Gwen, the older lady that Mom always talked about. On Tuesdays they would go to the senior citizens’ center together and knit for some children’s project.
I placed the phone back on its cradle. If they weren’t going to do anything about finding Mom, then I sure would!
I picked up the phone book and tried Gwen’s number, but there was no answer.
This is the price you pay for working ten-hour days, I told myself.
I was divorced with no children. I had two older brothers who lived on the coast. I was the only one who lived in the vicinity to look after Mom.
And a fine job you’re doing of it! that sarcastic voice in my head told me.
I couldn’t call my brothers—not just yet. They trusted me to look after Mom. After Dad had died eleven years ago, Mom lived in a run-down apartment on the east side of town. She loved the place, though; she said it had “character”. No matter how much I pleaded with her to come live with me in my condo, or at least find a better neighborhood, she refused.
“And what would I do all day long in your condo?” she’d asked. “I’d have to take three buses to get to the seniors’ center. And there’s nobody around your neighborhood during the day! I know, Ann, because I took a walk there. All those fancy homes, with boats in the driveways and RVs and swimming pools, and not one soul home to enjoy any of it. Everybody is too busy working to buy more things.”
She didn’t mean it as a criticism of my lifestyle, but I took it that way. It was true: I was just like my neighbors. I was one of five of the top people in my company. I made a good income and, yes, I had some “toys”—a nice condo, several trips a year to hot places, nice furniture, a BMW. Whenever I could I shared what I had with Mom. But she insisted that she didn’t need much. It was a constant battle between us.
“I’d just like a bit more of your time, Ann,” she would say.
Time. That was far more precious than money, and I had very little of it.
“I wouldn’t say a word if I thought you were happy, dear. But I don’t think, deep down, you really are.”
“Mom–if you’re going to talk about me getting married again . . .”
“No. That’s not what life’s about, although marriage can be wonderful. I’m talking about just enjoying life. Watching ants build a nest in your backyard. Seeing the birds eat sunflower seeds to get ready for a long winter. Life, Ann.”
I would shake my head. That was my mom—she could get pleasure from almost anything. Ants, birds. When on earth would I have time to watch ants?
That reminded me of something. Mom was notorious for picking up stray cats and dogs. The landlord had threatened to evict her for doing that a couple of times. It was time I had a talk with the old grouch.
Mr. Jones was a thin old man who was as mean as my mother was sweet. Mostly, she got along with him, but then she could get along with a serial killer. I didn’t like him one bit.
“Mr. Jones, have you seen my mother?” I asked the moment he’d opened his door.
“No. Why? Has she skipped town?”
“No, of course not! I just can’t find her at the moment. When was the last time you saw her?”
We talked for a few minutes, but it was obvious he hadn’t seen her since the last rent payment day. I went back to her apartment and opened it again using my key. Everything looked to be in its place.
But her purse was gone. There were no plates out and the place was clean, so it looked like she’d planned to go out instead of being interrupted in the middle of a meal, for instance. I sat on her old sofa and, for the first time, I cried.
“Mom, where are you?” I whispered in despair.
I decided to go to Gwen Laton’s place. It didn’t surprise me at all that she lived close to Mom. The two of them walked to the center together.
“No, I haven’t seen her since last knitting day at the center,” she said. “So you’re Ann! She’s so proud of you, you know.”
Gwen wanted me to come in for tea. She didn’t seem too upset or surprised by Mom’s disappearance.
“She has so many things she does, you know.”
“What things?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know as she wanted you to know about all of them. I think she thought you might not approve of some of them.”
“Please, Mrs. Laton, tell me what you know.”
“Oh, all right, dear. But won’t you just have one cup of tea?”
I realized she was a lonely old woman, and I might be her only visitor of the day—but my mother was still missing! How could I just sit there and chat and have tea?
But I knew Gwen might have some information that could lead me to Mom. As the water boiled, she set out a plate of cookies for us to eat. Mom was the same way. She couldn’t have anyone over without feeding them something.
“Let’s see . . . on Tuesday, your mother and I walk to the center. We knit these mitts and scarves for children who come from poor families. Your mother and I are in a competition over how many we can knit! But, of course, your mother has that arthritis in her hands, so I tend to slow down in my knitting . . . ”
I wanted to scream. At work I had a team of employees who didn’t talk much, just did what needed to be done. But to the older generation, conversation was more of an art form and a pleasure.
“And on the other days, Mrs. Laton? Do you know where she goes then?”
Gwen just looked at me, blinking from behind her thick glasses. “Don’t you know?”
“No, I don’t.”
It wasn’t something I was proud to admit. I loved my mother, yet I had no idea what she did when she wasn’t with me. I’d just assumed she stayed home, reading or watching television. I’d bought her a new television for Christmas.
A kitten came into the room and rubbed my legs and feet.
“That’s Pepper. Your mother got him for me.”
“Oh, one of the strays from around her place?”
“No, this one was from the animal shelter. She volunteers there, you know.”
“She does?” I asked.
“Yes. She walks the dogs and sometimes she takes a cat to the nursing home so the old people can enjoy it.”
“Walks dogs? How can she walk dogs with her arthritis?”
“Oh, I don’t think they give her the really big dogs. And she’s never complained about the pain in her hands, although I know it must be hurting her.”
“Where is this animal shelter, Mrs. Laton?” I asked.
I took down her directions. My mind was buzzing with all this information. What else had Mom been doing, without sharing it with me?
“She didn’t want to worry you, dear,” Gwen explained. “She says you fuss about her taking her medication and such.”
Yes, it was true. Most of the conversations I had with my mother were like that. It was as if I were the parent and she was the child. Was she eating properly? Was she taking her medications?
I guess it was easy for me to do that—easier than having a real relationship with her. Since my job took up so much of my time, I found I had to limit our conversations each day. Sometimes I called from work during a five-minute break. More often than not, I skipped lunch, and for supper I’d grab a slice of pizza.
It was kind of exciting to live that way, always busy, always on top of the next deal. I loved to plan my vacations in the sun, or the next car I would buy.
But part of me knew that there was a big price tag attached to this kind of life. For one thing, I was too busy to have time to think. Maybe this was not the way I wanted to live. Maybe I really did want to stop and smell the roses sometimes . . . or watch the ants.
I had to leave Gwen’s before I started to cry again. She walked with me to the door.
“Don’t worry, Ann, you’ll find her,” she said.
I wasn’t so sure. I think part of my desperation had something to do with the guilt I felt. Pretty soon I would have to call my brothers and admit that I’d lost our mother! They would immediately fly home and take charge. Being big brothers, that’s what they’d always done.
I wanted to find her on my own, and not just because of my brothers. I felt I owed Mom that. I called in at work and asked for a few days off.
The dog pound didn’t look very appealing. The door almost fell off when I went in. The place was in desperate need of funds.
“I’m looking for my mother, Ruth Norton,” I told the girl behind the counter. “I was told that she volunteers here.”
“Oh, Ruth—sure,” she said.
Just then someone came out with a dog on a leash. It was an older woman. I caught my breath before I saw that it wasn’t Mom.
“We really depend on our volunteers here,” the girl said when the woman and dog left.
“Yes, she’s been walking dogs, hasn’t she? Has she been here today?”
“No, today isn’t one of her regular days. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen her.”
She asked a couple of their other volunteers if they’d seen Mom.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Solomon,” she said.
That was another dead-end. But I was slowly finding out more and more about Mom’s activities. She didn’t tell me about the dog-walking, because I would worry about the arthritis in her hands, holding the leashes of a half-dozen rambunctious dogs. It hurt that she felt she couldn’t tell me about something that obviously gave her so much pleasure.
What else had she been hiding from me?
I went back to her apartment, hoping she’d be there. It was the same as I’d left it. It occurred to me then that she might have been coming and going and we’d just missed each other! I sat down and wrote her a note: Mom, where are you? I’m worried. If you come in, please call me, leave a message. I love you, Ann.
There was a time when she was the one who worried about me . . . when I had a high fever as a baby, when I took my first steps and fell, when I went on my first overnight camping trip without her.
Had our roles reversed? Was she becoming more irresponsible, like a child, as the years went on? Should I think about moving her into some kind of nursing home, so someone would be able to watch her?
I didn’t like the sound of that, but if I found her—when I found her—the two of us would have to talk, really talk, for the first time in years. I told myself that she would show up. It was getting late, so I decided to sleep in her apartment. I was able to access my phone messages should she try to call me at home.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I thought I felt her gentle presence standing over me. She used to do that so many times when I was little. I sat up, not making a sound, so I could hear her if she’d come in.
“Mom?” I finally called out.
The small clock beside the bed said four o’clock. It wasn’t any use. I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night.
I slipped into one of Mom’s old robes. It smelled like wild roses—the scent of her favorite perfume. It was comforting. I went to the kitchen to boil water for tea, not because I wanted it, but it kept my hands busy. The kettle was whistling when I thought I heard another noise. I unplugged it and listened.
Was that a knock on the door? A very soft knock, as though the person on the other side didn’t know if he or she was welcome.
I looked though the peephole that I’d had installed for Mom. Her landlord wasn’t about to do it for her, so I hired someone to come and do the job. Boy, was I glad I did.
On the other side of the door was a man in his fifties, maybe. He looked much older, though. He was stooped over and his clothes were old and dirty. There was no way I was going to let him in.
That does it! Mom, when I find you, you’re coming to live with me! No more tramps knocking on your door in the middle of the night!
I hoped the man would go away on his own. I didn’t want to have to call the cops.
“Ruth? Are you home?” a voice called through the door.
He knew my mother’s name. Without thinking, I opened the door. “Where is my mother?” I demanded.
The man shrank back from me as though he expected a stream of verbal abuse . . . or worse.
“Pardon me, ma’am. I thought this was Ruth’s place.”
I hesitated. His polite words were a real contrast to my own. Other than the fact that he had shown up on my mother’s doorstep at that ungodly hour, he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m Ruth’s daughter. And you are . . .?”
“Bill. She told me I could come here if I needed a place to stay.”
I swallowed hard, trying not to think of my mother taking in street people. No wonder her landlord wanted to evict her!
“Do you know where she is?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“No, I thought she’d be home. Sorry to trouble you at this hour, ma’am, but the temperature just dropped about ten degrees out there. I thought—well, never mind.” He turned to leave.
He stopped. I thought about the nice, warm apartment my mom lived in. It sure was no palace, but it must seem like that to this man. Besides, perhaps he knew something about Mom.
“Come in. I’ve made tea,” I said.
“Tea would be nice.”
Suddenly I didn’t care that he was dirty and smelled a little. Although his outward appearance was very bad, he had wonderful manners. We sat at Mom’s kitchen table and I poured tea and brought out some of her cookies.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. Just cold. I had a nice meal down at the men’s shelter tonight, but they didn’t have enough beds for me to sleep there.”
“So . . . where do you go then?”
“I’ve got a nice spot under a stairwell. The night security man doesn’t seem to mind if I stay there once in a while. His boss is there tonight, so I can’t stay there.”
I was surprised that he was so open with me. But first things first.
“Bill, I wonder if you can help me. My mother is missing. When was the last time you saw her?”
“I saw Ruth last week. She was with the brigade, you know.”
“The street brigade. They’re a charity. They feed street kids at night, check up on other homeless people like me.”
I closed my eyes. I didn’t even want to think about my mother prowling the streets of the city, looking for homeless people all night long.
Why didn’t she tell me about this? But again, I could answer that one myself. I’d likely have had her committed for her own safety if I knew.
“People on the street know Ruth. They love her,” he said, as a tear rolled down his cheek.
I was shocked. Of course I knew my mother was the kindest soul on the planet, but to find out that the city’s homeless knew that, too? It was unnerving. I didn’t want her out on the streets at night. I wanted to know that she was safe in bed with her door locked!
“Bill, can you tell me where she goes at night? I mean, where have you seen her?”
I retrieved a piece of paper and wrote down the places where Bill had seen her. She was usually with the brigade people, thank goodness. They had an old RV and would set up a soup kitchen so the homeless could have a hot meal and sit in the warm RV for awhile. While someone dished out the soup and buns, other brigadeers would search the streets nearby, looking for people asleep on the pavement or under stairs or in back alleys.
This showed me a whole new side to my mother’s personality. She was full of surprises and it looked like she was keeping most of them from me, her only daughter. Where had our relationship gone so wrong that she couldn’t confide in me?
“I’d better go now,” Bill said.
I didn’t know what to say. It was getting light now and it would soon warm up outside. I didn’t feel comfortable having him sleep there.
“Bill, could you call me if you see Mom?”
Too late, I realized that he didn’t have a phone. I went to get my purse to give him the money for a pay phone, then I realized just how ridiculous that was. Give a man a coin so he could call me, when he was likely starving.
“Put your money away, ma’am. No amount of money is going to cure what ails me. If I see your mother I’ll tell her to call you.”
I watched until he was out of sight, walking down the stairs and around the landing. That old building really was a disgrace, with peeling paint and the stench of boiled cabbage. I didn’t want my mother living there, and I sure didn’t want her involved with homeless people.
And yet . . . Bill was nicer than I’d imagined a homeless person would be. Yes, he was dirty, and he even admitted he had problems that kept him on the streets. He had a family of some kind out there but for some reason he’d lost contact with them. Didn’t he have anyone who cared? A sister or son or daughter that would take him in?
I shook my head to clear it. It was light outside and I had work to do. I got dressed and took the list that Bill had dictated and went downstairs to my car.
It didn’t do much good to search out the places Bill had told me about, since the brigade didn’t come out until night. Besides, he’d said they didn’t always go to the same places. They moved the soup kitchen around a lot so they could connect with more people.
I went home and searched through the yellow pages for charities. Not for the first time, I felt frustrated and alone. If only Mom had talked to me about any of this!
The next day I would be able to fill out that missing person’s report, but that seemed far away. I sighed and tried to massage my stiff neck. Since I wasn’t going to get much sleep that night, I decided to search outside—in my locked car—for this brigade.
I went back to Mom’s apartment. From the looks of things, she hadn’t been there. My note to her was just where I’d left it.
I was beginning to get really frightened. Could something awful have happened to her? I didn’t want to think the worst, but Mom had been getting involved with some shady characters lately.
How could we be mother and daughter? I always knew we were different, but how had we grown so far apart? It seemed like the things I valued—a nice home, money in the bank, security—were directly opposite from Mom’s values. Sure, she wanted to help people who didn’t have what she had, but did that mean she had to sacrifice her safety to do it?
But that’s where I would come in. If Mom wanted to act like some flower child, it was my responsibility to see that she was safe—and obviously, she wasn’t.
That night I drove slowly through the mostly empty streets in the worst part of town. It gave me the shivers. I didn’t even like going there in broad daylight. The bars were closing and people were milling about. Once I even saw a streetfight and got out of there fast. It was crazy to be driving a new BMW down those streets, but I had no choice.
“Hey, lady, you lookin’ for some action?” a young man called, banging the hood of the car and just about scaring me to death. He laughed and wandered off.
Oh, Mom, please tell me you’re not out there on these streets!
I drove most of the night. Towards dawn I saw a cul-de-sac and wondered if I should explore it. I was dead tired from not having slept in two nights, but it was just one more street.
There was a large RV parked at the end, right beside a row of trash cans that had been set out behind a row of bars. An RV—that was the brigade! I pulled up and practically ran to the door.
“Sorry, miss. We’re just closing up for the night,” a middle-aged man informed me. “We’ve got a few sandwiches left, but no hot soup.”
“No, no, that’s not what I want! Do you know Ruth Norton?”
“Ruthie! Sure. She was out with us last week, but I haven’t seen her since.”
“Oh, please, please, tell me where you last saw her,” I pleaded, ready to go down on my hands and knees for any information.
“Just a moment, miss, and I’ll tell you what I know.”
A group of kids had just appeared out of nowhere, so the man was busy giving out his remaining sandwiches. I realized I wouldn’t get my information until they left, so I helped him.
“Are you Ruth’s daughter?” he asked.
“And you think Ruth is missing?”
“She is missing.”
“There’s a big difference in being missing and just not wanting to be found,” one of the kids told me. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen, with torn jeans and an old leather jacket that looked like it had been sitting in a mud puddle.
A couple of the other kids laughed. It sounded strange, as though they were in their forties instead of teenagers.
“We’re almost out of food, and there’s a line outside,” the man, whose name was Mike, told me in a whisper.
“If there’s a restaurant open around here, I’ll go and get some more sandwiches,” I offered.
“That’s great, Ann, but don’t you go yourself. This neighborhood isn’t safe.”
If it wasn’t safe for me, it sure wouldn’t be safe for my mother. I bit my lip as Mike picked an man who was standing in line to get more sandwiches.
“There’s a lot of people out tonight. I’m shorthanded. Usually, Ruth or another volunteer helps me out, but tonight I’m alone, as you can see,” Mike said.
Pretty soon the man came back with the sandwiches. I was kind of surprised. I mean, he could have just run off with the cash. Later, I asked Mike about that.
“I know Carl. He’s a good man, he’s not a thief.”
“I didn’t mean to imply . . .”
“Yes, I think maybe you did, Ann. But it’s okay. You don’t know what it’s like out here.”
“But neither do you, really.”
“Yes, I do.” Then he told me it had only been a few years since he’d been living on the street. He used to come to the soup kitchen, just like the other people had done that night.
“I’ve always wanted to know, Mike: What drives people to live on the streets?”
That had always been my greatest fear—being homeless. Maybe that was why I always drove myself so hard to succeed . . . at the cost of my relationships.
“It can be a lot of reasons. For me, I think it was denial. Things happened to me, and I just kept denying it was all happening. My wife left, then I lost my job, and then I lost my apartment. Pretty soon, I was living in my old van, parking it near gas stations so I could at least be close to a bathroom and water to wash up.
“But I didn’t have any money to pay for gas or repairs, so I parked it in an alley. Then, one night, I was robbed. The next day, the city towed my van away. I was homeless.”
I listened to his story with amazement and renewed fear. Could something like that happen to me? Could it have happened to Mom?
“I always thought that people on the streets had mental illness, and that they had no family to take care of them.”
“That’s true for some,” Mike said, “but not all. You saw those kids tonight. I’m willing to bet that over half have been molested. That’s why some kids run away from home.”
“I didn’t know that. I thought it was just teen rebellion.”
“Doesn’t your mother talk to you about the streets? About what she does here?”
“No,” I said, feeling more than embarrassed now.
“You should talk to her.”
“I will—as soon as I can find her,” I said, wiping a tear away.
Another day was here. We sat and watched the sun come up over a tangle of old telephone lines. Somehow, it was better than a sunrise in Hawaii. I had spent a good part of the night helping someone else, and not just helping, but listening to the lives of other people besides myself. It was a totally new experience.
“You’re welcome back anytime, Ann,” Mike said as he packed up the RV.
“Thanks, I just may take you up on that . . . with Mom.”
I’d given him my phone number in case he ran into her. I watched as the big, old RV lumbered away, coughing smoke.
I got into my car. It was now time to fill out a missing person’s report.
The paperwork for a missing person seemed intimidating. They wanted to know all the personal details. What did I think she was wearing the day she was missing? I just didn’t know.
Finally, I filled it out as best I could and gave it back to the cop behind the desk, who looked it over. Another cop happened to be walking by and looked over his shoulder.
“Ruth. There was a woman brought in last night, says her name is Ruth—but she wouldn’t tell us anything else.”
“Is she a woman in her late sixties?” I asked, holding my breath.
“Could be. Why don’t you see for yourself? She’s not being charged with anything and I think she’s still here.”
He took me to the waiting area, which I’d passed on my way in. If Mom was there, why hadn’t I seen her? There were a couple of strangers sitting in the waiting area.
“That’s funny. She must have left,” the cop said.
“That’s okay. If it is my mother, she might have gone home. You know how to reach me.”
I drove back to her apartment. I expected to see her when I went in, but no such luck.
I waited an agonizing hour. The clock over the kitchen stove sounded as loud as a gong. Where was she?
Maybe she’d gone to my condo. I phoned the caretaker and asked him to keep an eye out for her.
Those nerve-wracking minutes gave me time to think about all I had been through in the past couple of days. I could honestly say that I was changed. Logically, I knew that my parents would die eventually. Pop had died while I was still a teenager.
But somehow, it was different. I guess I really thought Mom would live forever, that she would always be there for me. But now that she was missing, I had to face the fact that she wouldn’t always be there, and that if I was lucky enough to find her, I would have to make big changes in our relationship.
When was the last time we’d spent a day together, just doing mother-daughter things? There were so many questions I wanted to ask her. Where did she first meet Pop? And what did she think of him then? How did she feel when I was born, her only daughter?
I’d always wanted to ask, but for some reason I never had. Daily stuff got in the way: Mom, did you take your medication today? Do you need some spending money? Did you remember to lock your door tonight?
Those things were important, too, but life is shorter than I thought. I thought there would be enough time to ask everything, eventually. I was wrong.
Just then I heard a noise at the door. And then I heard the key turn in the lock.
That could be only one person!
She was there, standing in the doorway, looking tired. But she was there, alive and well! I ran to her and hugged her, never wanting to let her go.
“Ann—oh, my goodness. Ann! I’m so sorry, I forgot all about you for a little while, dear.” She hugged me as she had when I was seven and had skinned my knee. As always, she smelled of wild roses. To me, it had always been the best scent in the world.
“Mom, where on earth have you been?”
“It’s a long story, my dear. But first, I need a cup of tea and a bite to eat.”
I guided her to a chair and put the kettle on to boil. It seemed like neither one of us knew where to start.
“I didn’t mean to worry you,” she said. “You worry too much about me.”
“Was that really you in the police station? I must have just missed you.”
“It was me. You were there, too? I would have taken a bus or a cab, but I didn’t have any money with me.”
“Oh, Mom,” I began, ready to give her a lecture. “No—just tell me where you’ve been.”
“I’ve been . . . helping a couple of friends,” she said tentatively.
“It’s all right. I know about you and the soup kitchen for street people. I met Bill.”
“Bill? Bill was here? I’ve asked him over several times, but he never did show up.”
“Well, he was here, thank God. He told me about you and the soup kitchen! Mom, why did I have to hear that from a stranger?”
“Oh, Ann, you know why.” She laughed.
I had to laugh, too. Yes, I was becoming a real mother hen with her.
“I nag you because I worry, you know that,” I said. “But, Mom, I don’t want you to be afraid to tell me things or share your life with me.”
She looked at me with her head tilted to one side, the way she did when she didn’t know what to make of what she was hearing. I smiled at her.
“Besides, I’ve been doing some detective work these past two days. You don’t have any more secrets.”
I told her that I knew about her work at the animal shelter work, and that I’d met Mike, who told me about her love and concern for street people. She looked a little embarrassed.
“Well, you don’t need me anymore . . . and the boys don’t, either,” she said defensively. “I had to feel like I was still of some use in this old world. So I got busy helping others. So sue me.”
I laughed and gave her another hug. It felt so good to hold her again, especially when I thought we’d never hug again.
“Promise me that you won’t go away overnight without telling me,” I whispered.
“I won’t,” she said, kissing me on the cheek.
“So where were you, anyhow?”
She sighed and sipped her tea. I finished making her a couple of sandwiches and slid the plate in front of her. My mother, who always ate like a bird, tore into them. I waited until she had eaten them, then made her another one.
“I met a couple of nice people while working at the soup kitchen. They’re a young couple barely making ends meet. They confessed to me that sometimes they had to leave their four-year-old alone while they worked.”
I was shocked. Who would leave a four-year-old at home alone?
“Now, Ann, before you get all judgmental on me, let me explain. The parents, Marty and Justin, are kids themselves. Barely twenty! Can you imagine? But they’re determined to make a go of things. They needed a baby-sitter, so I agreed to baby-sit for a couple of days for them.
“But then one of Marty’s former friends showed up. She was a hooker. Marty used to be a hooker, too, before she met Justin. Well, the police made a raid to arrest this friend. They took me and the little one, too, because I refused to tell them who I was, and who the little boy was.”
“I didn’t want to get Marty and Justin in trouble. They were doing so well, the two of them. I had to call them from the police station, though, to tell them where their son was. But I was still afraid to tell the police who I was.”
“Because you were afraid of what I’d say about all this?”
“Afraid? Terrified, more like. I didn’t want you thinking I was bonkers and have me committed. It’s not every day that your mother gets herself arrested with a couple of hookers!”
“Did everything get sorted out?”
“Yes. Marty came down and got her boy back after the police were satisfied that he was safe with them, although social services will have to do an investigation. But now that you know all about it, I can tell them my name and that I was just doing some baby-sitting.”
“But, Mom, you said they used to leave him alone.”
“I know, dear. They did that a couple of times when they were desperate; but not anymore. I’m sure of that. I told them if they ever need a baby-sitter to call me.”
“Mom, I just don’t know. These kids sound like they need professional help—”
“Let me try to help them, Ann. If I think the little one is in trouble I’ll call the authorities myself. But I’ve got lots of time on my hands and I’ve raised a family. Maybe they could learn a thing or two from me.”
“Well, I know I did.” I took her hand in mine.
It was a hand that had done many things in this life: soothed her babies when they were sick . . . tended a dying husband . . . lifted grandchildren high in the air.
And now it was like Mom was starting a new life all over. She was passing on her wisdom to another generation, kids who needed her badly.
“I love you, Mom,” I said. “Have I told you that lately?”
“Not often enough,” she teased. “Let’s hear it again.”