Friday, December 7, 2007

Finding My Inner Detective

Two days ago I received a terrible fright. My mother, who is a creature of habit, was missing. She's 80 years old and you can tell time based on her schedule. I called her around 5:20pm as I usually do and she wasn't home. This was odd, indeed. I immediately assumed I had been distracted and dialed the wrong number. I waited a few moments and dialed again, this time the phone was picked up not by my mother but, by my uncle who lives downstairs in their two-family house. The first red flag went up.

My uncle informed me that my mother had gone to the bank. She called about an hour ago saying that she couldn't find her car. My uncle offered to come and pick her up but being the stubborn woman she is, she refused saying she'd look for the car.

Occasionally my mother has shown some signs of forgetfulness which I've never been too concerned about. Her mother, my grandmother, died at the age of 102 and possessed a memory like a steel trap. I've always attributed her memory-lapses to her tendency to converse while watching the news. But losing her car? Could this be the first sign of something more serious? Then a more plausible explanation presented itself.
My mother has a terrible sense of direction. If she parked her car on an unfamiliar block, she could very well lose her way.

What did concern me was the fact that my uncle stated that my mother had rushed off to the bank an hour ago, that would mean she left around 4:20pm. That was impossible because at 4:20pm Oprah was on. My mother can not miss Oprah! Why would she leave during Oprah? She won't even talk to me between the hours of 4-5pm. The second red flag rises.

I phoned 15 minutes later and there was still no sign of my mother. It was night. It was raining with a chance of snow showers likely. My mother does not travel at night nor does she travel when the weather is bad. She's obsessed with the weather forecast. If rain or, God forbid, snow is predicted, she loads up on food supplies days ahead in the event of that biblical flood or the blizzard that will envelop all of New York City. My mother was really missing. This wasn't some sick joke. It wasn't a misunderstanding. This was real.

Panic was rising. My mother does not have a cell phone. I live two hours away. My uncle is 83 with a bad leg with poor night-time vision so he can't go out and search. The bank she went to was closed. My husband was on his way home from work, he immediately turned around and headed for the city. I was left at home with an active of imagination.

She'd fallen. She had a stroke or a heart-attack or maybe even both. She'd hit her head and lost her memory. She'd been mugged or stabbed or the victim of a hit-and-run. Each time I phoned my uncle only to learn that she still hadn't called, the images became darker and bleaker.

I did what I do best. I researched. Trapped without answers, I went online. I found the local police precinct in the Bronx where my mother had gone. I discovered there is very little the police can do when you're searching for someone who is missing, if that person is not ill and in complete control of their mental faculties. I considered lying, telling the officer she was a raving lunatic suffering from diabetes who was without her insulin but my damn religious schooling prevented me. I thanked the officer for his help and hung up. I learned that in New York City, you can only report a person missing in the precinct in which they reside, not in the area where they were last seen. Also, if someone makes a 911 call regarding an elderly woman who has been fallen, suffered a stroke and a heart-attack, been the victim of a mugging, stabbing and a hit-and-run the local precinct will not have this information. So, I went to the next step.

Although, the officer couldn't give me more information, he did provide me with the list of hospitals my mother would have been taken to in the event of an emergency. I go back online to track down the emergency room numbers.
Thankfully they did not have my mother or any unknowns or Jane Doe's. It is quite terrifying to conceive of one's mother being an unknown or a Jane Doe. I was pleased that she wasn't there and that no other family was suffering through the pain of an 80 year old woman brought into the emergency at that time.

I kept checking in with my uncle who sounded more panicked by the moment. He was standing in their vestibule with the telephone watching and waiting. My husband was staying calm and offering hope that once he got to the area he'd be able to find her. I tried to keep my children from knowing their grandmother was missing. I had to struggle not to cry during each phone call.

I considered everything. Maybe she found the car and had gone to the store but no, she is a creature of habit. She only goes to the store once a week, either Sunday or Monday. It was Wednesday. No that was out. Ah, maybe car trouble. Perhaps she called AAA with her last quarter. I called and a very concerned customer service operator could not find a call from her but she did offer her prayers and I took that willingly. I was beginning to run out of answers but I knew if I did that I would not be able to bring her home.

I'd call the police back, then the hospitals. I'd even try Visa and Mastercard. I didn't have her account numbers but I'd keep talking until I found someone who could at least let me know if there was any current activity on her card. If this worked, I'd call her bank and do the same. Was there a neighborhood watch? I'd find out if they were listed and see if they could help me. I'd call my neighbor who is a New York City Police Officer and see what he could do. Perhaps there were channels he could cross that I, a lone citizen, could not.

But then at 6:36pm the phone rang with the melodious sound of my breathless mother. No present can compare to knowing she was home. She was safe. She was cold. Her bad leg was bothering her but she was fine.

I started thinking about this incident in light of my novel-in-progress about an amateur sleuth. I write with my eye focused on the credibility of a character with no law enforcement, no legal and no professional sleuthing ability to solve a crime. Will anyone believe that someone like this could be so persistent that they take matters into their own hands? I certainly received a resounding yes two days ago. Of course my real-life situation involved no dead body, no murderer, and no life-threatening moments but real-life has never been as satisfying as having my Mommy back from the unknown. I would tell her this but it's after 11:30am and she's watching The View right now.

Write on!


Robert Barnes said...

Glad she's OK!


lct said...

Shauntelle, hi it is Lisa from momwriters group. I am so glad that your mother is okay. What a fright to always worry about her AND making ends meet each month. I hope that you can get through these dire circumstances and craft your novel. I look forward to reading it!
Take care

Lisa said...

Shauntelle, hi it is Lisa from momwriters group. I am so glad that your mother is okay. What a fright to always worry about her AND making ends meet each month. I hope that you can get through these dire circumstances and craft your novel. I look forward to reading it!
Take care