'til now, i always got by on my own. except nope, not really.
When I got my first job out of college and moved to an apartment located a harrowing 26.4 miles away from my childhood home, my Mom and I devised a routine that let her know I was home safely. Each time I'd return to my apartment after leaving her house, I'd dial her number and let the phone ring three times - never fewer, never more - and then hang up. It was like the bat signal, minus the distressing undertones, dark lighting, and oddball villains wreaking havoc upon my suburban version of Gotham.
I realize it was perhaps silly that we had this routine, but it let my Mom know I was safe and, I'll admit, gave me comfort knowing someone was looking out for me, even if that someone was a harrowing 26.4 miles away.
"Wow, um, didn't you realize you were an adult now and perfectly capable of taking care of yourself?" you're probably muttering. Of course I realized that. However, I dare you to say that to the 22-year-old version of me who, while living alone for the first time in my life, once faced a tornado warning with no basement within which to retreat by standing in the stairwell of my apartment while sporting a bicycle helmet with one of my bed pillows strapped atop it to protect myself from structural collapse. I didn't know what else to do, and with no one around to suggest otherwise, I came up with a lame way to pacify myself. If I didn't live to edit the newspaper I worked for, at least I'd be a six-column photo on the front page with a cutline remarking on my ingenuity in the face of adversity.
Nearly 19 years later, I'm struck by how often this very ill-equipped version of myself rears its head to say "hey." If something requiring fixing happens in my life, I become a damsel in distress around my knight in a golf shirt emblazoned with the logo of a Major Tool Company. Don't believe how lame I can be? Let me remind you I've called my Tool Man home to unclog toilets in the middle of the day. I know! I promise you right now if he knew I've never changed a flat tire, he'd go outside, shank some rubber on the mini, and have me out there in the freezing cold jacking that thing up, laughing at me as I fumbled my way around the spare. Ultimately, he'd have to take over, and while working with tire changing tools (with names that suddenly escape me and I could ask Tool Man right now but he'd roll his eyes at me and I'm too tired to take that off of him right now), he'd lecture me about how a grown woman should be prepared to take care of herself.
How do I know he'd lecture me? Um, because he sort of did when I called him at 2:30 a.m., Wednesday to ask him what I should do because the carbon monoxide detector we have in our house was beeping like crazy. I had to call him, you see, because he was four hours away, and this problem he'd normally take care of were he at home had woken me up from an already fitful sleep more than an hour earlier. Before I'd chosen to call him, I'd wandered the house frantically, trying to determine if my next move was to keep my children either alive or asleep, while also trying to determine which of the six various smoke detectors and two carbon monoxide detectors had so rudely chosen to act up on me. This job, of course, required I go down into my basement. In the middle of the night. In the dark. Which is not awesome. Even if I had turned all the lights on in the house.
When I finally determined which was the offending device, I was afraid the house was filling with carbon monoxide (because the thing was beeping, but it wasn't beeping in the way it would were the battery low), and that great, just great, the boys and I wouldn't wake up in the morning.
So I started to cry.
Seriously. I was exhausted. I could once again see the newspaper headlines. I needed to be talked down from the ledge.
So I called Tool Man, who, as you might imagine when you are awakened by a phone call at 2:30 a.m., and answer to hear your wife sobbing on the other end, saying how sorry she was to be calling, was quite shaken. While attempting to calm me down, Tool Man talked me through things, determining through a series of calmly worded questions that there was nothing running in the house that would release carbon monoxide into the air, and suggesting I open a window if I still wasn't convinced things would be OK.
"But...this...damn...thing...won't...stop...beeping!" I cried. Literally. Because I was still crying.
"Honey," Tool Man whispered. "Turn it over and slide the battery cover off and yank the battery out. See? Simple!"
Ah, yes. It was simple. So simple I felt silly having woken up Tool Man to solve my dilemma. As I disconnected the device's 9-volt heart and tossed it across the bedroom, the carbon monoxide detector emitted a final beep and then fell silent. So did Tool Man and I from our distance of four hours. "Think you can get back to sleep and be OK now?" he finally asked. I said yes, but I was thinking no.
No, because I'm lame. Because I depend on my husband too much to take care of things I should be able to without him. Because I'm tired of him having to be gone so often. Because I'm tired.
So, I'm nearly 41 years old now and I really shouldn't be quite this lame. I don't know how to change a flat tire. I still sometimes call my Mom and let the telephone ring three times just so she knows things are OK, and I still plop on a bicycle helmet with a bed pillow strapped across the top in hopes that it will protect me. It's just that the helmet has morphed into Tool Man, and while I know he's happy to help me, inside he's got to be thinking, "Really? You can't just take the batteries out?"
But it was 2:30 in the morning and I - we - were tired.