Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The course of a lifetime runs over and over again

The most stressful days of my life always seem to be temperate and lovely. I was out with the Accent Snob just before a sushi lunch with the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter, thinking how wonderful it was that my knees didn't hurt as they did for nearly a year, and resolving to be grateful for this, knowing it's not likely to be permanent, because time isn't kind to joints in the long run.

The RFB had a doctor's appointment (which is why he was home for lunch), and as we waited at the bus stop, I got a text from younger daughter, who was meeting me for her ritual pre-music-lesson coffee shop visit. Today's difference was that she was taking the bus by herself from her school in Bells Corner in the far west of Greater Ottawa.

This was not particularly worrying because she has come all the way home at least three times (once without our knowledge), which involves a bus change downtown. The trek to the coffee shop would be one bus dropping her off nearly at the entrance. She was texting to ask me if she should get ready to leave. She was ten minutes early, so I told her she could, or she could leave when the wristwatch alarm in her packsack went off. (She refuses to wear the watch.) Either way, it would give her plenty of time to make the five-minute walk to the bus stop by 2:50.

I chatted on the bus with the RFB before we parted ways. I strolled down to the main library to return a DVD, then headed for the coffee shop. I cheerfully told the staff what was happening; they're quite familiar with younger daughter from our weekly visits. I settled with my coffee and checked in with younger daughter.

She'd missed her bus.

Well, no matter. I looked up the GPS for the next bus and gave her updates. It was only after I'd asked her if she could see the 97 yet that she informed me she was on the 118.
The 118 does not go downtown.
She said she was scared and didn't know where to get off.

I kept calm and phoned her directly. I told her to get off at the Baseline Station. I followed up with a text telling her to cross to the other side and catch a 95 or a 94. She's done this with me before a few times.

Her next text asked: "Which is the other side?"

I called her again, but my explanations didn't make any sense to her.

"Do you want me to come get you?"

I abandoned my cup and dashed to Slater Street where a 95 was drawing up. It was, naturally, a sluggish one. As I exchanged messages with an increasingly distressed younger daughter, I noticed I was now down to one third of my phone battery. I phoned elder daughter, gave her a quick rundown of the predicament.

After what seemed an eternity, I leapt out of the bus at Baseline Station, scanning the long, long platform for the familiar pink hoodie. Heart sinking, I realized why she didn't understand what "the other side" was.

She hadn't got out at Baseline Station.

I phoned her again and tried to get her to tell me the number of her stop, or to describe where she was, knowing my battery was getting lower and lower.

My bladder was also getting fuller and fuller. I'd left the coffee shop too quickly.

I dashed for Centrepointe,listening to the warning beeps of my dying battery, knowing there would be pay phones. And washrooms.

As I frog-marched into the building, some old codger intoned dryly: "Left! Right! Left! Right!"
"This is not funny," I snarled as I swept by him. "This is an emergency!"
"Oh," he said.

Without access to my phone, I had no access to phone numbers. I remembered I'd written elder daughter's onto a scrap of paper which I'd slipped into my bus pass back in the days before I had my own cell phone. However, elder daughter's cell still has a Halifax area code, so the phone was demanding $5.60 and refusing to take toonies. (That's a two-dollar coin, for you non-Canadians.) I slipped in my credit card, which has worked in past emergencies, but the phone couldn't read it. Now close to tears, it suddenly occurred to me that elder daughter was home which meant I could use our landline.

She didn't pick up, of course, not until she heard my frantic voice berating her for failing to answer during a known family emergency. She has a phobia of telephone solicitors, scared of hurting their feelings, I suppose. I told her to phone her dad and her sister, and see if she could pinpoint the latter's location - which could be anywhere along the 118's route, which stretches across the southern side of the city, pretty well the whole length of Baseline Road. I gave her the number of the pay phone.

After more than five minutes - I could see people peering cautiously at me from behind pillars - I finally phoned back. Apparently the pay phone number hadn't worked, but elder daughter had cajoled younger daughter into walking to the closest corner and reading a street sign: Centrepointe Drive. If she'd got off a 118 bus at Centrepointe Drive, she was relatively close by. I barrelled out a back exit.

The sun was just disappearing. All sorts of strange thoughts whirled through my head:

Centrepointe Drive is a crescent, isn't it? Suppose she's at the other end?

I suppose this will seem funny -- at some point.

Isn't Baseline Road closer than this?

I know you're out there somewhere.

No, I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only a motion away...

The setting sun blinded me as I look frantically west. I blinked, looked east -- and there she was, talking on her phone to her sister. She was very upset about having to reschedule her lesson. I held my tongue as I led her to Baseline Station. There's no point arguing with someone living on the autistic spectrum with a newly diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Half an hour later, I left younger daughter and the Resident Fan Boy at the coffee shop. I climbed up the hill towards the Parliament Buildings, noticing for the first time that my legs felt weak. All the confident strength I'd felt five hours earlier had ebbed away. By the time I'd reached my bus stop, my left thigh ached and my knee stung. I tried stretches and found I could barely lift my foot. It was as if I'd aged a decade in an afternoon.

Oh little daughter of mine…

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