The call came at 8:37 last Friday morning. It went something like this:
"Ma'am? This is Lieutenant Lord. I am calling from the Air National Guard center in Florida? We received a notification of a distress beacon being activated by your husband, and you are listed as his emergency contact".
I am still in my bathrobe. My husband left an hour ago to take the kids to school, and, to my knowledge, his fancy car is not equipped with an emergency beacon. I have no idea what this Lord character is talking about. Then it hits me- the emergency beacon. My parents.The Grand Canyon. They pushed the button. They pushed the button?!. I explain that I am his daughter, not his wife, and give Lord my father's cell number. Inexplicably, I can't find my step mother's number. I tell him I will have to call him back. I call her office, and her assistant reminds me that she is in the Grand Canyon. Yes, I know this, and so does the National Guard. When I call back with her cell number, I accidentally say "Uh, Lord? I mean, sorry....Lieutenant Lord...what happens now?". God, how I suck in an emergency. It's just that his name reminds me of this time when I was a kid. I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said "Lordy Lordy, Doug is forty". I turned to my father, who wasn't yet forty, and said "heh, heh, too bad your name isn't Doug". He paused and said, kindly,"oh, I don't know, Lordy Lordy John is forty works pretty well". Yeah, I think it took me awhile to find my funny, and luckily my hysterically funny Dad was patient.
Anyway, Lord tells me that they will sending a rescue helicopter if they can't make telephone contact. He also tells me that people often set off the beacon accidentally. I thank him and hang up. I text my sister, who is at a medical conference in Toronto. It feels strange writing "the beacon was activated, helicopter is going in". It makes me feel as if we are in some sort of spy movie, but I have no secret weapons or cool gadgets. I have a distress signal and a guy named Lord. I have no idea what to do. My plan to workout and go to the grocery store seems ludicrous compared to what my parents must be experiencing. It is now ten o'clock. I 'm hunched over the computer researching emergency beacon statistics and running over the various scenarios in my head: did they get injured? are they lost? did they run out of water?
My parents are not weenies. They are not yuppie hikers who decided to conquer the Grand Canyon because their Medicare kicked in. They have been hiking there for thirty years. They moved to Arizona for two years to be close enough to hike the Canyon regularly. They developed a line of dehydrated camping food for God's sake. If there was a pageant, they would win Mr. and Mrs. Grand Canyon, or at the very least be first runners up. I know they didn't accidentally set off the beacon.
I am strangely calm, since I have no information, and I am in the comfort of my home- not sitting at the bottom of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and wondering when help will arrive. I can't seem to leave the house, feeling like I might miss the call if I go to the gym. I don't want to become hysterical at the Trader Joe's check out line if they call asking where to send remains-morbid yes, but entirely possible. I text my sister that we should be glad that they aren't in the middle of some political fray in addition to being injured or sick. We should feel lucky that we aren't having to line up to kiss Bill Clinton's extremely well connected and slim vegetarian behind to get our parents back for us.
By eleven o'clock, I was starting to worry. I have seen enough television movies from the eighties about people trapped on rock faces, or caught in avalanches, and the race with the clock to save them. Someone always dies or loses a limb. What begins as an excursion into nature becomes terrifying and deadly, making the viewer question why anyone would ever leave the safety of their living room.
I end up passing out on my bed at noon with my cell phone cradled in my lap. I wake up at two, bleary and uncertain and take a shower. No news, still. I have the added pressure of concert tickets to see Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl and am feeling funny about leaving this unfinished missing parents business to go drink wine and sing "Learning to Fly" with a bunch of strangers. I leave the house and try to buy picnic stuff but nothing seems appetizing- hey, the Worry Diet! It really works! I end up buying the ingredients to make a picnic at home. I need the therapy and the distraction of cooking. I pick up the kids at school and cook for two hours- roasted veggie salad; quinoa with basil, pine nuts and cranberries; mushroom ravioli with a mushroom duxelle; spicy peanut noodles; and a roasted beet and orange salad with creamy blue cheese and walnuts. I know it's delicious, but it all tastes like chalk to me.
By five, I am getting panicky. I go upstairs to change my clothes a half a dozen times, and, when I come back down, I see I have a missed phone call. I see the number and yell the F-word. Big chimes in "why'd you say fuck, Mom?". Little whispers "fuck fuck fuck" quietly to her dolls. I don't care. I don't even respond. I frantically call back. Dana, the representative from the beacon company, who I'd spoken with earlier in the day, informs me that they have been located. They are alive and seem well enough, but the helicopter is unable to land. She has been told by the pilot that the "woman kept pointing to the man" and that a ground crew is en route. So no one was dead, but they were still down there, stuck. I told her, awkwardly, that I had to go out in a few minutes and to please leave any future messages on my phone. I hang up, wondering if we should just cancel the concert. Thirty minutes later, the phone rings again-this time it is the Arizona dispatch number. I dive for the phone, pick it up and tentatively say "hello?" It is my step mother. They have been airlifted out and are at the hospital. She is okay, he is severely dehydrated. I breath a sigh of relief, welcome her back to the land of the living and pack up the one hitter to go blow off some steam with ZZ Top and Tom Petty. We eat delicious food (even if I do say so myself) and belt out "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Refugee", "American Girl" as if it's finale week on American Idol. I wake up feeling hungover but hopeful.
However, the situation remains unresolved. They just went home today, after nine days in the Flagstaff hospital. Dehydration is a bitch, to say the very least, and sufficient water is truly as important as all the experts claim. No one can say when it will get better, so we can only wish for a speedy, complete recovery. We are lucky, as another man died the same day my parents were airlifted out. He was taking photographs on the edge of the rim when he fell in. He was wearing sandals. My thoughts go out to his girlfriend and to the two bystanders that were struck by not one,but two bolts of lightning that came down from the sky just after he fell. I couldn't help but wonder what the hell that guy did to piss off God that much, even though I don't actually believe in God per se. However, if it was you, oh Lord, God, Ishvar,Yahweh,El Cantare, Allah, Maleldil, Adonai, Buddha, Ganesha- whatever you prefer to be called-that pushed that guy in,threw down those deadly bolts, but let my Dad live, then thanks, really, thanks so very much.