Waiting

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- I didn't cry when my mother died.

Not that I wasn't sad--I had just been expecting it for too long. Since I was five, in fact.

It was near Christmas, and my older sister and I were standing outside the skating rink three hours after it closed, waiting for her to pick us up. A police officer finally pulled up, told us to get in and said mom had been in an accident.

It wasn't her first, and it definitely wasn't her last. But it was the first time I remember thinking, "I wonder if she's dead." I don't know how, at age 5, I knew that alcohol would kill my mother, but I did. I just didn't know when--and for the next 20 years that cold anticipation was slow torture.

I waited a lot as I grew up. After school, when all the teachers were gone and it was starting to get dark. After soccer practice, when someone else's mom would finally get angry or worried enough to drive me home.

The worst was waiting at home, sometimes for days, not knowing if she was dead or simply too drunk to find her way back.

Inevitably, a car would pull up, and either mom would stumble out or we would stumble in.

With the twisted logic of a child, I always chose to go with her when I could--especially after my sister left home. I was in more accidents before age 16 than most people witness in a lifetime. But somehow, the bruised ribs and broken arms were less painful than the waiting.

It's a miracle I survived to 25, but I did. And now there I was, watching the nurses wash my mother's face and unplug the IVs and monitors.

I hugged my brother and sister--they weren't crying, either--and walked to the hospital chapel. I prayed for my mom.

I prayed for forgiveness, too, because along with the grief I felt was an equal measure of relief. Relief that the waiting was over. Relief that somehow, the only person she had killed was herself. It is an awful thing to feel at the death of your mother.

I'm pushing 40 now, and I have four kids who will never know their grandmother--never hear her play Pagliacci on the piano or taste the greatest oatmeal cookies the world has ever known. Sometimes they ask about her. What was she like? I still don't know how to answer.

I do know that every time I hear about a drunk driver, my first thought is, "who is waiting?"
Is there a five-year-old boy somewhere watching a police car roll silently up the driveway? Is there a husband or wife somewhere tossing nervously in bed, watching the clock slowly tick its way to sunrise?

Every time you drink and drive, you put lives at risk: your own and those of everyone else on the road. But even if--thank God--you somehow make it home without hurting yourself or someone else, you are slowly killing someone who loves you.

Someone who's somewhere. Waiting.