Light seeps under my closed bedroom door. The signal that my newly minted adult daughter hasn’t made it home.
I ignore my full bladder and jostle my husband. “What time is it?”
He raises his head. “Six-fifteen. Why?”
“I think the light on the staircase is still on. Either Lauren hasn’t made it home or she forgot to turn it off.”
“I’m sure she forgot. Go back to sleep.”
But I can’t. The urge to confirm my daughter’s safely in her bed forces me up.
I don’t bother with slippers and bolt barefoot up the wooden staircase.
Her door’s shut. A good sign. I don’t open it. Instead, I press my ear against it hoping to hear breathing or the rustling of sheets. Silence.
My trembling hand turns the knob and pushes the door in.
The pre-sunrise haze reveals Lauren’s peacock covered quilt tucked in neatly atop her empty bed. Her purse isn’t hanging from its hook. Her phone isn’t on her nightstand.
The blood rushes from my face. I dash down the stairs. “Michael! She’s not here! Oh my God!”
When I burst into our bedroom, he’s pulling on his pants.
I throw on my robe. “I’m calling 911!”
“Hold on. Let’s at least call her first. There’s probably a reasonable explanation.”
My mind reels. I don’t even know the last name of the guy she was with last night. I check my phone for a call from her or a text. Nothing.
“It didn’t even ring. Went straight to voicemail.” Michael says. “I’ll check her location.”
I scan her social media for the last time she posted something. Yesterday.
“Oh shit.” Michael shows me his screen. “Her phone’s in South Carolina.”
“What! Oh my God! I’m calling 911 now!” This time he doesn’t stop me.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My eighteen-year-old daughter, Lauren Olsen, she didn’t come home last night. She was with a guy. Maybe named Collin. I don’t know the last name. Her phone…we did a location search and it’s showing that it’s in South Carolina. I don’t even know how that could be possible? That’s two states away.” The words rip me into a thousand pieces.
“Okay, ma’am, an officer is on his way now.”
“Should be less than fifteen minutes. Do you want me to stay on the line until he’s there?”
“No. No. I’m gonna call a couple of her friends. See if I can get some other information. Thank you.” Fifteen minutes isn’t fast enough.
Michael’s making coffee. He busies himself with normal things when he’s worried.
Not me. I flip into full-blown panic-mode—especially when it’s my child. I find Gracie’s contact info and hit call.
It rings a few times, then goes to voice mail.
I text. PLEASE ANSWER. IT’S AN EMERGENCY!! Then call her number again.
“I’m sorry to wake you so early. Lauren didn’t come home last night. She went out with some guy from work, Collin, I think. I don’t know his last name. Do you?”
“Mmm…yeah hold on we were looking him up on Instagram. It’s Hart. Yep, that’s him. Collin Hart.”
“When’s the last time you spoke with her?”
“She texted me yesterday and said she was gonna hang out with him. I think they were gonna go to some sports bar or something. I can’t remember the name. I think it had a number in it.”
“4th Street Grille?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Please call me as soon as you hear from her.”
“For sure. Thanks”
“We have a last name. Hart.” I shout to Michael.
The doorbell rings. I probably look like bloody hell, but I don’t care. “Thank you for coming so quickly.” I say as the police officer enters our foyer.
“Officer Barbarito. Happy to help.” We shake hands. He pulls out a notebook from his front pocket and flips it open. “Got the name of your daughter as Lauren Olsen. That correct?”
“Yes, sir. And I got the boy’s name now, too. Collin Hart. I think they were at the 4th Street Grille.”
He jots down the information.
“Hart? He from around here?”
“I think so. I think she said he lives in Sanford.”
“Yeah, yeah. I went to high school with his mother. Hold on.”
Michael hands me a cup of coffee. I sit it down on the table in the foyer. Drinking coffee is something I enjoy. I can’t consume anything but fear right now.
Officer Barbarito presses the radio on his shoulder. “Can you get me Lisa Connor; I mean Lisa Hart’s phone number in Sanford.” A voice on the other side delivers the number.
He dials it.
Michael rubs the small of my back. He’s keeping his fear at bay to be strong for me. But the deep lines in his forehead tell me he’s as concerned as I am.
“Lisa, this is Officer Joe Barbarito. We went to high school together.”
Thoughts race as I wonder what the person on the other end of the phone is saying.
“I’m at the home of a young lady by the name of Lauren Olsen. Parents say she didn’t come home last night and that the last person she was with was Collin.”
Officer Barbarito gives me a thumbs up. “Oh really. Can you wake her and put her on the phone?” He puts it on speaker.
About a minute later my heart melts when I hear Lauren’s sleepy voice. “Hello, did I do something wrong?”
“No, ma’am. Just a wellness check. This is Officer Barbarito. I’m at your house right now. Your parents were concerned when you weren’t here this morning. Then they located your phone in South Carolina. Can you explain?”
“Honey, I’m so glad you’re safe.” I interrupt and I don’t care.
“Mom, I’m fine. I didn’t mean to worry you. We’d just left a gas station and I couldn’t find my phone. We went back and it wasn’t there. I came home and grabbed my computer. Collin said he’d help me track it down using Find My Phone thinking maybe I left it at the restaurant.”
I interrupt again. “You came home and you didn’t bother to at least leave me a note!”
“I’m sorry. I was only thinking about finding my phone. We texted and a guy responded he found it at the gas station. He called Collin. He was super nice. He didn’t want to turn it in to the gas station attendant. He said my phone battery was about to die but to text him my address and he’d mail it to me tomorrow.
I interrupt again, “You gave him our address?”
“Mom, it’s fine. He gave me his name and phone number and everything. Said he’d text Collin when he mailed it and when it would arrive. By the time this was all said and done we were exhausted.”
The officer finally just passes me his phone. “Lauren, first off. You’re okay. That’s the important thing. But you scared me to death. You should’ve called or texted or left a note—something.”
“I didn’t want you to be mad that I lost my phone. I wanted to figure it out on my own. And I did.”
“Have Collin text your dad his address. I’m sending him to pick you up. We need to have a sit down. This can’t happen again. I love you.” I pass the phone back to the officer.
“Young lady. It only takes seconds to let people who love you know where you are to prevent them from hours of worry. And to prevent involvement from law enforcement who have real crimes to deal with.”
“I know. I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.”
He shoves his phone in his back pocket. “I’m glad this all turned out okay. I’ve been in homes where it didn’t.”
“I can’t imagine. “My hand covers my heart. Both out of relief Lauren’s okay, and out of grief for daughter’s that are never found.
He points to Michael’s cup of coffee. “Mind if I join you for a quick one?”
“Sure, come on into the kitchen,” he says.
I pick my mug up from the entry table and we all sit at the breakfast nook.
“You didn’t ask my advice.” Office Barbarito takes a sip.
I feel like I’m about to get a parenting citation. One I deserve.
“But, as long as my daughters lived under my roof. It didn’t matter how old they were. They didn’t leave the house with anyone unless I had their first and last name and home address.”
Michael says, “I know. We’ve been struggling with that. She’s fought us over wanting more independence. Her mother tends to helicopter.”
Officer Barbarito nods in my direction. “What you said to her—the expectation should always be if the plan changes, you alert your family. No excuses.”
“Thank you, Officer. I really appreciate it.” And I do.
“Alrighty folks, enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks for the cup ‘o joe.”
He tilts his hat and lets himself out.
Tears bleed out of my eyes. Michael rubs my back until they stop.
A few hours ago, I feared something no parent should have to ever fear.
“Hon, please go get my daughter and bring her home.”
Note to Parents of Teens/Young Adults: Your child will have all the independence they desire when they move out. Until then, teach them that safety always comes first. Put expectations in place so you always know where they are and who they are with.
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