This piece originally appeared in my Off the Clock with The Checkout Girl column, over at RVA News.
I heard his voice out of the corner of my ear, emanating from the television that was shouting out headlines, as I got ready for work.
“Something-something-something missing 16-year-old son. Something-something-something tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Something-something-something calling his cell phone, hoping he’ll pick up.”
I glanced over and saw the image of a man, crying uncontrollably, and clutching a picture of a boy, who looked much like my own teenage son.
I stopped what I was doing and stood in front of the television, having gone from passively listening for current event tidbits about which I could make small talk with customers for the day to captivated by this dad’s story.
He was Mike Hare, the father of 16-year-old Lantz Hare, a boy sucked from his car by the EF-5 tornado that leveled huge portions of the city of Joplin, Missouri, a week ago Sunday. A friend, who was in the car with Lantz at the time the tornado struck, was found alive, but badly injured.
As I stood before the television, Mike Hare described, through tears and breath-stealing sobs, the family’s growing desperation and how, in addition to constantly phoning hospitals, help agencies, and morgues, he was also frequently calling Lantz’s cell phone.
“It rang for the first day and a half, and now it goes straight to voice mail. But just in case he gets it, I want him to know his dad loves him.”
My heart stopped. My eyes welled. My gut knotted. I had to sit down.
Since the hot Hawaiian day I gave birth for the first time in January 1993, I have been warned.
“Oh, you’re children are so darling. JUST WAIT until they are teenagers.”
As they edged toward teendom, the seemingly well-meaning and opinionated, grew more ominous in their predictions.
“Your son and daughter are 10 and 12? You are in for a rough few years!”
When they reached the magic ages, the same people looked at me the way one would gaze upon a martyr.
“13 and 15? I don’t know how you do it!”
I was regaled with stories about other people’s wild teens, and about what wild teens the people, themselves, were. I was cautioned about drug use, promiscuity, and just plain spawn of the devil-type evil.
But I knew my children. They are the two halves to my whole heart. I’ve never understood someone so intimately as I do the pair to which I gave birth. I can finish their sentences. I can see hurt. I can feel disturbances in their force, and, even when we aren’t together, can send an “I love you” or “call me if you need me” text at exactly the right time, as if by magic.
And I’ve also never been understood so intimately. No one can see through me as well as those two, or cut right through me, when they so choose. Criticism from others? Shit, I’m a strong woman and I know myself so don’t even try it. Criticism from them? Devestating. But they are sensitive enough to look at the clock, notice I’m not home, and send an “I’m sorry you have to work late, does this mean no dinner? Haha.” text, as well.
But, as someone who could easily have won “Miss Completely Uncertain of Her Parenting Skills” for 18 years running, I worried. What if those soothsayers of doom, those harbingers of rebellion and anarchy knew more than I did?
As one who has always been honest with her children, to the point of “Mom! We don’t NEED to know all this about you!!”, they know I’ve been battening down the hatches for years. From time to time, we’ll disagree about something and I’ll say “Is this it? Is this the moment when you start hating me and start planning your facial tattoos and back seat babymaking?”
But they are 16 and 18 now, and I’m still waiting. Waiting for them to be less than my everything. Waiting for my heart to break. And, nothing.
When I saw Mike Hare talking about Lantz, the son who looked so much like my own, I felt something well beyond sympathy. I felt oneness. I, too, would be calling my lost boy’s cell phone, maybe even for the rest of my life.
Lantz’s body was located in a morgue on Thursday, through the efforts of a community who had come together for this family. Heartbreakingly, there are dozens more stories, just like his. The numbers rise and fall, daily, but, at last count, at least 126 people in Joplin had died due to the storm, and the number unaccounted for stands at 44.
That’s 170 hearts, missing halves.
If you want to help the tornado victims, abc News has put together a list of organizations that are doing just that, and ways that you can contribute to them.