I believe in calling to say you got home safe. This has always been a tradition in my family, and no one followed it more closely than my sister. Two years older than I, she always looked out for me, even when we were small. When my sister and I moved to New York City from upstate New York for college, she would always ask me to call when I got back to my dorm room after we’d been to dinner or spent a few hours in the library together. I was never good at remembering to call; invariably, after I’d been in my room for a few minutes, the phone would ring.
“You forgot to call,” my sister would say, teasing, but not really angry.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!! I forgot!”
“That’s okay. It’s good to hear you’re safe. I love you.”
One summer, when I was subletting an apartment in a not very safe Brooklyn neighborhood, I forgot to call after a night out with my sister (as usual) and just went to sleep. My cellphone was in my jacket pocket, which was hanging in the closet by the front door. My sister called repeatedly, becoming increasingly frantic. She called our mother, she called the police, and eventually called my building superintendent, who she insisted let himself into my apartment to see if I was all right. I woke up with a rude start that morning, with my super standing in my doorway and thirty missed calls on my phone. My family was relieved – and furious. I, on the other hand, was exasperated; I felt patronized, fussed over, babied. Nothing was going to happen to me, and I was old enough to take care of myself.
Since my sister was killed last year in a traffic accident while traveling in Argentina, my perspective on calling to say that I am home safe has completely changed. Although I had gotten better over the years about calling, I always did it because I was required to, not because I believed in it. Now, I always call to say that I am home safe, and I even ask for those calls in return. I have no other siblings – I am my parents’ only remaining child – and I fully recognize the responsibility that I have towards them. If anything were to happen to me, I know my parents would do anything, risk everything, to help me. In return for that kind of devoted, unconditional love, I have a responsibility to make sure that they are never put in that position. We have a deep responsibility toward the people who love us, care for us, and are invested in our well-being, both to be safe, and to tell them that we are.
Of course, asking someone to call, or making that call, does not protect one from harm – after all, my sister called us only a few hours before she was killed. It is not an act of protection, but of love, and shows the reciprocity that is a mark of a mature relationship. Now, when I hear myself say, “It’s good to hear you’re safe. I love you,” I recognize that those two sentences mean very much the same thing.
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