17 | The Call | Summer 1992
The ringing of the phone on my bedside table is insistent, demanding. It’s not even 6am, too early to be getting a call. Then I remember - it must be Nicole, my 19 year old daughter, living with her boyfriend on the island of Crete, in Greece. With this thought, my heart lightens. Because of the time difference and the difficulty of finding a phone during her busy days, she sometimes calls at this hour. Sleepy and cozy, I reach for the phone. A man’s voice – a stranger. Fear bubbles up from my gut.
“Marcia this is Jan, Nicole’s friend, calling from Greece. Nicole asked me to call you with some very difficult news. She was attacked and raped last night. She’s in the hospital, but she’s ok.”
“Oh my god, Jan, is she there? Please put her on. Please.” “There’s no phone in her room Marcia. She told me to promise you she’ll call tomorrow at this time. And she really is ok, really. I must hang up now. You know how strong she is Marcia. She’ll call.”
Engulfed by black. A dead phoneline. Dead. She must be dead. Why else not her voice on the other end of the line? I will die if she is dead.
I’m falling back in time almost 30 years, 1963. I will die, at 19, with a knife in my throat in that blackness, at the edge of acres of fields, a garbage dump, on the outskirts of an unknown city. A moonscape shrouded in black. Some lights twinkling, so far in the distance that I can’t even be certain they’re there. Only he and I exist in the universe of his car, my prison. Our psyches circle each other, the hunter, and his prey. His is sluggish with beer and lust and anger. Mine is sharp as a razor. If I don’t keep one step ahead of him, he’s going to kill me. Why would he not? I’m dead. She must be dead. We get taken, and raped, and left for dead ………
But I’m here, and she’s on the other side of the world, and I don’t know what to do. I’m desperate to call her. But I can’t. It’s 1992. No cell phones. No home phones in the tiny Greek village that is her home. The one phone near her is in the village cafe, but I don’t have the number. What hospital is she in? I have no idea. I’m helpless, trapped, alone, suffocating with fear and dread. There is nothing I can do. My first call is to her father. His answering service tells me he’s away for another 10 days, no way to reach him. 6:30am. I can’t hold out for another 24 hours, to wait for a call from her, one that I’m growing more convinced by the minute won’t come. After all, she’s dead, isn’t she? The abyss looms, the black hole of the worst kind of nightmares – abductions, rapes, murders. I’m pulled into that nightmare. A voice comes to me. "You need help Marcia, NOW."
I phone Alan, my Buddhist teacher and friend, in California. Please know what to do. He picks up. “Call your friends. Have them gather around you. Just one foot in front of the other. Create a day you can live into. Call me in a few hours….”
His words give me the strength to go on. Now I’m on the phone to Sharon; my oldest friend, my strength, my stalwart, the sister I never had, a second mom to my daughter since we first met when Nicole was 3 years old. Sharon phones more friends and soon, in the early morning, they begin arriving at my house. A procession of goddesses, of goodness, of unyielding love. We speak in hushed tones, light candles, pray together, sip coffee and tea. The glow of candles and the hushed comings and goings of friends transforms the space into a cave of the ancient ways. We are women of time immemorial; embracing, mourning, wailing, holding each other to face whatever comes. I’m moving through the thick of it all, with blinding numbing terror added to the mix. I’m still sure my girl is dead. I can’t see it any other way. That I have some friends here who don’t see it that way gives me the thinest sliver of hope. We hold hands, lean on each other, light more candles.
Time passes painfully slowly. I won’t make it for 24 hours not knowing if she’s dead or alive.
Shall I take the first plane to Crete? That seems impossible. I’m at the kitchen table with my friends, and Eve is among them. She asks, “What village does Nicole live in?” I name the village, the region. Eve replies, “My British friend David lives on Crete. He’s married to Nora, a Greek woman, and I think their home is near there. I might have a number for their village cafe.” A tiny spark of light in the enveloping darkness. Maybe we can find out more. We call the cafe. Unbelievably, the cafe owner picks up. His English is just enough, and we get a yes, he knows David and Nora. Yes, he will send someone to bring them to the cafe. Yes, he will need an hour to find someone to go and for them to return to the cafe. Call back in one hour. Initially, I’m ecstatic that we might have a way of finding out more. A long, long shot, but there is hope now. Immediately a cloud moves in, a black one. Do I want to know? The news may be the worst possible. But I’m committed now. I have to find out and face it.
It's an endless hour. I give myself over to the procession of women, marching to a beat as deep as the heart, bringing prayers and candles, bread, whispered chanting. We are a tribe. There are no men. They are away. We hold the center. I am not alone. We are strength.
In an hour we call the cafe again. The owner hands the phone over to a woman, Greek, speaking perfect English. “Hello, this is Nora. Is that you Eve?” “Nora, I’m Marcia, Eve’s friend. Eve is right here with me. Nora, my daughter was raped last night somewhere near your village. I am desperate for news of her. I’m afraid she might be badly injured or dead.” “Marcia, you must be Nicole’s mother!”
“Yes, yes, do you know her? Is there word of her?” Now my heart is stopped.
“Marcia, I just came from washing the blood out of Nicole’s hair at the hospital.”
“Oh my god, so she’s alive?”
“Yes, Marcia, she’s alive. The cut on her head isn’t serious, just a few stiches. She’s surrounded by friends. She’ll be fine. You have a very strong daughter.”
I’m stunned. If I didn’t believe in miracles before, I do now. The miracle of Eve, of Nora.
“Thank you for taking care of her Nora, from the bottom of my heart. How do you know her?”
“She lives nearby and was a nanny for my 3 kids for a few months. I know her very well, and we love her.”
I hand the phone over to Eve.
Miracles do happen.
Out of this blackness comes a sacred connection, a mother loving and caring for my daughter. I can exhale now. No matter what horror my daughter endured, she will live. Her physical injuries are not grave. Life continues.
Nicole calls the next morning, right on time. The moment I hear her voice, the vitality, the vibrancy, I know she’s ok.
“Honey, tell me about your injuries. Be truthful.”
“I will mom. A broken front tooth, cut lip needed a few stiches, and same with the laceration on my forehead, near my hairline. I really am okay mom. Really.”
"I can get on a plane and come right now instead of waiting for 3 weeks when Sharon and I have reservations. It wouldn’t be a problem to come early.”
“No, come in 3 weeks. I’ve found a beautiful house in the village for you and Auntie Sharon to rent. And I’m good. I’ll stay with friends until P. returns from South Africa. You don’t have to worry.”
I don’t find out until weeks later the real reason she had Jan call me from the hospital, instead of calling herself. She was afraid that if she heard my voice she’d break down, dissolve into a pool of tears, and want to come home right away. She didn’t want to do that. She is a strong woman, her own person, a warrior on her own path.