My mother is in Egypt now. At least, I believe she is. She was to arrive there while I was sleeping around 3:30 this morning. I’m trying to picture here there, but I’ve never been to Egypt and I have only vague ideas of what Cairo looks like, which seem to be largely drawn from Indiana Jones-type adventures — I’ve got narrow streets, vendors with huge baskets, flapping awnings, dust and rogue camels. She doesn’t fit on those streets in my mind. Instead I keep picturing her in a billowy white cotton outfit (though I know perfectly well she owns nothing of the kind and that no Western adventurer has worn that kind of thing since the British first began to unearth the tombs) under a blazing desert sun, backed by the sphinx and maybe a pyramid or two. No matter how I override with a more logical guess that she’s probably catching up on sleep in a darkened hotel room, when I think of her, my mind supplies the sphinx/pyramid/billowing cotton outfit picture.
It’s a funny thing, being out of touch. Normally I wouldn’t have yet talked to her, early on a Sunday morning. In many ways, she’s no more distant from me now than she was in Tucson yesterday. And yet, there she is, out in a desert I’ve never seen, my mind shrouding her in an outfit she never wears. I find myself missing her.
When she called from JFK before boarding the flight to Cairo, I asked, “so, do you have any plans for communication at all — or is this goodbye for three weeks?” She paused, conferred with Dave, my stepfather, and replied with surprise that no, they hadn’t thought of it. The surprise is because Dave, also a former Air Force guy, and so level-headed with it, usually thinks of everything. (I’m saying also, as in along with Sullenberger, our new hero.) They speculated about Internet cafes, phone cards that could be purchased, that the Egyptian hotels might have Internet themselves now. They said they’d figure something out. I said not to worry about it.
Just a few days ago, my mom was lamenting her hard drive crash that prevented her from being on Instant Messenger. She had to call me on the phone to make contact, which seemed onerous. We laughed, wondering what we did before we had email or the Internet at all. When our phones were tied to the wall at home.
Our lack of contact now is only an illusion. For the right price, I could call her. She’ll find Internet access, most likely. And yet, in my heart, she’s as distant as a Victorian Egyptologist, white parasol in hand, admiring the Great Sphinx under the sun.