Comin’ Through The Rye

Kathie Gibboney

It’s one of those mornings when I can’t find anything. I know my makeup is in my purse but where’s my purse? I have indeed donned a dress but am lacking the integral matching sash. I look enviously at the cat, already complete in his fur suit, stretched out on the bed as if showing off.  He raises his head and looks at me with an almost stern expression: “Don’t I look great and, by the way, didn’t you promise me you’d get to the box this morning?”

Rummaging amongst an assortment of clothes I catch a glimpse of the sash and fish it out. I’m running out of time. Where’s the library book I’m supposed to return? Do I really have to stop for gas?  Okay, okay! I’ll clean kitty’s box. Then the phone rings.

I hear my son’s voice.  Whereas I know Riley doesn’t always sound like the most enthused young man, affecting at times an almost Eeyore glumness, his voice is troubled in some other way.  He is calling from New York where he had gone to visit a friend. “I almost just died,” he says.

At least I was relieved at the “almost.”  He continued, panting a little. “I was walking down Times Square and this car just plowed into the crowd. It almost hit me.  It came so close. People were run down and everyone was screaming and no one knew what was happening. We didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack and I just started to run, to get out of there.”

In the background, I could make out the sound of sirens.  “I think I’m in shock….,” he reports, his voice falling off.  

He didn’t have to say anything more for me to gather the rest of the sentence, of his swirling thoughts, as he stood in a city he didn’t know, in a state of panic. The rest of the unspoken sentence would be, “Mommy, what do I do?”  

I pull the phone closer, as if by so doing I can get nearer to him, to somehow be standing at his side. The sirens blare louder in that brave and battered city on the other shore of America. On that Thursday morning in May my son walked away.  An 18-year-old girl did not. A deranged, drugged, driver killed her and injured 22 people.

I read about the girl, Alyssa Elsman, a tourist from Michigan visiting with her family.  She is pretty, as an 18-year-old girl should be, and as she walked Times Square with her whole life ahead of her, she could not have known what was to come.  Did Riley cross her path? Were they next to each other for a moment, there at the end of her life? And could he not, Holden-like, become the Catcher in the Rye, and somehow save her?

We all know life is precarious, that at any moment, due to natural disaster, stupid accidents or with more frequency, crazed unforgivable human attack, anything can happen. The rock may fall, the bus may crash, the gun may fire, the earth may quake, the knife strike, the shark bite, the wave rise, the car veer and the bomb blast.  Alas, the price of such knowledge is the loss of our innocence.

I remember the surprise of almost dying. We were crossing Pacific Coast Highway; a group of us at the beach in the Southern California summer of ‘64 and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys was popular.  I was about 12 and wore my first bikini.  We had run across the street to a market that is no longer there to get snacks and drinks and walked the isles barefoot. When we left we had to get back across the busy street and stood waiting for an opening and someone finally yelled, “Go!” and we ran. But something went wrong with my timing. I hesitated and must have got off to a late start. I tried to catch up with everyone but they were dashing ahead already reaching the other side, ready to return to our towels and munch Fritos and Ding Dongs.

I saw cars coming barreling fast and froze somewhere in the middle of the highway. My friends turned and stared. I couldn’t go forward or back.  I stood stock still as cars sped by me, coming so close I could feel the breeze created by their motion against my bare tummy. I could feel the heat from the metal; hear the songs on their radios.  I really didn’t know what to do as motorists began honking and yelling insulting things at me, “Get out of the street you idiot!” and “What are you crazy?”

Somehow, after what seemed hours, an opening appeared and my friends yelled, “Run! Now! Run! Fast!”

I made it safely across and my friends were in a frenzy talking at once and saying things like, “You almost died!” “That van almost hit you!” “You’re so lucky.” “We thought you were going to die.”

I knew something had happened, that I had stood on an edge between life and death but all I wanted was to get back to our towels and lie in the sun and when I did and closed my eyes, it felt like being in my mother’s arms, California waves breaking in the background, a transistor down the beach playing Beach Boys.

My son, in a similar fashion, went on with his day. We checked in with him several times and the disaster of the morning, deemed not a terrorist act, seemed to start to fade a bit in his mind. Indeed he was cavalier enough to get a tattoo that afternoon. It is of a pineapple. Something seeming life affirming and happy.

I will not tell him that whenever I see it, I will think of a young girl we never met and never will.      

London Bridge is falling down.   

When my daughter leaves the house, often in an agitated state, due to the chaotic squalor of our household, making it a challenge to find the other sock, I call out, “Drive safely, love you.”  It’s all I have to send her away with, just words to wrap her in, a wisp of love to trail after her.

And through the rye, may all our children come safely home, wagging their tails behind them.


For Alyssa Elsman


Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.