The best Christmas present I\’ll ever get was nothing at all

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Enterprise columnist

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I took a little trip to Hell last Saturday. No, not the DMV. Soul-searing, gut-wrenching, Hell itself. I was only there for an hour or so, but it was truly the worst hour of my entire life.

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Want to know what the greeting is at Hell\’s gate? It\’s this, on your cell phone: “This is Officer Dougherty with the San Francisco Police Department. We recovered your daughter\’s cell phone in a stolen vehicle and we need to locate her.” And it gets worse. Not only does the stolen vehicle contain yet more stolen property, it has crashed. And my daughter is nowhere to be found.

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Omigod, omigod, omigod — that is the endless soundtrack that starts playing in your head. Was she robbed? Why didn\’t she call? Injured? Why didn\’t the hospital call? Abducted? Omigod, omigod, omigod, will she ever call? Will I ever hear her voice again? Where is she?

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But … how do I know this is really a police officer? What if he\’s some random monster who found her cell phone, or stole it from her, and is just trying to find out where the pretty girl lives? He was calling from my daughter\’s cell phone, and probably found “Mom” in her phone numbers. Just because he says he\’s a police officer doesn\’t mean he\’s a police officer.

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He kept pressing me for her address, and I pointed out that he had her wallet, so he should have her address. He said it was a campus address. OK, she\’s moved, she didn\’t update her driver\’s license. But can\’t police officers pull police-y strings and get current addresses? I still didn\’t quite trust him. But I didn\’t quite not trust him either. I was too infused with panic to really know what I believed, other than that my daughter was missing.

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I told him straight up that I had no way of knowing he was really a police officer over the phone, so I\’d try to contact my daughter and call him back. I called one person who\’d surely know where she was. She didn\’t. I tried another, and yes, he was with her, but the last time he saw her, she was getting in a cab. Alone in a cab late at night in San Francisco. Great. Was she robbed by the cab driver? Or were they robbed together?

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She was due at work soon, so I called. Nothing but an answering machine. I left the calmest message I could muster to please have her call me back. No call came. I checked her Facebook page. She\’d made one cryptic post, 14 hours earlier: “Don\’t try to call me or text me for a couple days. I don\’t have my phone.” It was the kind of message someone might leave if being forced to. Like, at gunpoint. This is where your mind goes at times like this. I called her work again, now well beyond the time she should be there. No answer. And she never, ever misses work.

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I was completely wound around the anxiety axle by this point. I called the police officer back and said I was still unable to locate my daughter. He pressed me again for her address and I still balked. Despite the gathering negatives, he was ultimately still just a stranger over the telephone. He directed me to leave her address at the police station, and he\’d retrieve it there. And that\’s when I knew this wasn\’t some predator trying to play me. This was the real deal.

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And then the true horror started sinking in. My horrible turn had come. I\’d soon be one of those desperate, weepy, puffy-eyed mothers on the evening news, begging some unknown monster to please, please, just let her go. I could see the live helicopter shot over some remote field, zooming in on a sheet-covered body being loaded into the coroner\’s van. I died a little, right then and there. If her life was over, so was mine. End of story.

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So, what do you do at that point but wait by the phone, every nerve in your body scorched with adrenaline, your worst fears flooding your brain? Pace and wait, pace and wait. Tick tock, tick tock. Finally, it was past the time when my daughter\’s workplace should be open. I still hadn\’t gotten a call back. So I called again. And was astounded to hear her answer the phone.

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“Is it really you? Is it really you? Say something again!”

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She had no idea what I was babbling about, and as I recounted the events of the whole agonizing morning, she gasped with each detail. She thought her friend\’s car was towed after they parked on a white curb to go to a club. Not a big deal, just a huge bummer. Hence the Facebook post — sucks to be without your cell phone. What can you do. No big whoop.

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Why didn\’t she answer her work phone? Simple — it was against store policy to do so until the store opens. Did she get my message? Yes, it was just Mom pestering her with some annoying trivia again. She\’d call back on her break.

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She, of course, was thrilled to find out she\’d get her phone and wallet back. I was thrilled to find out that nothing I\’d imagined had happened. Nothing has ever felt as wonderful to me in my whole life as nothing. You know what nothing feels like? Like angels ladling sweet, warm honey-flavored gratitude over your entire soul.

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Earlier that morning, I\’d flashed on Christmas, and decided there\’d be no Christmas for us this year. But Christmas is back on. I already got two early presents: a “Get out of Hell free” card, as well as the best Christmas present of all time: Nothing.

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— Follow Debra DeAngelo on Twitter. Links are posted at and http://www.edebra.com and http://www.wintersexpress.com. Find Debra\’s columns online at http://www.wintersexpress.com, http://www.edebra.com and http://www.ipinion.me

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