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By Meredith Hoffa

Just because it looked like I was having fun doesn't mean I was.

Saturdays were not fun.

Sure, there was no school, but a day off of school didn't in and of itself necessarily constitute "fun." If you were me, anyway. And, say, eight.

Did I appreciate the two hours of Saturday morning cartoons I was allowed to watch? (And did I especially appreciate the commercials because I could memorize them and re-create them in the form of stirring one-acts for the Nobles Day Camp Annual Talent Show?) Yes. (And yes.) But fun? Not exactly. And likewise, while I enjoyed Jazz dance class at the J.C.C. (think: rainbow bandanas, Lionel Ritchie), still, it couldn't qualify as pure fun. Even Saturday afternoons, when I'd play with friends -- friends whose homes had Atari and chewy granola bars -- it was entertaining, but I just wasn't capable of letting go and having real, unadulterated fun.

Because you can't have fun when you're terrified, and frankly, Saturdays terrified me.

See, lurking in the wings all day Saturdays were Saturday Nights. The night my parents went out. Every single week. And yet every single week I'd find myself filled with an acute separation anxiety, a vile Saturday Night Feeling, an aching in my solar plexus that served to define for my little self the very concept of desperation.

I can't pinpoint the reason for the anxiety on Saturday nights specifically as opposed to other times of the week when my parents went out. But I do know there was a conditioning over time, a Pavlovian sort of thing where Saturday's typical sounds and smells and vibe just began to bring on The Feeling as a matter of course.

My fear was that my parents would head out on a Saturday night date and never come back.

Not by choice, of course. I knew they'd never actively run away from home, what withal how much they loved me plus how remarkable I was at singing certain numbers from Annie.

No, my panic arose from the notion that something out of their control would happen to them out in the vast nightness of Saturday. Like a kidnapping -- a crime about which I was quite savvy thanks to a number of made-for-TV movies. I fully got that my parents could be snatched from a parking garage, a restaurant, even somewhere as "innocent" as the coatroom at a bar mitzvah. And then I'd be orphaned. And then what? Would my brother and I have to go live with Aunt Margie in alarmingly meat-filled Chicago? Would we bring our stuff or would we have to buy all new stuff, made in Chicago? And what of my parents? Would they be held captive somewhere terrifying? Like a 14-passenger van? Would they be bound with duct tape in a painful manner?

Or… then again… perhaps it wouldn't be a kidnapping at all. See, unfortunately there were a million different things that could befall them. Take the movie The Earthling in which Ricky Schroder is orphaned when his parents' Winnebago careens off a cliff and explodes. Who's to say the same couldn't happen to my parents' Toyota? Boston didn't seem to have any cliffs but I wasn't stupid enough to think that meant there weren't any.

So every Saturday brought me back to the same routine. By mid-afternoon, a gnawing sense of dread would have engulfed me and I'd have to go find my mom. If it were summer I could usually find her in the yard reading the Boston Globe and drinking a Tab. Winter, somewhere else drinking a Tab.

"So about tonight…would you say your plans are 100% definite?" That's how I'd start.

Much of my interrogation would focus on their estimated time of return. "OK, now, when you say 'midnight at the latest' does that mean that it will not for any reason be one second later than midnight?"

It didn't, by the way. But I was all about semantics, trying to ensnare my mom with technicalities wherever possible. "Aha! You said 'late tonight' but then you said '1:00 a.m.' Hate to break it to you, but 1:00 a.m. is not tonight, it's tomorrow. So…yeah."

Early evening my parents would head upstairs to shower, signaling my anxiety to careen towards its manic peak. Shower-time meant that we were rumbling towards evening as planned, all systems go. The chance of something happening in the external world to change my parents' plans -- hail, say, or a nuclear attack on my neighborhood by the Soviets -- was increasingly slim. While my mom dressed I'd be basically in the fetal position on her bed.

"Mom?" My voice would come out all high and thin. "I didn't tell you this earlier because I didn't want to ruin your day, but… I'm developing a rash."

She'd be busy rummaging through her jewelry box for the perfect dangly earrings. Dangly earrings were expressly a going-out accessory. So I hated them.

"Mom? There's pus."

No reaction! I'd press on.

"And also, I'm nauseous."

It always felt weird to use the word "nauseous" because I wasn't 100% clear on the pronunciation, but it was a four-star word, so I went for it.

My mom would finally press her hand to my forehead. "Hmmmm. Maybe there's a little ice cream in your bangs? I'd really recommend a shampoo, honey."

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