"It's a phone booth in Westwood Village," he told me.
I knew the area well since UCLA is in Westwood. "You're not near home at all. What's going on out there?" I prodded, trying to keep my voice steady.
When he answered instantly, "I don't know, Mom," I thought perhaps he had been in an automobile accident and someone was badly hurt. Perhaps the accident was his fault, and he was upset and confused. Mark continued, "They're watching me, Mom. I can't see them, but I know they're watching me. I don't know what to do. What should I do? Help me, Mom."
I was mystified and stunned into silence. I dared to ask, "Who's watching you, Mark?"
He simply repeated, "I know they're watching, Mom. Help me. I don't know what to do."
I heard his panic. It leapt the miles between us. The tone of his voice frightened me. I slid to the floor still holding the telephone. It was my lifeline to Mark. He began to gasp for breath, his words rushing one into another. Helplessly, I looked at Houston and wrote, He's crying!
I kept repeating slowly, "It's going to be all right. It's OK, Mark. Sh-sh-sh. We'll think of something. It's OK. We're here," like a lullaby. I had no idea what to do. If only I could touch him, I thought.
"Mark, why don't you go home? Isn't Lisa at home?" I asked.
My words startled him, and he shouted, "Oh no! I can't go home. It's not safe there. I can't trust her!" I heard the panic again. I decided I had to slow down the conversation.
"Mark, I need to tell your father what's going on. I know he can help us," I tried to explain.
"No, no, no!" he said emphatically. "Don't tell Dad. He doesn't understand these things."
"What things are you talking about, Mark?" I asked, puzzled.
"You know, the extraterrestrials," he said, waiting for my response.
I nearly dropped the telephone. Mark and I had always had fun talking about and debating the issue of life on other planets. We enjoyed television programs that featured people who claimed to have seen flying saucers. Houston would always say to us, jokingly, "I'm out of here. That's your stuff."
I recovered quickly and said, "It's OK, Mark. Your father has changed his mind about those things. It's safe to tell him now. I think you should talk to your Dad."
When Mark became quiet, I knew he had accepted my feeble explanation. Houston spoke to his son. "I'm here with you, Mark," he said. "What do you want me to do?"
Houston and I frantically wrote notes as he talked to Mark. We tried to figure out what action to take and how to give Mark the support he needed. Whatever he was afraid of was real to him. Speeding through my mind were the words, Is this a nervous breakdown?
"Mark, do you want me to come get you?" Houston asked.
Mark sighed as he answered, "Yes . . . I want to come home. Please . . . I'm scared."
Our son's life had tripped over itself. It was August 1996. Within hours, Houston was on a flight to Los Angeles.