I want to live forever. No, wait, I take that back. I want you to live forever. With each year that passes, the list of people packed into that pronoun changes slightly (mostly growing longer and more meaningful), but the top spot has never wavered. As a kid, the only people you truly need, love, or even remember, are the ones that made you. For the lucky among us, that never changes, no matter how hard hormones and a thirst for independence may try. They’ll always be number one.

So when I get a call from an unknown Minnesota number at a time I assume my family to be safely at home, I can’t help but flinch.

“I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t know,” I justify as it slips to voicemail. “They’ll leave a message if it’s important.”

But as I wait for the tell-tale chirp—or lack thereof—of a new voicemail, panic floods my chest.

“What if it’s mom or dad? What if something’s wrong?”

Before the jingle has even finished, I’m dialing my inbox, counting the seconds until the call connects. It is, in fact, my mom, informing me in a perfectly controlled tone that she has something she wants to tell me, and that she’ll try calling again. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Mariela Continenza is not a stoic person. She has trouble trying to hide even the feeling of an oncoming sneeze, let alone something significant. If Mami Continenza is trying to hide even a tiny, little emotion, sit down. Something’s up.

When she calls again from her cell phone—presumably because she thinks there’s a better chance I’ll answer (there is)—I get the dirt. Papi’s in the hospital, and they’re going to perform surgery the following morning. It’s nothing serious, she assures me, and he’s being well taken care of. But she thought I should know. I’m grateful, because if it weren’t for her call, I wouldn’t have known. There would be no way for me to.

I can hear in my dad’s voice how much pain he’s in, even as he tells me, “Oh, you know, there’s some discomfort, but we’re getting it sorted out.” All I want is to be there beside him, ready to fluff his pillows or bring him water, or even just a kiss good night. But I can’t be.

Make no mistake, had it been something more serious, I’d have been on my way to the airport with nothing but the CamelBak and running shorts I had on before hanging up. But given the situation, I stayed put. We got off easy this time. Today, it was a scary call, but not a life-changing one. It was a call we could soon mostly forget. But eventually, it won’t be. It’ll be a call from a long-distance number, and it’ll change everything.

And you know, I can’t say how I’ll react. Maybe I’ll cry. Maybe I’ll faint. Maybe I’ll be frozen and unable to react at all. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that it’ll be a call, because I won’t be there. I won’t have been there for years. And that’s the hardest part of all.