My mother and I started this ritual when I graduated from high school. Heck, maybe it was before that even. Whenever I would go to work or school, I’d call her. This was back in the day, before I had a cell phone. (I kicked and screamed and remained the technophobe for as long as I could). This was back when phone cards were a thing. I called, usually, because I was on my way home and had missed the bus. I’d get off Light Rail and walk over to the pay phones–where the heaters were–and tell her about my day. Very dramatically. (I was very dramatic back then). And we’d talk till the bus came, and then continued our conversation as if time hadn’t elapsed, when I got home. Or I’d do this when my roommate went to the library or dinner each and every night I lived in the dorms.
We were as close as two human beings could be. And not just because we talked every single day of my existence on this planet. But because she was like a warm blanket. The one person who always loved me. Always understood–or pretended to. Always listened. And just talking to her made my day instantly better. Even when she was being impossibly rude or prying about the guy in my life.
For years after she passed, I kept our home phone number–just so I could hear her voice on the voicemail. How awkward she sounded when she tried to record her message. The pauses. How she talked to herself.
For a long time, I had these dreams that were so vivid I swore she was still here. I’d wake up and look for her, only to realize I didn’t live in Westwood anymore. And the devastation of remembering she was gone would flatten me. I’d sob for hours later. It would ruin my entire day. The heavy reminder of her absence would stain the week.
It’s been a long time since that happened.
But that doesn’t mean I ever stopped grieving. It just changed. I don’t remember when I started calling October through January grief season, but for years now, this time frame has been filled with lots of reminders of my parents and others that I’ve lost. Usually, I get a little quiet. I tend to hole up and isolate myself. Everything feels heavy, and living my life feels harder.
It starts, every year, with my father’s birthday and ends with the new year…a reason to hope and start fresh.
A funny thing happened this year. My father’s birthday came and went, without fan fare. I’m the only one who knows when it is. And this year, I forgot. Like totally forgot. I normally bake him a cake, as my mother did throughout my childhood. Oddly, I did buy a cake mix and made myself mug cakes that week…but I didn’t remember his birthday and didn’t consciously observe it.
I finally did remember it a week after. Normally, this sort of thing would have ruined me. I would have felt impossibly guilty about forgetting his birthday. But, this year, I saw it as progress. For once, I wasn’t waiting on it. I was just living my life. I did feel terrible when I remembered, for maybe two seconds, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It didn’t mean I loved him any less. And I had observed it in some indirect way. And I had thought of him often, as I do these days, with love. I only remembered because my keys went missing and showed up in a ridiculous place.
Because of this, I thought maybe grief season would be alright this year. Or, at least, different. And well, I guess it’s different. I’m not sure about the alright part, but I’m open to being surprised.
I’ve actually been feeling pretty good lately. More like myself. Like the person I was before she got sick. Only better. Like the person I should have been. I’ve been happy. Life isn’t as hard as it usually is. As it has been. And I’m actually living for me.
I was sitting here, eating dinner, and I picked up my phone. And despite not using it in 11 years, I found myself dialing her number. I was halfway through before I caught myself.
Oddly, the reason was because I was happy. I wanted to share it with her. Just like I used to share everything. It was such an automatic thing to do that it didn’t even occur to me that she’s been dead 11 years this December.
I don’t know if I should be comforted or devastated by that.
I’m going to go with the former, I think, though I’ll admit–I just sort of wailed for five minutes–just like all those days when I would look for her and find her gone.
Healing is a strange thing.