Thursday, April 07, 2005

36 times

April 7th, 2003. I recall it being a Monday.

She called me at work that day. She used to call me all the time. Sarah even knew her voice. She’d yell out to me, “Jay, it’s your mom” and I’d pick up with something like “Jay’s Cemetery, you stab’em, we’ll slab’em.” That’s when I’d hear the familiar “Hi, honey. Are you busy?”

For a long time that call haunted me. More than the words, I remembered the long silences. Now, even when I try my hardest, I can’t remember the sound of my mother’s voice. I think I can sometimes, and then it slips by me before I can wrap my mind around.

“Never. What’s up?”

This was the first of the long silences. I imagine my brows were drawn in confusion, but there’s no one to ask.


“Honey, I need… When’s your next visit?”

“What’s going on?” It started slowly, like a creeping mass of frozenness. I remember feeling it. It was cold and sharp and embedded within my chest somewhere slowly beginning to wreak havoc on my nervous system.

She'd been to the doctor.

All at once I became panicked and angry. Don’t say it. Don’t ask and she won’t offer. And then it won’t be true. She’ll be fine if I just don’t ask. It was just a little lump. Little lumps never killed anybody, right?

“Jay, honey, Dad and I just got back from Dr. York’s office.” The second of the three monster silences I would endure occurred here.

Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it… But she will. She will say it. Fuck it. Let it be. We’ll do chemo. We’ll do a lumpectomy. I know she was worried about possibly facing a full mastectomy, but she’ll get through it. We all will. We won’t let her down. Fuck cancer. I hate cancer. I hate it. Don’t say it, Momma.

“Honey, are you there?”

“Momma?” My voice had vanished somehow and it came out a whisper.

And then she started crying.

Son of a fucking bitch! My temper exploded and I dropped the phone to get up and slam my office door shut. This is bullshit! I wanted to throw the goddamn phone through the window and I wanted to feel it shatter. I needed to feel the whole fucking place tremble. This is not happening. I couldn’t even get my hand to my hair I was so stiff with rage. I saw the phone lying on my desk and I struggled to bring it back under control. Just…give me a moment. All right? Breathe.

I couldn’t tell you how long I waited before finding the courage to pick the phone back up. She wasn’t crying anymore. I bet she didn’t even mean to tell me at work. I bet she was sitting there fussing at herself for saying anything at all.

“What are you gonna do?”

This was the third and final long silence. For once I didn’t even try to guess her answer. No reason to rush it. And looking back, I knew it already.

“I’m going to wake up every morning and thank God for the 35 years I’ve had with your father, the 31 years I’ve had with your sister and the 29 years I’ve had with my sweet baby Jay and I’m going to smile and laugh and love you to pieces. All of you.”

“Oh, god, Momma, please-”

“I love you, Jay.”

She told me 35 more times after that. Once every day for the rest of her life.