After The Beep
miles to go: 38.67 [YTD: 1,963.33]
His message lands on our
Internet answering machine shortly after dinner on Monday night.
Hey Mom, he
says, in his adorably gruff sixteen-year-old voice. I'm
sorry, I completely forgot, happy birthday. Um ... give me a call when
you get this. OK. Bye.
For a moment I consider keeping
him dangling for a while, just for sport. This is the second birthday
faux pas committed by The House of Stoopid Bachelors in less than a
week: perhaps it's my maternal duty to cuff him about the
ears a bit, like a mother lion reprimanding an errant cub. (Forget
your mother's birthday, will you? No zebra entrails for YOU, young man!)
But the truth is I'm not all that upset. It would
have been nice to hear from my son on my actual birthday, instead of
one day after the fact. But it's not exactly the end of the universe
that I didn't. Hopefully I'll be annoying all three of the Tots live
and in person in less than a week, anyway. In the meantime, this is a
great opportunity to indulge in a little harmless maternal
guilting-for-fun. (One e-mail per day for the next ten years -- and a
couple of deluxe neckrubs when I'm in town next week -- and I'll be
willing to call it even.) Plus I need to talk to him about some
last-minute Christmas stuff. Plus I just want to hear his adorably
gruff sixteen-year-old voice some more.
I dial the number in TicTac.
He at least has the good
manners to sound embarrassed. "I screwed up," he says sheepishly. "I'm
sorry." (Daughter #1 is the one who *reminded* him, apparently. And
none-too-gently, from the sound of things.) He's smart enough to
start out the conversation by inquiring politely about my birthday
weekend. Did you go out to dinner? Twice. Did
you get any good presents? A sweater, pearl earrings and
flowers from Jaymi; the best-of-the-80's boxed set from David; a nice
card from my sister. Did you finish the 2002 in 2002?
Nope: we were rained out. The conversation then turns to more important
matters -- chemistry homework, Christmas shopping, the broken computer,
Driver's Ed -- before I dial things down to serious for a moment.
"Have we heard anything from
Kacie this week?" I ask.
I almost hate to ask about
Daughter #2 anymore: there is rarely any news. (And when there IS news,
it is almost never the sort of news you want to hear.) But this time
there actually has been a semi-interesting new development.
called for her," he tells me. "I think she was calling from the
He puts the phone down for a moment and dashes into
the other room to get the information for me. A moment later he's back,
reading from his notes: the caller was an advocate from the court,
apparently, calling to remind Kacie about her next court date.
"I don't suppose we know
whether or not she's aware of the court date?" I ask, and he says he
isn't sure. Nobody has talked to her in a few days. She stops by the
house every once in a while, to do her laundry or take a shower or
empty her dad's refrigerator, but her 'visits' are random and
unannounced, timed never to coincide with the onsite presence of an
actual adult, and she never stays for long, and when she's finished
doing whatever she came over to do she sinks beneath the radar once
again, into her murky mysterious secret life, purposely disconnected
from the rest of the family.
"I guess I'll leave her another
voicemail message," I tell him. "Thanks for letting me know." And then
I switch the subject back to happy stuff for a minute or two --
whenever I'm talking to one Tot, I try not to let the conversation run
too far in the direction of the other two: you lose their attention
completely, otherwise -- and eventually he wishes me a happy birthday,
once again, and we exchange 'I love you's' and 'See you next weeks,'
and we hang up the phone on a note of mutual redemption.
Without pausing for air, I dial
the voicemail number in TicTac.
The usual weird clicks and
beeps as I'm delivered into her voicemail system. The usual distorted
rap music in the background, layered by her affectedly sullen voice. "Leave
me a message," her recorded voice mumbles above the
cacophony. "Let me know what you want."
What do I 'want'?
I want to know
where you are, for starters. I want to know where you're living this
week, and who you're living with, and whether any of your roommates are
unemployed middle-aged felons with anger management issues. I want to
know if you ever got that front desk job at the hotel. (And if not, I
want to know how you're supporting yourself these days. Or at least I THINK
I want to know.) I want to know if you're eating enough ... or at all.
I want to know if you ever got over your bronchitis, and whether or not
you're wearing your retainer at night, and whether or not you are
currently in possession of a warm winter coat and a decent pair of
shoes. I want to know if you're sleeping. I want to know if you're
using. I want to know if I'm going to be able to hug you next week,
when David and I come up for Christmas, or whether we'll all be
visiting with each other through four inches of security glass. I want
to know if you ever actually listen to all of these voicemail messages
I leave you every day, or if you delete them the minute you hear my
And yes, OK ... I want
to tell you that that it would have meant something to me to hear from
you last weekend.
"Hi Honey, it's Mom," I say
with determined cheerfulness. "Just checking in again. Give me a call
when you get a chance, OK?"