We were walking down the aisles of Whole Foods (which I shamelessly admit is one of my favorite past times), tasting the trail mix and considering bottles of wine when my phone made the doink sound that indicates I’ve received a new text message.
I smiled, sort of laughed to myself and sent back a response.
“Hey Andrew, come over here,” I said.
He put down a bottle of merlot and joined me by the French reds.
I showed him the new message on my phone: “Going to bed…didn’t hear from you and just wanted to make sure you’re ok.”
“What’s that all about?” he asked.
“It’s just my mom,” I said. “I didn’t call her this morning, so I suppose she’s sort of worried about me.”
“What?” he said raising his eyebrows and his inflection. “You call your mom every day?”
I paused, thought about it and looked at him.
“Hey,” I said. “It’s been a rough couple of months.” It was the easiest way to explain the situation.
His face softened slightly, as if he didn’t realize what a mess I had been and how tender I still was two weeks into January. He knew December had been difficult, but he didn’t know how much.
“I just don’t want you to have one of those relationships where your mom freaks out if she doesn’t hear from you.” Andrew has met my parents and was already pretty sure they weren’t crazy. “Because there ain’t nothing healthy about that.” He went on to tell me a story about a kid he knew in college whose mom called the police because she hadn’t heard from him in two days.
“Tell her I say ‘hi'” he added.
I did. And the next morning I called my mom and assured her that things were fine. I’d been on the phone with my sister-in-law the morning before and so I hadn’t called her during my drive to campus the way I had every other morning that month. I told her I was fine. I still hurt, but I was ok.
The next week Andrew and I were sipping cider at the Starry Plough, making up stories about the other patrons and waiting for the start of their Tuesday Open Mic Night. I got another message from my mom,”Going to bed now…haven’t heard from you today. Just want to make sure you’re ok.” Again, I sort of laughed to myself and I showed the message to Andrew.
“What?” he said sarcastically. “Is that still going on?”
“Only when I’m with you,” I replied, which at that point was true. There have been precious few people who have been better at helping me realize I’m okay, that it is still possible to enjoy life even when you feel like you’ve lost the secret to living it.
When I started college, my mom used to give me a hard time about never calling home, never letting her know what I was up to or how things were going. I wasn’t the first child to leave, but that didn’t make it easier. She was hurt that I only called her if I had a question about laundry or to ask for a favor. I was too busy to bother with the details of my daily life and too self-contained to consider her perspective, to think that she might want to know about the day-trip I took to Sioux City or the concerts I went to with friends. I was learning independence and phone calls weren’t a part of that. Phone calls happened when a boy broke my heart, when a friend hurt my feelings, when I came down with the flu. They were the cord to my safety net, not a means of relationship.
I got better about this after I graduated, after I moved to Kansas City and settled into a routine. I’d call roughly once a week, maybe more, maybe less. I had friends filling in my gaps and providing a community. They shared in my joy and listened to my frustrations. I knew my mom could do this as well, but I was learning to trust my friends. The phone calls were less frequent and that was good and that was sad.
And then, a few months ago, I went through an emotional crisis. My heart, which had already been wounded and was slowly sort of mending, was shattered to shards, broken worse than I knew possible.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been hurt, but it was the first time I felt I had nothing left. The first time I found myself incapable of being alone because my mind filled with memories and my heart filled with pain. Regret for the things that I said and didn’t say, the things I did and didn’t do poured into every empty moment and mingled with memories of date nights and stolen kisses, week-long holidays and dancing in kitchens. The only conversation I ever had with myself was the one that condemned me for losing something so extraordinary.
So I started calling home. Out of necessity. Daily. Sometimes even twice a day. I put my family on phone rotation–my mom, my brother, my sisters, my dad. I woke up each morning aware that something was wrong. I’d try to fall back asleep, but my mind would start spinning with what I should have said or done differently. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I prayed. And then I called home. Every day. Until calling home became the only way to cope with not being there.
Sometimes it’s a good sign when your children stop calling. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It doesn’t mean they don’t need you. It means they are living real lives in a real world and that they are happy and whole enough to commit themselves to people and places and jobs and communities. It’s a good thing.
This week I’m off from classes and I haven’t called my mom for a few days. Maybe four, maybe five, I haven’t kept count. When I realized this I kind of smiled to myself. I took it as a sign that I was going to be alright. Maybe not right away. Maybe not for a while. But eventually I’ll go back to calling home roughly once a week, maybe more maybe less. And I hope that my mom will not take it personally. That she, like I, has learned that silence can be a good thing.