Landlines

December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

We still have a landline. It’s not really tethered to anything, it’s floating in the ether like everything else these days, but still, in our imaginations, it’s a landline, tied to the earth. Jeff insists that we have one, though logically speaking, there’s no need for it.  I was deleting the messages the other day because we never answer the thing, so few people have the number. The school, political candidates, my younger son’s friends, and our friend Pat had filled it up. I hit “all message playback” and all of the sudden, I heard my mom’s voice. “Steph, give us a call when you get a chance.” That’s all she said. It stunned me. I long ago deleted the messages of her slurring her words, or saying something caustic. I kept this one, and now I cannot let it go.  I play it over and over.

I’m afraid I will forget what she sounds like. The mind’s ear plays tricks, you know. I have tried to use my strange and useless teenage talent to remember: I can mimic people. I started with my eighth grade Algebra teacher, Mr. McCracken. Who knew the fun I would get out of remembering that man who never washed? I try to imitate my parents. I used to think I was good at it, but now, it doesn’t ring true. I live some of the gestures, unconsciously—sometimes I rub my nose with the palm of my hand like my mother– but I can’t get what I want, which is the actual sound of their voices.  I think about when I was pregnant. I didn’t read books about it—I’m not that organized—but I read on websites that a child can recognize a mother’s voice heard in the womb.  That must be what I want to hear. The cadence of my mom’s voice, the rhythm of her words, her mispronunciations I often ridiculed–Massatuchets, for one.

Sometimes I hear my Dad too. He had a lot of phrases that stuck. If anyone in my family wakes up before six, for example, it’s dark thirty. We empty our bladders when we stop at gas stations on road trips. We stop for fuel. I wake up at dark thirty from dreams where I have seen my parents, but they never talk to me. This part of them seems already lost, except for that answering machine. I wish I had a message from my Dad too, though my mom was always the talker, the one who dialed and handed the phone over for a minute or two. This was her realm. I can still hear her, at least when I push the button, asking me to keep in touch, over a landline connected to this world.

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You can’t handle it

December 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am at my ten year old son’s basketball game in a white tile floored elementary school gym when a parent behind me—a single parent who attends every single practice and game in a pristine matching shirt, shoes, and baseball cap—yells out to a kid on the opposing team, as our team dominates the basket, “What? He can’t handle it!” I should mention that this man is about six feet five, not exactly slight of build, with a deep, carrying voice. I am stunned, then I laugh, then I wish I hadn’t. Poor kid. But it sticks in my head, and after hearing him taunt the kids throughout the game, we bring the phrase home, like a new, excitable puppy.

My husband and sons and I tell each other, “You can’t handle it!” whenever we feel like we’ve done something well, as in, “taste that cake I made. You can’t handle it! ” Then, we apply it to strangers at the grocery store, as in, “Yes, I did just get that parking space—lady in the red Toyota can’t handle it! She caaaan’t handle it. ” It goes on. You can imagine. It is almost like a high five after a while.

It doesn’t occur to me until months later to turn the phrase on myself. By then, my Mom has died, just when I thought I could handle life after my dad’s death. I can’t handle it, I tell Jeff. Don’t say that, he says. You keep saying that. But I can’t, I say. It’s too much. I can’t handle it. Stop saying that, he says.

I make a conscious effort to be more cheerful, which is to say, I stop openly bawling in the grocery store, in my office at work between classes, at the post office. I still can’t handle it, but I try not to say so out loud.

There are two things that do help me handle it, though, at least a little: basketball and words with friends. I find my favorite phrase applies here too. Also, unlike everything else, I have to be totally present for them. I am SO present, in late winter, in a game with my sister (who must research cheats on the internet) that I can’t put down my phone while I am cooking, so my iphone becomes the newest ingredient of my soup. I get a new one and keep playing. I am in every Duke game. Coach K should pull me off the bench. I guess this is because these games really, really matter to me while I am in them, and then, smack talk aside, they don’t. Not in the way that makes my heart race, makes me take deep breaths, makes me yell out to some Carolina player whose shot gets rejected, “He can’t handle it!” Then, when the game ends, I go back to the world where I have to deal with work, and making dinner, and trying not to bawl in public.

Basketball season is here again, thank God,  and I am once again consumed for delicious hours, transported by the squeak of shoes, the stunning beauty of Andre Dawkins’ three pointer, and  Jay Bilas’ unaccented voice into some kind of other dimension, full of six foot five young men who know what they are capable of. I have found I can even play words with friends during half time.  This, my friends, is how you handle it.

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