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Nothing Left Unspoken

*Listen to this piece in SWS "From Independent Woman to Dependent Spouse" Episode 1

For as long as I can remember, my mama was the only one who called me every day. Even when the rainstorms cut our connections short. Even when company called and spent the entire day. Even when I was traveling or tired or busy. No matter the day or season or time she’d call. And that’s what I appreciated about mama. The informalities of her care. The circumstances of life not mattering at all.

She’d speak with a lilting pigeon voice each time. That voice called out to me back when I had a rotary phone. A touch-tone landline. A car phone in the 90s. A cell phone soon thereafter. And she’d say predictable things and private, intimate things with the same air of importance. That her candidate had gotten elected two days after the news aired, or that her foot cream needed replacing. That her electric bill had gone up or that she’d found a raccoon in the attic. She’d ask me questions, too, listening for responses like a binocular-clad birdwatcher in the woods. Questions like who I was dating or if I liked my dentist or if I’d be planting tulips again this year. We’d go back and forth, us two. Talking and listening until I thought nothing was left unspoken. Thanks for calling Mama I’d say, bidding her until tomorrow when she was sure to call again.

So, when she called one Tuesday just like any other day, I picked up the phone and cleared my throat of the giblet gravy from my turkey dinner and sung out my usual greeting ready for her usual banter and was jolted to hear her sobbing on the other side. No pigeon lilting voice, no talk of the sardine sale at the Piggly. Just stilted sobs until those subsided and then she sighed and confessed that she hadn’t told me the thing that mattered the most. From her mouth flowed words that assaulted me. Blurred my dry eyes with tears. Focused my ambling thoughts. Shock arrived first, then confusion, followed by a subterranean grief. That grief threatened to intern me as she repeated the facts. She was dying and there was still so much more to me she wanted to say.

The next day I called her first. Warbled about random things and important ones, too. Each day I’d beat her calling me just to listen to her pigeon lilting voice and banter on about pumpkin-flavored foods and good support bras and my latest heartbreak that paled in comparison to the day I bid her until tomorrow and she quieted, then coughed, then croaked, I love you, honey, which I chorused. That day, unlike any other day, I hung up, then wept. There were no more words for her to say. No more listening left for me to do. Neither of us would call the other again. Nothing remained unspoken.


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