Packing tape rips, the sound raging through the telephone wire, threatening to undo my best attempts not to yell in order to be heard.
“Will you please stop for a minute?” I whisper in a saccharine tone. (I read somewhere if one lowers her voice during a conflict, the other person will listen better.) Tom keeps on clinking and ripping. I imagine his shoulders hunched over a desk, counting hundreds of buffalo nickels. My heart softens. “Call me tomorrow!” I yell. “I love you!”
I’ve been married to a traveling man for thirty years. Like a peddler whose wares hang on hooks from a wagon, Tom’s wares are coins which he buys and sells from his briefcase, filling it during the day. When he is racking up miles on asphalt, his office is a hotel room. Every evening he organizes and boxes the day’s purchases for shipping to customers. When he checks in in the evening, I try not to be annoyed by clinks of silver dollar on silver dollar as they drop into plastic holders. After all, he’s settled in, safe and sound.
* * * *
When he was away working, in the early years of our marriage, before we had internet, cell phones, or caller ID, but we had two small children, I listened for the phone to ring, carrying his voice to me. Call times varied according to where he was: I’m at the Red Roof Inn in Fargo. Our back and forth:
How was your day?
And how was your day?
What did the kids do today?
Taekwondo, homework, and oh, I put a drop of soap on Kendall’s tongue because he called Barbara a penis. Of course, she probably taunted him.
When Tom heard my laughter on the other end, he relaxed. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention helped keep our marriage together in our early child-rearing days, creating moments of intimacy in the ordinary when we were miles apart.
* * * *
It’s 12;30 a.m. on a Saturday night. Tom is out-of-town. I am wide awake in bed, fanning the bodice of my cotton nightgown, trying to recover from a hot, humid day. Add a layer of anxiety from mothering two teenagers; I begin a conversation with myself.
Did I tell Barbara to call me when she leaves her friend’s house…
Cautious and compliant, Barbara will drive home, glancing through her rear-view window to be sure no stranger is following her, but I still want to hear “I’m on my way home.” Sometimes she positions herself in a taekwondo pose and pops a high kick reminding me that she almost earned a black belt.
The quick chirp of Barbara’s car alarm pierces the night. She closes the side door with a gentle nudge. Floorboards creak. The kitchen water faucet turns on, then off. I know she will open the refrigerator door looking for a snack to satisfy her tummy before a good night’s sleep. Her feet tread quiet and quick up the stairs to her room.
My inner monologue turns to Kendall.
Did I remember to pray: God watch over my boy—as if God would not keep Kendall safe if I forgot? Did I tell him to follow the speed limit?
A train whistles in the distance, and I worry that Kendall will pull too close to the tracks, and the train will derail.
Boom ba Boom ba Boom ba. I hear and almost feel Kendall approaching our driveway, heavy bass blaring—beautiful music to a mother’s ears. I inhale and exhale like an expectant mother in a Lamaze class. He needs to turn that thing down when he enters our neighborhood.
Our side door opens. Hinges squeak. Slam.
My man-child lumbers down the hallway with his size 14 sneakers slapping the floor. A looming presence stops at my bedroom door: “Mama, I’m home. Are you awake?”
“Yes, I’m awake.”
* * * *
“I am 56 years old. I am not an old woman,” I say to Tom. “You bought me a safe car, and I can wield this cane like an old woman fighting off a purse snatcher.”
He worries about me. I have physical challenges, and he likes to be my knight in shining armor, but I insist that I have to do as much as I am able.
“Please text me or call me when you get home,” he says with concern, “and I’ll text you when I get settled at my hotel.”
I meet my sister for dinner, something we rarely do. Our menus remain untouched on the table while we begin chatting, catching up, talking over one another, finally stopping to give the server our orders. Diners at the table next to us smile when I choke on laughter as my sister and I reminisce about old boyfriends: the good, the bald, and the portly. Struggling to recover my manners, I avoid eye contact with my sister lest high-pitched giggles conquer me again.
We are the last to leave the restaurant, carrying our conversation out the door.
“We closed the place down,” I say with a merry grin. “Let’s promise one another to do this more often.”
The evening has flown by. I pull out my phone and text Tom.
Home soon. Love L
Back home, I settle under a quilt, with a full belly and heavy eyes. Grown and gone, my children are never far from my mind, but I don’t worry as much when I’m not expecting them to come home.
Instead of listening for a key in the lock or booming bass paving our driveway, my ears and heart are more open to God’s voice. He and I have a history together, and those nights I waited up, wondering, worrying, God heard, God answered.
My phone on the nightstand vibrates and scoots, awakening me from the edge of sleep. I knock my glasses off the nightstand, grope blindly for the phone, and bring it close to my eyes.
I’m in for the night