My Mother’s Mystery Call
I had never believed in voodoo, magic, spirits or anything like that until my mother came to me after she died.
Actually she called. From New York.
A heavy smoker, my mother had suffered from multi-infarct dementia for almost a decade and the last time I had heard her voice, she was speaking soft Russian baby talk, having returned to her first language. It was strange but oddly comforting because she was calm, affable, like a hostess at a party trying to put an awkward guest at ease.
The deep smoker’s voice I remembered speaking many languages besides Russian when I grew up became more and more distant over that decade she was ill. I missed talking to her, which was deeply ironic, because my mother was such a voluble, excited, intelligent talker that she often ignored whether you were interested in what she was saying. Opinionated and extremely well-read, she didn’t just love the sound of her voice, she reveled in the workings of her own mind. She was like Katherine Hepburn who once told an interviewer that she didn’t drink, “Because cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating.”
She was also a fierce believer in my talent as a writer who never got to see my career take off. Perhaps most bitterly for me, the woman who had been reading mysteries for as long as I could remember succumbed to her dementia before she could read even one of mine.
I didn’t miss the conversational juggernaut my mother could be, but I missed her voice. And then I heard it again. I was in Michigan in bed and the beige retro phone by my bed rang. “Cookie?” It was one of my mother’s childhood nicknames for me, and I hadn’t heard her use it since I was in elementary school.
“Mom, is that you?” I repeated it several times until she said “I’m all right.” Then she hung up.
The phone rang again. This time it was my brother telling me that our mother had died a little while ago.
“I know,” I said sleepily. “She just called me.” He didn’t ask what I meant, though later he told me how disappointed he was that she hadn’t spoken to him after she died since he was one of her caretakers, so I assume he believed my story.
Right after my brother’s call, I couldn’t figure out if I’d been dreaming, or if somehow she had actually called me, or if I’d been dreaming and she had entered my dream. Whatever really happened, the shock of her being dead was assuaged a little by the fact that I more and more believed she had in some way reached out to me from somewhere to comfort me. Better still, she had given me a precious gift: the sound of her voice.
Now, you could say that my mother was ill, had been fading for weeks, so this was nothing more than a wish fulfillment dream, just my longing to be in touch with her one more time. You could say that my subconscious created the illusion of the call to make accepting her death easier, and that I was easily persuaded because I wanted to be connected to her.
But I’d never say that.