The phone rang. My husband and I were in the middle of dinner and a movie, so we let the answering machine pick up, as usual. We expected that it was one of the dinner-time callers who repeatedly tried to connect with us even though we registered on the Do Not Call list.
“Hey Mom. I’m sorry I missed Mother’s Day and your birthday. I just wanted to let you know I got home safely.”
A huge smile swelled in me because I was delighted to hear from my son, and thrilled that he decided that talking with me was important enough to use a telephone. Sometimes he contacted me on Mother’s Days and my birthdays, but it was never a big deal when he didn’t. I hadn’t heard his voice since he visited five months earlier. His deep bass tones surprised me, like they did when he last visited. I was still used to his boyish tones. I dashed to pick up the phone before he finished leaving his message.
He sounded relaxed, smooth, and genuine. His words seemed to come from a deep place within him. I hoped that this indicated that he was feeling secure and calm. This might mean that the storm of adolescence was relaxing its grip on him as he transformed into a young adult. I felt relieved to not hear the familiar tension and uncertainty restraining the words coming through his throat. His voice may have betrayed the effects of drugs, but he spoke clearly enough for me to feel somewhat confident while I dismissed that worry.
He told me that he was organizing a Freedom Concert in St. Petersburg, Florida. I knew that he had liked driving to the southeastern states during college breaks, so I felt glad for him. I knew that he enjoyed organizing events, and wondered if this was like one of the beer binge bashes that he had coordinated before, or a more respectable festival that promoted one of the nonprofit groups that he supported. He said that he was afraid to tell me about it because he didn’t know if I agreed with that kind of cause. I wondered what the cause might be. Freedom. Concert. When have I ever been opposed to freedom or concerts?
He sounded so cautious, I urged him to send me something about it. He responded with surprise, and said that he would. I told him that it didn’t matter if I agreed with the cause; I cared about him, and wanted to know about what he was doing, whatever it might be. He sounded surprised again when he thanked me.
To drive my point home, I told him that I was really glad that he called, and that I loved him so much. Pause. He said that I didn’t know how much that meant to him. I nearly cried. Poor kid. What had he been going through that such words would make such a difference? He said, “I love you too, sweetie.” My son never called me “sweetie” before. Again, I considered that he was stoned out of his mind, or maybe someone was impersonating him while he laughed in the background.
I felt sad for my son. Poor me. I was so eager to have that kind of conversation with him, that I deliberately chose to take a chance on being wrong about whom I was talking with. I decided to enjoy it, rather than admit my skepticism. My heart wanted the caller to be my son. I wanted him to call me to chit-chat this openly, and find that I loved him more than he realized.
I wanted him to let me know when he had any doubts about being precious.
He asked me how my work was going, and quickly added that he wouldn’t want to be in my shoes. I laughed and wondered what he meant, but just continued to listen.
He told me that he missed me. I let a little skepticism slip in.
I asked about the earthquake that I felt earlier that day. The epicenter was near where he lived. He said that he was still working until 3 in the morning sometimes, so might not have felt it. I wondered what he might have been doing at 3 in the morning when he worked at a store that kept him very busy during regular business hours. More skepticism slipped in. I asked him to tell me about what his work was like.
Then I heard that moment of silence that indicated that his call waiting was signaling him, and he said, “Dad is calling me. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” This didn’t surprise me at all: my son always responded quickly when his father wanted his attention, and his father always kept phone calls short.
When I let go of the phone, I immediately went to my computer to look up the Freedom Concert. I found that it was raising money for an African Socialist food bank. How sad that anyone would think that their mother would object, to such a degree that he would be afraid to tell her about his involvement in such a project.
My husband and I replayed the answering machine message several times, debating whether it was my son’s voice.
No call back. I wished I had caller ID so that I might have been able to resolve this mystery for certain.
A few days later, I texted my son to ask if he had heard of the Freedom Concert in Florida. He said no. I asked him if he had called me lately. He said no. I told him about the phone call, and he responded, “LOL”. I told him that I loved him, and he said, of course he knew it.
I am writing this for the young man who called me, and for his mother. Imagine how he felt when he heard someone whom he thought was his mother tell him that she loved him; how he felt when I responded to him with an unexpected amount of caring. I thank my lucky stars that I don’t remember ever struggling with expressing my love for my son, even when he didn’t seem to regret doing things that I didn’t like. More than ever, I am savoring that my son and I connect monthly. Texting is keeping us connected better than any other means is likely to.
Imagine if the other son called his mother, expecting her to respond the same way that I did. Imagine that he moved her to say, “I love you more than you ever imagined,” and, “I’d love to hear about the African Socialist food bank.”
Imagine if she rose to his expectations.