My phone died this week.
Well, it was close to death anyway and I need a reliable phone. My only hesitation in getting a new one was that this old phone had a voice message on it from my grandmother. Who died a year ago in January. She left the message about two, almost three years ago now, on my birthday. I am not sure why I didn’t answer my phone when she called — maybe I was driving, maybe I was feeding Sam, whatever. I didn’t answer it. She left a message. I never listened to it, because I called her back right away. I don’t remember the conversation, but I am sure she wished me happy birthday and called me “Zsofikam” and we talked about Sam. I am sure. I kept the message all this time and never listened to it.
At the AT&T store they assured me that the message would transfer to the new phone. It didn’t. But it was still on my old one and when I got home I figured I could play it on the old phone and record it with my new phone’s nifty little voice memo feature. I closed the door to my office so that I could be alone when I listened to it. I set my new phone to record. I hit play on the old one.
Static. A quick breath. Click.
Not once during these past 3 years did it ever occur to me that she didn’t leave a message but hung up as soon as my voice mail clicked on. Never.
I am not sure why, but I felt so stupid. And sad, too. But mostly stupid. I was holding on to something that was nothing. And I should have kept holding on to it so that it would have remained something — a promise, a memory, a wish.
I recorded the static and the click anyway.
Sam and I have been talking about ancient Egypt and mummies a lot lately. He is fascinated by the gory stuff — the removal of the brain through the nose, the cutting of the organs from the abdomen, the oils and linens covering the body, the painted face masks and mysterious amulets placed on the bodies. “Why did they do this, mama” he asks over and over.
I try to say something smart about the afterlife and spirits, about living on after death. “What is death?” comes the next obvious question.
“It is static,” I say. “A quick breath. Click.”