Every once in awhile I need an adroit way to end my conversation with my mom. A code phrase we can each use that signals we are ready to end, and maybe the other person is too. It really bugs me that my mom has apparently taken to telling me, whenever she grows dissatisfied with the limits of our relationship, "Oh we don't have a real relationship, we have not seen each other in '15' years." (My dad did the history and the counting, and that is the number and she is not planning to revise it. "Dad is in charge of numbers, here," she seemed to say.) Truth is I have not visited her home in over 22 years, and the last time we saw each other my son was 4. So do the math. Seventeen minus 4 is 13. Oh well, I don't even want to argue the details. I just want her to stop waving that baseball bat and smashing our little blades of progress until they bleed green.
So, I came up with a song fragment and I used it on her last Friday night, when I called her. Our day to talk by phone, if I have my way. In this case, I did utter a condescending statement, when we had had a conversation about me, in which my mom stayed present and we had a two way dialogue without her speaking ill of her relatives and of me. We talked about my new crowns, the ones on the upper molars of my left side. I think I said. "We are having a great conversation. I appreciate that we are having real two-way dialogue and we are listening to each other." Very quickly, out came the baseball bat, some form of fifteen years.... So, I brought out the fifteen years song fragment. I don't think it had evolved to the Peter Paul and Mary song, yet, (If you miss the train I am on, you will know that I am gone you can hear the whistle blow 500 miles)but it did have the words, "you can't get back home this-away." When I playfully sang the second round of the song to her, she hung up the phone on me. I felt dismayed enough that I rang her back to check on her and see where I really stood. All the other conversations we had had over the past weeks, where I rang back, we had conversation in where we initially would inch forward before falling back into discord. This time, she said, "I am done, I don't want to talk anymore. Goodbye." And there was no playing room, as the receiver went click at her end. I was "off the hook." In the weekend that followed, there were no return phone calls showing up on my caller id. But as the Olympics came to an end, I suddenly noticed a call coming up on my caller id (I'd just decided that day to take my phone off "do not disturb"). No caller id rang three times before I picked up. It was my mom, calling to apologize for hanging up on ME. A first, for a very long time. I accepted her apology and sang my song again, just a short ditty, to remind us of my part in her hangup call. She did not say a word. Then, we talked about some matter that I can't recall, and for sure I was getting restless, either bored and waiting for her to mock me or poke at some old story that I no longer wanted to hear. She had shared something about her old country that I did not capture, and I do regret that now. So, I sang another bit of the 15 years, 15 years, 15 years... can you feel that I have cared, cross 15 years. And when she got testy, saying "If you hang up the phone on me, then I won't take your call next time." I said, "I'm sorry, but we need to have a way to say goodbye, I cannot stay on the phone til midnight." She heard me. I said, If you want to hang up the phone before me, then you need to hang up before I count down to one. Five, four. "Blah blah blah," she said. I continued not missing a beat, two...one. She had already hung up. This time, I did not call back.
The next day she called me, and I noticed the call in the afternoon. When I called her, I said, "What's on your mind?" And she went on about something forgettable, as I drove down Anderson, and University to the Powerhouse, where my art class would be held. When I got to my destination and was ready to unpack my roll on file box from the Mercury Marquis, I told my mom, "OK mom, gotta go." She wanted to do her usual, which is to draw out the good-bye to some point in the distant future. "Oh what are you going to do?" she said. To which I replied, in a friendly way, while not bringing up my art journaling class for her scrutiny, "I got to do something." "Oh, OK, " she said, and this time I did not need to count down or even sing.