Something she used to do was talk on the phone to her friends for hours at a time. A big old whitish-beige-y phone console, the cord stretched across the room, and her body, years and year away from cancer, stretched over her bed. Like a fifties schoolgirl, which she had been, and an eighties mom, which she was. Mostly, I think, she talked to her best friends: two who lived on the island, and our Italian cousin who lived in New York. I’m Facebook friends with them all. My sister and I were not allowed in the room when she was on the phone and it drove us crazy with curiosity and jealousy. What are you doing? we’d knock and whine, after ninety or so minutes. She’d snap: I’m talking on the phone, and shut the door, and go back to laying on her bed.
She was thin and tan and wore short shorts a lot and had various middle-parted haircuts. Flat-chested and younger looking than her age, with a big cackly HA HA HA HAAAAAAA laugh. The bedspread was green with sort of a thin white stripe and one whole wall was a mirror and sometimes she let us try her high heels on from her disco days. The biggest treat was her taking down a truly amazing peacock-coloured beaded headdress, I assume from the same era. Did she wear it to Studio 54 or have I made that up, based on hints she dropped? I never saw it after about 1985 and we didn’t find it when we went through her things so I don’t know what happened to it. I like to think I would be wearing it to parties in Wellington, if she’d saved it, if I’d found it, but let’s be honest: that’s not my lifestyle. Maybe it wasn’t hers, either. She mostly went barefoot at home.
HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAA!! behind the closed door, and she would never tell us what she was talking about. Moooooooooooooooommmmm! What could be so interesting and exciting that she could bear to ignore an eight and a six year old–also wearing short shorts–for two whole hours? Get OUT, she’d say: go play! Go read! I’m talking on the phone.
I’m about the age now that she would have been then, so I have a decent idea of what she would have been talking about. Work, maybe? Maybe about men to our cousin, who would have also been single for some of that time. Maybe she talked about us, a little bit, but she spoke under her breath too much to tell. ‘We were just talking about how one time we painted a room in her apartment,’ she said once—did I ask?—and I wondered what was so exciting about painting a room in an apartment, what would make you laugh like that. It drove me crazy not to know.
I rarely talk on the phone anymore, except for work or when I have too much information for texting. I’m not one of the ones who just hates it or anything, I just don’t do it very often. Even Mom had transitioned to Skype for our weekly cross-hemisphere chat, all the better to hold the cat up to the camera so I could wave to it. I see my friends a tolerable amount, considering how busy we all are—coffee catch-ups, group dinners, after-work drinks—but I don’t use the phone unless I need to impart or receive specific information. I talk in person or on the internet, like (almost) everyone else. Hard to imagine, now, being an adult woman who locks herself in her room to talk to other adult women.
She drifted away four years ago today. Four years ago, on Valentines’ Day, I was in a meeting for work when I got a text from her telling me to call immediately. I ditched the meeting and did like she told me. Dialed her number, heard her voice. ‘There’s something wrong,’ she said. Or maybe she said ‘I have some news,’ or ‘I have something to tell you.’ I don’t remember anything but ‘brain tumour’ about that conversation, really, or about the following year. Her friends from the neighbourhood and our Italian cousin in New York called her every week, every night, to talk for as long she could speak and listen.
Thirty years of phone conversations, about painting rooms and kids and work and the seventies and how they were feeling and what they were doing and where they were going. All the things I couldn’t know about her, because I was her daughter and not her friend, all the bits of a mother’s life that children cannot know: all behind the closed door of a hot bedroom, the phone cord stretched and looped.