I will remember her number.

May 24, 2013

I came up from my bedroom this morning to the vision of Katy, my daughter, eating a large bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. I open with this piece of information because Kate has been struggling with a stomach virus all week. Five minutes later, when I began my morning diatribe about the importance of punctuality and dental hygiene, Katy looked at me. She looked guilty. “Mom, my stomach hurts again.” She didn’t have a fever. She didn’t look pale. I had the suspicion that her pain had more to do with my lecture than her health. But I tucked her under some blankets on our bed and took Colin to school.

I got home to find Katy curled up on our chaise next to the bed. Then I noticed, Katy had erupted; half digested milk and cheerios were all over our quilt. I washed her hair, put her in some clean pajamas and brought her upstairs to her bed, which I had just finished putting clean sheets on last night. Katy throws up in bed. Not in the toilet. Or on the carpet. Never in a bucket. In bed, most of the time while she is half asleep.

Next piece of business, I got a phone call from my sister in law. My husband’s mom was dying. Today. Margaret has been staying with her daughter Debbie in North Carolina. She is, was, 93 years old, has, had cancer and dementia and failing lungs. So it wasn’t a surprise.

I spoke to her last week. We haven’t been talking as much as usual. I used to call her every day to fill her on every little thing my kids did; she was the only person that never, ever got tired of hearing every little detail. About how Katy loved ketchup more than the cheeseburger she put it on. How Colin would come downstairs 5 times a night to say good night and tell me just one more thing.

So when I called her last week, it was awkward. I couldn’t start talking about what we had for dinner last night, or Katy’s new passion for the recorder, after not talking to her for almost a month. So I told her about school, about my grades, about the weather. She was tired, her voice cracked. Before we got off the phone she said “Julie, don’t lose my number.”

I called her every day after, and I think I only got to speak to her once more.

Right after I got the call that the priest was on his way to give her last rites, the turtle turned up in our tv room. About a week ago, he had disappeared from his bowl. We all thought the dog ate him.

During dinner, conversation went back and forth from Margaret’s death to the discovery of Picasso Roadkill, (he’s a painted turtle found on the side of the road). Dinner was quick, just Katy and me. We had to drive over to Roxbury to pick up Colin from basketball practice.  I wasn’t happy about driving to Roxbury at 8 o’clock. I have a lousy sense of direction, I can never find a parking space, and I always get lost coming home. To make matters worse, on the way to pick my son up, (while I was trying to figure out a way to get mad at my husband for asking me to do just that, even though his mother had just died hours before) in a sudden moment of clarity I remembered today was the day I had to start cat/snake sitting for a woman in Cambridge.

Change of plans. Katy and I drove to Cambridge. We couldn’t find the house. I finally parked the car, deciding that we would walk up and down Harvard Street until a building looked familiar. Or until a key fit in the front door.

We found the house. We fed the cat. We left food for the less friendly cat. We looked at the snake. We scooped litter.

Then we left, to go back to the car, and return to our original errand. Picking up Colin from basketball.

One glitch. I had lost the car. We walked and walked and walked. I gave Katy another speech about something stupid, picking up her feet, or not jangling the car keys, or to never leave the house in her pajamas. We walked, and walked, and walked. Katy tried to ask me questions. She wanted to know what her Nanna had been like as a young woman. She wanted to know who my high school boyfriend was. She wanted to know why she was named Kaitlin and what I would have named her if she was a boy.

I don’t think I answered any of her questions. I think I shook her off a few times, she was holding my hand, and sometimes I just couldn’t bare to be close, to be clung to. I just wanted to march forward fast, without speaking, find the car, pick up my son, and get home.

She kept reaching out, though. And she was the one who reached in my back pocket and grabbed my phone the 34th time it rang. She told my husband where we were. He’d picked up Colin. He came right away. On the way to get us, Colin spotted the car just blocks away from where Katy and I were standing.

On the ride home, in the dark, in the tunnel we call the Katy tunnel because it was completed just before she was born, I told them about Margaret. I told them about how one night Marg and I stayed up late, got drunk, and plotted how I could convince Sheldon he really did want a baby. I told them how she always announced that she didn’t like bread with her pasta, and that she always had bread with her pasta. I told them how their Dad used to call her “Mumsy” and how that would make her smile.

They are both in bed now. Colin’s probably awake, he’s watching the turtle in the dark and trying to remember how his Nanna used to rock him to sleep. Katy is sleeping, soundly. I hope she doesn’t throw up tonight.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out if this is a night for a sleeping pill, or a night for a walk in the dark with my memories. I think Katy and I did enough walking for tonight. So I think I will sit on my stoop for a while with Sophie and think about things.

I do need to get to bed soon. I need to get up early. I want to have breakfast with Colin. And I want to walk Katy to school. I will hold her hand, and ask her questions, and she will shake me off, and skip ahead,  and tomorrow will be a wonderful day.

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