For now, back into my long established writing slot of late at night—it is now coming on eleven o’clock—when the house is quiet. The dog has settled into her bed, Carol is sleeping, albeit restlessly, on the couch, and I sit across the room with my laptop on my lap.
I usually wake up at this time, my natural bio rhythm at work, but tonight will probably be different. Last night, Carol talked from about ten in the evening until four in the morning. I tried several times to calm her down, to ease her into a sleep mode, but with little success. Consequently, I could not fall fully asleep until she did, and then she was up at about eight. I went through the day on four hours of sleep, including a shopping trip to town for groceries.
I have no idea what she was talking about all that time, as her words were not fully nor clearly articulated, and even when I did make out what she was saying, I had no context into which to put it.
Since Carol will turn sixty-five in January and thus go on to Medicare, we have been bombarded both by postal mail and by calls on our landline with pitches for supplemental coverage. Because my employer based insurance will provide that supplemental coverage for her, I am not interested .
I toss the paper pitches into the garbage. I deal with the phone calls by paying attention to the caller ID. Some of the callers making these pitches identify themselves, discernible even through the garbled attempts of the phone to state or display the caller’s name. Others come in as just a toll free number. For those, I pick up the phone and hang it back down again, just to get rid of it without providing an opportunity for a message to be left. On rare occasions I will let the answering machine take the call if the name that shows up on caller ID is plausible even if I don’t recognize it, or if I am awaiting a call that might come in on a WATTS line. Once or twice this process has yielded a conversation with a person I actually do, or should, know.
All of which brings me to why these calls are in my mind today. There were more than the usual number that I permitted the answering machine to take, and so I was reminded to check our outgoing answering machine message to confirm that it was in Carol’s voice. I wasn’t sure because I had not listened to that message since we installed these phones at least ten years ago.
It turned out that it was her voice and that raised the question in my mind as to whether under present circumstances I should record a new message. The thought occurred to me that it might be a little strange or awkward for Carol’s sister or brothers, or one of our good friends, to hear her voice on the answering machine as though she were still functioning as she had been. I recognize this is unlikely because I am home nearly all the time, and I will pick up the phone as soon as the caller ID tells me the caller is someone I know.
I don’t know if others would even have such a thought, but I am sometimes somewhat literal minded, and so it strikes me as perhaps not quite right to have Carol’s voice answering our phone when she might not at this point recognize the caller’s name.
But besides being occasionally literal minded, I also sense connections that push beyond the first thought. And in this case, that is what happened. I am reminded that Carol was determined to have her presence fully established in our relationship. She did not hyphenate her last name, but she usually did keep her maiden name as a middle name. She published her stories as Carolyn Johnson Lewis. That is how her name appears on her driver’s license. And where possible she wanted her name on our various household accounts. Thus, many of the bills we get come to us under her name, and she is listed as the owner of our joint checking and savings accounts.
This never bothered me. And, in fact, when we were first together, she handled the bills while I was working several jobs to keep us afloat while dealing with child support payments. And even, in retrospect, I understand that she would have wanted to be the bill payer anyway. Coming as she did from a culture that even now is very traditional in its attitude toward gender roles, she desired to break out of that female subordinate position and establish herself on an equal footing.
She was, in short, insistent about establishing her own identity.
Which is what she is losing, thanks to her disease.
Made even more poignant for me as earlier today in response to my thinking about our greeting message on the answering machine, I played it. And when I did, I heard her voice, both warm and professional and welcoming.
It hurt a lot.
If I erase that voice on the outgoing message, I will not hear it again.
And I will have taken another step, however grudgingly, away from the then and into the now.