Monday was my husband's birthday. Around here birthdays mean phone calls, lots of phone calls. The first phone call is almost always from my husband's mother, she loves to talk to the people she loves on their birthdays.
Because she knows my husband's schedule, my mother in law called him at just about 6 in the morning. There is an hour time difference between us and she was nearly ready to leave for work, making an early call work best for both of them.
The phone woke me up and I laid in bed, listening. Chris was trying to be quiet and was in another room with the door shut so really all I could hear was murmuring. They talked for just a couple of minutes (it was a work morning, after all). Then he hung up and quietly walked in to the kitchen.
I was shaking. My heart beating fast, I went into the kitchen and said, "What did your mom want?"
He looked at me a little strangely and said, "To wish me a happy birthday." (Like, duh.)
Oh, right. His birthday. In that moment I did not remember his birthday at all. All I was thinking about was that his dad was traveling home from Africa that day. I was thinking about his grandpa and nana, who are in their 80s. I was thinking about our precious 7 month old nephew. In that moment, hearing the phone ring at an unexpected time, my mind ran through the catalog of all the people we love and all the things that could have gone wrong.
I wasn't always like this. Phone calls used to just be phone calls. And then, one December evening almost 5 years ago, the phone rang and changed phone calls forever. Before the phone rang it was a nice post Christmas evening. I was making dinner. The kids were playing with Grammy who was visiting for a few days. We were waiting for Chris to come home. It was snowing outside.
The phone rang and I answered. My mom said, "Hi Kristin, I have to tell you something." (I can still hear her voice, like it was yesterday.) My sister had been in a car accident and no one knew anything else.
After the phone rang, I felt sick. I was anxious and worried. I knew something was wrong. The phone rang several more times that evening, each call worse than the last. That phone call marks a before/after moment in my life. Before the phone call: a phone call was just a call, someone checking in. After the phone call: all phone calls are suspect, you never know what's on the other end of the line.
My memories of the night my sister died are mostly sensations. I remember the cold air. I remember the sound of NPR in the background. I remember fighting with my husband about whether we should drive to Spokane that night. I remember anxiousness and uncertainty. But mostly I remember the phone call.
Eventually I came back to the present and wished my husband a happy birthday. But first, a little traumatic reaction. Because some phone calls are scary.