The Next Family

By: Barbara Matousek

My cell shows that the Saturday night call lasted twenty-nine seconds.  Twenty-nine seconds in which I said nothing but “Hello” and then Mom told me that she had driven herself to the ER and that she “almost called an ambulance and it was probably a mistake to drive myself but I was in so much intense pain and I threw up and I just wanted to get here and I’m calling to tell you to keep your phone on in case something happens.”  She was panting as if she had just finished sprinting.  And then she hung up.  I didn’t get to say anything else.  Just hello.

I was on the couch.  After a day of swimming pools and bikes and Frisbees and digging in the garden and making homemade pesto and pushing the stroller and collecting bugs and chasing butterflies, I had decided to leave the dishes in the sink and the homemade pesto smeared on the countertop and the layer of bugs and fine sand and dandelion fuzz collected at the bottom of the inflatable pool on the deck and just relax with my son.  Sam was hypnotized by Dora and Boots, and he had been quietly watching Nick Jr. when I crept out of Eva’s room and collapsed next to him.  I had just exhaled and sunk into the couch when my phone rang.  And when I hung up 29 seconds later I wanted to cry but I didn’t.

“Mommy, can I watch you play your bird game on your phone?” Sammy took his eyes away from the TV.

“Not now,” I said.

“Why?  I want to.  I love to.”

I told him I had to keep my phone free, that I was expecting another important call from TT.

“When is she coming?” he asked.

I said that she wasn’t coming, that she was in the hospital, that she was sick.  And because I was scared and alone with no adult next to me I did the thing I shouldn’t have done.  “I’m sad, Sammy,” I said.  “Sad and scared because I don’t know if TT is okay.”

Seven years ago when I got the call that Dad had finally died in his sleep in the middle of the night, the one night I didn’t stay at the hospital with him, my boyfriend at the time was there with me.  We lay on the bedroom floor and took turns tossing a small basketball towards the ceiling, a contest to see who could get it closest without hitting.  A distraction from the realization that Dad was actually gone.

“She’s okay, Mommy,” Sam said and he went back to watching Dora and Boots count in Spanish.

At my computer I looked to see if vomiting was a symptom of a heart attack.  When I saw the phrase “silent killer” at the bottom of the page, I closed the laptop and went back to sit next to Sam.  I scrolled through my phone.  Fourteen minutes.  It had been fourteen minutes since she called.  Surely something had happened by now.

I called my sister.  No answer.  I texted my sister.  No answer.  Ann is never away from her phone.  Was she on the phone with mom?  Was she on the phone with doctors?  Would the next person I talk to be my mother or a doctor?  I called my sister again. I texted her again.  Dora and Boots sang Happy Birthday in Spanish and Sam pulled a blanket up over our laps and said again “She’s okay, Mommy.  The doctors will make her better.”

I wanted to believe him.  I wanted to relax and watch Dora say “thanks for helping” and sing about how we did it.  But instead I frantically scrolled through Facebook and text messages and my recent calls list like some kind of trained rat who keeps pushing the bar, expecting a treat.  27 minutes.  No answers from anyone.  Where the hell was my sister?

I refreshed my screen over and over again until it said that it had been 30 minutes since the call.  A sane person could wait 30 minutes to call back, right?  I waited as my call connected and it rang once, twice, three times, four times.  I inhaled, wondering if ER nurses are allowed to answer a ringing phone next to a dying person, and the call rolled in to voicemail.

On the couch as Dora the Explorer credits rolled and Moose A. Moose said that Blue’s Clues was coming up next, I felt alone.  I thought about my son and how I would explain to him that TT wasn’t coming to visit again.  Ever.

“Okay,” I said.  “Bedtime.”  I stood and clicked off the TV and Sam’s voice began ramping up in firetruck fashion.  “Three books.  Come on.  Pick out your three books.”

We were halfway through Curious George’s camping adventure when the phone rang again and I sat up in Sam’s bed.  The phone said “Mom Cell” and I took a deep breath before answering it.

“I’m fine,” she said.  “I’m fine.”  She told me the service wasn’t great but she was at Bellin Hospital and they were going to do xrays and CT scans.  She was pretty sure she was reacting to a combination of medications and that she was having a flare-up.  The pain was in her gut.  Not in her heart.

When I hung up, I looked at Sammy and didn’t say anything.  His dishwater blonde hair was shooting out in all directions.  When he was a baby he looked so much like my father but now he definitely has my mother’s eyes.

“TT’s okay,” I said.

“Told ya’,” he said.  And then he wanted to get back to Curious George and the campfire.

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