Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Is she calling out to you, Daddy?"

My mind was preoccupied with finding my misplaced wallet. I was in my studio at home, rooting through drawers, utterly lost in thought. It was yesterday morning, and I had ten things to do at the same time.

A sound suddenly froze me. It was a flute, distant and scratchy, a beautiful and haunting memory from my childhood. I recognized the musician immediately. It was my mother. She died two years ago.

Salish, my three-year-old daughter, had discovered an old tape recorder under a pile of books and pressed the play button. I had gathered the books from my mother’s apartment, but I never had the courage to look through them. She died suddenly and unexpectedly, and our relationship was unresolved. The pain of her death was too intense, so I shut it off.

“What is this, Daddy?” Salish asked as she saw my face go white.

“It’s my mommy. She played music.”

“Where is she?”

“She died, Salish.”

We sat quietly and listened to the music. My eyes began to tear up. Salish wasn’t looking at me. She was staring intensely at the wall.

“Is she calling out to you, Daddy?” she asked.

The question was like a kick in the stomach. Where did she hear that phrase?

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I said.

“Is she sad, Daddy? Is she crying?”

“I don’t think so, Salish.”

“Is she in pain? Is she okay?” Her face was filled with compassion.

“I don’t think she’s in pain anymore, Salish.”

“Is she calling out to you, Daddy?” she repeated.

I was silent. We listened to the dreamy melody until the refrain ended.  “It’s time to go now, Daddy. We need to go.” We left the studio together, and Salish grabbed my hand. “I love you, Daddy,” she said.

Three hours later I was driving to work, the earlier event a distant memory. I was once again spending the day wrapped up in tomorrow’s irrelevancies. I looked at my phone and went numb as I saw the date.

It was my mother’s 70th birthday.

I suddenly recalled a conversation I had with her long ago, as I was setting up her email account.

“What would you like your name to be?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “Flutist at rest,” she said, smiling.

grandmother and granddaughter