Parents of an older generation aren’t necessarily known for their superior texting capabilities. They might not even know how to return a text message in the first place, only knowing basic functions to unlock their phones in order to place a call; even then, “how do I find my contacts?”
Nothing is more predictable, though, than a child of any age rolling their eyes when they receive that parental text, a simple “call me” meaning old traditions of communicating with one another through vocal cord vibrations had to be used instead of mindlessly writing vague words sent into the ether. An actual conversation using mouths was expected from the elders, hashing out a dialogue one party believes could’ve been had in three text bubbles as opposed to twenty minutes of catching up.
I received that text, a simple “call me,” during work one summer Tuesday. I knew it would rub around in the back barriers of my mind if I didn’t just get over it and see what technological issues with Apple TV my parents were having that they needed so desperately to call me. Alas, I ducked out into a quiet part of the hallway, thinking it’d be a good spot to dramatically hiss instructions on how to type a password when the moment arose.
A ringing. More ringing. A click, followed by a loud crinkle suggesting the phone on the other end of the country had been dropped on the floor.
“Hey Lucas, sorry about that. My, uh, stupid fingers. I couldn’t feel them.”
“The neuropathy still strong?”
“Yeah…” A pause, as if there was something more he wanted to say. Except he repeated, quieter, “Yeah.” There was a tiny hint of frustration in his voice, almost like he felt fault letting the numbness affect him more than he wanted.
I glanced around the hallway I was standing in. Still no sounds around me, just from the elevator doors opening and closing at the opposite end.
“So, what’s up? Did you ever find your dad’s camera you wanted to show me?”
“No, I haven’t had a chance to look in the basement. I know I have it somewhere. Are you busy? Do you have a second to FaceTime with your mother?”
I knew then. I didn’t know what I knew, but I knew. No one point blank asks to group chat as if there wasn’t really a shot to say no.
“Yeah sure, I’ll hang up and give you a ring.”
I sighed, knowing that connecting over FaceTime was always an issue and now would be an even bigger connectivity issue as my parents’ shaky wifi made this impending difficult conversation even more difficult. But that’s what you do as the child. You wait patiently and do the best you can.
A ringing. More ringing. Even more ringing. Couldn’t someone have chosen a more pleasurable ring sound?
Blurry faces appeared on my cracked screen, both trying to cram in the mere inches a phone’s screen provides. It wasn’t worth explaining to hold the camera further back. When else was I supposed to take advantage of my parents by screenshotting their pixelated, smooshed faces?
“Hi Luc. How’s it going?” my mother asked. The glare of the large window behind her washed out the details of her face, though I could see her small eyes looking towards the floor beneath her.
“Oh you know, things are dandy. Counting down the minutes until I can sleep. Been a long week.”
“You can say that again.”
A small silence. A bit deafening combined with the heated sensation I felt on my back.
“How was your appointment, Dad?”
Mom was looking sad, a few of her fingertips covering her lips. Dad looked straight through the screen to lock eyes with me. His face too, washed out. Almost erased.
He sighed. “Mmm, not too great, Lucas. Not too great. Kind of got some bad news.”
I didn’t miss a beat. Actually, I surprised myself with how I just blurted it out, considering how badly I reacted the first time. “It’s back, isn’t it?”
The word “yeah” in print doesn’t accurately depict any depth of the sadness my father’s voice evoked. It doesn’t illustrate the tired tears in my mother’s eyes. It doesn’t paint in the shallow breaths I had to force myself to take in order to fully process what information was just given to me. The word “yeah,” when written, doesn’t do justice to the powerful moment that changed the course of three family members’ lives. However, that’s what was said, and it said everything I needed to know about what was ahead.
The word “yeah” in a text message wouldn’t have given me any of that. So, when I finished with my parents, I took a deeper breath and called my brother.