Happy Birthday

First Saved Message. The automated voice of my iPhone echoed in my ear. My digital alarm clock was only minutes shy of the midnight hour, and I couldn’t sleep – perhaps it was the noise of the city, perhaps it was the music coming from my roommate’s bedroom, but mostly, I suspected, it was the date.

Message from 404-976-8825. “Hi, Doll it’s me. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about dinner when you get in. I was thinking about frying up some bluegills, just like the old days.”

I listened to the voicemail for the umpteenth time in as many days. The faster my father’s birthday approached, the more I returned to the message. It felt good to hear that gruff southern accent.  If you would like to save this message, press nine and if you would like to delete this message, press… My finger swiped against the plastic. I should delete it

The numbers on the clock changed; the eight became nine and the nine became a zero. Midnight arrived. The Calendar app on my phone pinged.

“Happy Birthday Dad,” I whispered to myself, imagining my father, bare-chested, red-faced and cursing the nats as he sat in his John-Deere boat, a worn out, reed pole in one hand and a bottled coke in the other. He loved fishing, even though he typically only caught discarded bits of trash and a sunburn. Every birthday,  he’d drag me out there and I’d sit in the sweltering July heat, covered in gobs of SPF 50 while he explained the ins and outs of the art of fishing. Tie this and hook that, he’d say- not that I paid much attention; my mind was too busy fantasizing about being somewhere else – at a nice restaurant, in a dark movie theater — literally anywhere else, as long as there was air conditioning.

“Today, we’re gonna catch so much fish that we’ll have enough for dinner all week, just like the last the time.” He said this every year, the fact that we never actually caught enough to make a snack never really seemed to matter to him.

The last time I saw my father was two years ago – maybe three.  

“Dad, I bought dinner.” He barely acknowledged me as I entered the house; his hearing, much like his hair, vanished more every day. His arthritic hands shuffled through the cabinets searching for the sugar that I had thrown out days ago..

“Dad, I bought your favorite – fried fish.”

With his gray hair, overweight waistline, and skittish movements, it’s hard to believe that he was once capable of building my tree house, moving the furniture in my bedroom, or reeling in a large fish. Giving up, he leaned against the counter, catching his breath. The simple act of reaching for the top cupboard tired him out. His energy came in random spurts, never lasting longer than thirty minutes at a time.

I rushed to his side and helped him to the table before I fixed his plate. We say nothing to each other. We forgot how to speak to each other years ago. I can’t help but wonder when we became strangers.

“Not as good as the real thing,” he muttered as he took a bite.

Message from 404-976-8825… I replayed the voicemail one more time, letting my finger pause over the screen– my finger doesn’t move.

I should drive home this weekend. I need to visit the cemetery.

Press nine  If you would like to hear these options again press *


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s