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Here in the Middle

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Sounds of Love and Life by Kim Love Stump

I’m hardly out of the driveway when my phone rings. It’s my father, I recognize the ringtone.

“Hey, Honey,” my dad says.

“Hey, Daddy, I’m sorry I missed your call earlier.”

“What did I call for?”

“I don’t know, you didn’t leave a message,” I say in response.

“Oh… right. I couldn’t. Your phone said your mailbox was full.”

“Really? It shouldn’t be. But thanks; I’ll check it right now. Love you, see you Thursday.”

“Ok. Bye. Love you. See you Thursday.”

Sigh. I hang up, frustrated. I still don’t know why my father called earlier in the day, and I’m confused over why my new phone’s voicemail would be full already. I didn’t realize all the messages from my old phone would transfer over. In anticipation of losing them and in a fit of extreme sentimentality, I had transferred a bunch of saved voice messages that I couldn’t part with to a CD, a permanent record of my family’s and friends’ voices.

As I drive out of the neighborhood, I speed dial my voice inbox and delete the two new hang up calls someone, presumably my dad, has left there. The automated voice then says I have thirty-eight saved messages. The thirty-eight I had so carefully saved.

“Hey momma – it’s me! I just wanted to call and say ‘thank you’. Thank you for all you do. I could not possibly do it without you! You are the best! I love you!” my daughter’s then-high-school-senior voice chirps in my ear. I smile and press 9 to save the message, again, rationalizing I can keep a few messages from my family on this new phone to have near me.

I have a good idea of what will follow. Next will be a voice message from my dear friend Ruth E., a smile in her voice telling me she’s booked a dinner reservation for my husband and me in her now hometown of Raleigh. I decide to delete that one, confident a CD holding all thirty-eight messages is safely stored back at the house in my office.

Next Betsy, my best friend here in Charlotte, will ask me via the saved voice recording where I am. The Y or Laughing Buddha is her guess. It was a good guess at the time she left the message, but I haven’t been to Laughing Buddha in probably three years. That’s how old some of these messages are. I delete this one, too.

The saved voices continue, “Hey Mom,” my then-junior-in-high-school son rumbles in my ear. “I saw you called, wanted to say hi, I won’t be here later tonight – I’m going to a party. Oh, and your friend, Sherry? Sherry Hasting, or something like that, called and asked me to go to church? Anyway I don’t know who that is. Talk to you later. I love you.” Even three years later I feel thankful for Shereé’s offer to take my reticent son to church when she was visiting Chattanooga and he was in boarding school at McCallie. I can’t bring myself to delete the message. I save it, rationalizing I can keep a few messages from my husband and children to have with me.

“Hey, Babe, this is Mom. I’m on my way to get my hair done. If I’m not home when you get there, I’ll be back around 12. I love you.” I carefully listen to the instructions to press 7 to erase and 9 to save to make absolutely sure I don’t erase my dead mother’s voice. Can she possibly be dead, when I’ve just heard her sweet voice talk to me? I think as I… [This essay is copyrighted until 2017 for sole use of Here in the Middle. The book is now available on Amazon.]