It was the middle of the night when you called me, your voice whispering into the darkness around me from the bright white light of my phone. I didn’t understand why you were whispering, because I live alone, and the phone wasn’t on speaker, and even though it was the middle of the night you didn’t call to tell me a secret.
You called to tell me news: Bad news, but news nonetheless. “Viv is dying,” you said, you whispered, your voice hoarse and rough and unfinished around the edges. I thought in my half sleep you should polish your whisper down so it was fluid, so it blended more with the air. I was in a half dream.
I said “okay, wow…” and when you said nothing, I said “goodbye.”
I woke up in the morning wondering why the hell I hadn’t said more to you because let’s face it – what a shitty way to end that conversation. How unemotional, unsympathetic, did I sound? I’m sure it seemed that I had no heart. You kind of gasped when I said goodbye and you said “fine,” before I hung up.
I woke up this morning and that phone call was the first thing on my mind. Was it real? Or did I dream it all? I hate that feeling – that feeling that reality has blurred. That the lines between unconsciousness and consciousness have blurred to the point of unknowing.
So I called you back, even though it was only 7 o’clock in the morning, and I asked, “Did you call me last night or was that a dream?”
You clicked your tongue against the top of your mouth, like you always do when you’re disgusted. “Yes, I called, and you didn’t even say a goddamn thing. You don’t care about Viv at all? Jesus Christ, what kind of heartless bitch do you have to be?”
I was glad you couldn’t see me from the other side of the phone. I rolled my eyes at you. “Who calls in the middle of the fucking night to tell someone that their sister is dying? Especially when they know that the person they are calling is in bed by 7? Like come on.”
You clicked your tongue again but said nothing, so I continued. “Like really, don’t try to make me feel bad because I was still half asleep when I answered the damn phone. Like, okay, it’s big news, but next time just call me in the fucking morning.”
You sighed your disgusted sigh again. “Listen, okay? You could have made a point to wake up –“
“Let me stop you right there because you know that’s not how it works. And frankly, if your wife is dying, you should be sitting with her, not calling me in the middle of the night to tell me. Was it like she wasn’t going to live through the night?”
“Well, no,” you said slowly. “But she doesn’t have long.”
“Okay, well then it could have probably waited. Don’t try to drop any guilt on me.” I shook my head, and again thanked god I was on the phone with you and not face to face. I would not have done well face to face. I would have wanted to punch you, if we were face to face. But you were always a pretentious piece of shit, weren’t you? You always treated everyone in Viv’s family, every last damn one of us, like you were better. And even as she lay dying and you sit watching, you are still treating us like shit.
“Well that’s not what I was trying to do, but –“
“Yeah, right. Okay. You always act like you’re better, like you’re more involved, that we are somehow lesser because we just don’t do as much as you.”
The exasperated sigh, again.
“I get it,” I say to you, to the silence on your side of the phone. “I do – I get that it’s hard to watch your wife die. But don’t act like this is our fault. Don’t act like any of Viv’s family is at fault for something we have no control of.”
“You know what?” You growl into the phone. “Your family has this weird philosophy to let nature take its course. And she’s letting the cancer take its course because that is what she believes, because that is what you assholes taught her!”
I laugh, out loud this time, at you. “Yes, we clearly brainwashed her. Or, you know, the alternative is that she is an autonomous human being with her own thoughts and feelings and she is following her own philosophy. I am not sure you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of things all of us don’t agree on, and that’s one thing she happens to agree with our mother on. But that doesn’t mean all of us agree. Still, she can make her own choices. Let her have that, like fucking Christ.”
You stutter on the other end, and hang up. I call mom. Mom laughs. “She just called here screaming at me, too.” Mom sniffles a little; I can tell she’s been crying. You probably made her cry. I clench my hand into a fist, and all I can think is that I would just love to knock your goddamn teeth out. I unclench my fist. You are just angry that Viv has decided to let her life go instead of fighting through sickness and feeling like she’s dead already to be alive. She has never wanted to go through chemo or radiation – and I get that. Why can’t you respect it? Why can’t you accept it? She’s told you since the very start (and yes, I know this because we are sisters, and we’re the closest of all our siblings) that if she found out she was terminally ill, or even close to terminally ill, she wouldn’t fight it. Have you seriously not processed this information in the ten years you’ve been married, or the fifteen years you’ve been together?