I remember when I used to matter.
The text comes in at around 4:30 PM, the standard, scheduled time, never spoken of, but already predictable - five months later. SKYPE? Five letters, not preceded by so much as a hello. SKYPE? Followed by a question mark. Awaiting my reply. YES, I respond back, watching the iMessage make its way to Iowa, knowing that my mom eagerly awaits my reply, hoping that it is a yes. I'LL GO DOWNSTAIRS AND TURN ON THE COMPUTER. This means I have five minutes before the call comes in. I start my Skype and wait, turn the TV on mute, and prepare the star of the show.
Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. The ringer sounds in its now all-to-familiar blare. I make the call because I see she is logged in, and because I know she can never find the "button thingy" that initiates the connection. She answers in the same way: a gray screen and a complaint of "I don't see you," she says. "Wait," I always respond, "It takes a moment."
"There you are!" she says, almost excitedly, but I realize this excitement is not a result of viewing me, but rather at the impending viewing of what she really called to see, her gem, the little prince, the "cute one" as she likes to remind me, Ezra.
I remember when I used to matter. I recall when I was the one that my mom waited to hear from. Every day on the way home from work, I call her as I drive home. Or, if she calls me, she usually starts the conversation with, “It’s your mom,” as though I wouldn’t recognize the voice of the woman in whose whom I grew for 42 weeks. She knows this is how it works, the routine, the maintenance of the long-distance parent-child relationship, yet she always asks me, "What are you doing?" as though she doesn't already know. Our conversations are mixed, but they usually consist of discussion of our days, but usually quickly digress to what matters most, Ezra. I know she loves me, but I’ve had thirty years of practice with that.
"There he is!" she announces in some voice I have gotten used to hearing, but not a voice of my mother's, at least not the version of her I knew, but the voice of Ezra’s grandmother, a voice that beams with a soft light, filled with love and excitement, pride that washes over you, pours forth from the metallic speakers that don’t fully do human-to-human contact justice. "There he is!" she beams, as though I don’t already know that's what she's been waiting for. Strangely, the woman I can describe in detail as my mother is there, pixelated, but there, digitized, but there – seems metamorphosed into someone completely foreign to me, but already recognizable by her grandson. "How are you today?" she asks, but not of me, to him, the chunky-cheeked, man cub bouncing next to me. "Fine," I think to myself. I'm fine, but I know she wasn't asking me. "Look at that face! It's so cute." Again, things I know. Things I think to myself. Things she needs to say because she isn't here, but needs to feel like she is.
I remember when I used to feel like I mattered, but I know I still do. The voice she has now, the one that only Ezra and her neighborhood’s dogs can hear, is the voice I bet she used to have with me prior to my memory’s memories. “He’s just so cute! Look at those cheeks. I want to pinch (or) squeeze (or) kiss them,” my mother spills with effortless fan-girl bliss. My father always made fun on grandparents, arguing that once someone became such, they become stupid, fawning and foaming, becoming clown-like remnants of people who used to be parents. She has become a different person to me - one that makes me fully understand the capacity to love, renders me aware of how painful it is to worry about someone every second of every day, one that makes me ache over what it must be like to be so far from someone you love so much. This is her consolation prize, the closest thing she gets to being a real part of the process.
I know that I again matter; without me, she wouldn’t get this fifteen minute period every day that she probably eagerly awaits more than I can understand. She’s still my mom, but she’s become Ezra’s grandma too, and he is so lucky to have her, even if it’s only on a screen, amorphous and inconsistent. He hears her voice, and knows that he matters.