There is a scene in the film “50/50” where the cancer-stricken protagonist is kvetching to his shrink (played by Anna Kendrick). Noting that his dad has Alzheimer’s, he further bemoans daily calls received from his mother—considering her but a well-meaning pain-in-the-ass (and nag).  He awaits the doctor’s sympathy.

“So,” says the Anna Kendrick character, “She has no one to talk to, does she?”

I sat with The Little One, watching the flick…thinking…of Aunt Helen. Recalling a lesson from recovery—that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change—-I resolved once again to try harder.

                                Act I

As the curtain rises, it is Monday morning, just past 9, on a walk-way directly underneath Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland.  Scurrying through the tunnel, hearing my phone ring, I gazed down. There, glaring like the beacon of a watch tower was the exact sequence of numbers that for years has been used by veterinarians to neuter bulls: 216932…

Buoyed by recent resolution, I chose to pick up.

‘Aunt Helen?”
‘It’s not 9:30. You said never call before 9:30.”

(There is something about those without cell phones: they have mental blocks. No matter how often they’re told that if two speak simultaneously neither’s quite heard, they just don’t grasp it. My aunt is no exception. As such, I paused before the security gate, trying to get a word in. Communication, however, stalled).

“WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” she said as I said “ 1 o’clock.” as she said “WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” as I said “ 1 o’clock.” as she said “WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” and then screamed “WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING ME? YOU ARE MEAN.”

Finally she went to commercial break.

“I’ll pick you up at 1, Aunt Helen. We always go at one. I was trying to—“


                                        Act II

The second stanza opens that very day, moments past 1 pm, in a University Heights driveway. The ignition is off.

”Did your brother go to work?”
“How do you know?”
“He told me.’
“When did you last speak with him?”
“As a matter of fact, “ I offered, “I called him on my way over here.” 
“How often do you speak with him?”
“I don’t keep track.’
“Surely you speak to him daily.’
“Surely I don’t,” I responded (which was a sign of growth.  A week prior I might have said “Don’t call me Shirley”).

A minute passed—a moment of thundering silence. Unable to resist—unable to stand prosperity, I spoke:
“Why do you care how often Harold and I speak?”
“Don’t talk to me.”

There was silence as I turned at Wrenford, heading north.  (Well—not total silence.  She reminded me yet again that my brother turns at Green.   “Why don’t you?” she wondered.)   Give the lady credit for a well-crafted inquiry.  Both rhetorical AND sarcastic, she was merely setting the table…

“You should have called me from Chicago. Why didn’t you call?”
“I didn’t call anyone from Chicago, including Harold.”
“I find it hard to believe,” she countered, “That you didn’t call your brother all weekend.’
“I find it hard to believe,’ I re-raised, ‘That you don’t believe me.”

More silence, and in time it softened to quiet.   There’s a difference, you know.  Somehow we always get there.  We were at peace again, she and I.  No longer asking questions for which there were no answers, she spoke poignantly of her parents.

“My mother spoke seven languages. Fluently.”

I knew this; I’ve known so for years.   It mattered not.   Her voice, vibrant and prideful, could not be stilled.  When our father’s sister slips into reminiscence—when she forgets to be caustic—she is elegant.

“Your grandmother loved books.”  “I know,”  I said…”Remember when she found me cutting out pictures of birds?  It was the only time Grandma ever yelled at me.”

We were smiling now—at each other.  Temporal as it was, we were smiling.  Both of us, yes BOTH of us, had someone to talk to.


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