It’s my job to call on Christmas. Mine to call on Thanksgiving. Valentine’s day is optional, but I still call because I know it’s her favorite. On my birthday, it is her responsibility to call. On her birthday, it’s mine. That’s how it has always worked. I suppose it would be easier if we lived closer, but we don’t. My mother lives in South Carolina near where it borders with Georgia to the west and North Carolina to the north. I live in Austin, Texas, but that is only just for now. Next will probably be Oregon. Maybe somewhere else. Where it won’t be, however, is South Carolina.
I am the youngest son. The favorite son. What I am not is the good son or the good brother. I am the youngest of six—four brothers and one sister. I like the sister. We have grown apart over the years because we differ on politics and religion. I mean, come on, what else is there to talk about? Family? Probably not. She is the oldest of us. The best of us. Maybe because she found God or because God found her. I found Texas, and it feels like Hell.
We grew up mostly in upstate New York. The six of us. Only the sister remains there. One brother died a few years back. Drugs. But he had been living dead for years before he actually went. He was ten years older than me. The oldest brother. The other three now live in a triangle of states: Missouri, Ohio, and South Carolina. I go years, almost decades, without seeing them, and that’s not hyperbole. I went eighteen years without talking to Missouri and fifteen to Ohio. The youngest brother before me has been more frequent. He lives next to my mom, so there has been more opportunity for chance phone encounters. Bad luck is still luck, I guess.
That’s my family. Long distance. It’s the way I prefer, but I’m trying to be better. Although I still don’t reach out to them, and they can’t reach out to me. I have forbidden my mother to give out my phone number to my brothers. My sister has it, but she doesn’t use it, and I can’t blame her. What’s there to talk about? Family? Probably not.
It’s my job to call my mom on the holidays, but I’ve been trying to get better about calling just to call. It’s not easy. We’re strangers, you see. Not complete strangers. I know her and she knows me, and we have a shared intertwined life. We are family, but we are not familiar anymore. The phone calls are made out of obligation. It would be easier if we lived closer, but we don’t. She lives in South Carolina near where it borders with Georgia to the west and North Carolina to the north. I live in Austin—the Live Music Capital of the World, but I don’t care about music. I teach high school English here, although I don’t care much about that either. I became a teacher to save my marriage.
I’m divorced now.
It’s my job to call on her birthday. So I did. She didn’t answer, and I had mixed feelings—happy about being able to leave a message, and annoyed that I’d still have to call later. But then she called back. We talked over each other as I tried to tell her that I had to hurry because I was at work and she tried to tell me whatever it was that she was saying. And the whatever she was saying was that she was hurt. She’d have to call me back. She had to go to the hospital. Happy Birthday.
It was the phone call. She had just gotten out of the shower when her phone rang. I had hurried to call, and she had hurried to answer. She slipped on the kitchen tile and went down. She broke one arm, injured the other, and hurt a rib. Turns out that the rib broke, too. It was my job to call on her birthday. It was her job to put on slippers. One of us is at fault. Pretty sure it’s me.
They put a cast on the broken arm—the same arm that was already sunburned and suffering from poison ivy at the same time. The rib, there was nothing they could do about. So when she realized it had punctured her lung, she had to go back to the hospital. She called to tell me. It was her job to call. It was my job, apparently, to call the other siblings even though one brother lived next door to her. I didn’t call. I am not the good son nor the good brother. They found out eventually. I knew they would.
She wants me to come see her. She tells me that she is getting older, and one day it will be too late. It’s my job to go and see her. It would be easier if we lived closer. She lives in South Carolina near where it borders with Georgia to the west and North Carolina to the north. I live in Austin, Texas where I am divorced and without family, but the tacos are amazing. I tell her that I want to see her but school is about to start back up. Thanksgiving is around the corner. It’s my job to call on Thanksgiving. I’ll call then.
About the Writer
Todd Tobias earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. He lives, writes, and teaches in Austin, Texas and spends his summers teaching creative writing at Emerson College's Creative Writer's Workshop for their pre-college program. This is his first publication.