7 years ago. 7 years ago I received a phone call that changed my life. 7 years ago I walked into a house full of him – his clothes, scent, and that obtrusive little brown bag handed to us with his personal effects – but no dad. The one thing I knew immediately that I couldn’t, wouldn’t part with? His cell phone number. I didn’t want it circulated back out into the world for someone else to claim. So I claimed it.
At the time, Mark had an old, second generation iPhone that he gave to me, and I had it activated with Dad’s number.
Sometime thereafter I purchased some ringtones for the folks in my innermost circle. I asked my brother what song he would like me to use as his ringtone. Silly, because he wouldn’t actually ever hear it, but I wanted a song that was his style, his preference. (He was also the only person whom I asked this question.) He selected “Your Love” by The Outfield.
For the past 7 years, a snippet of the song – four lines to be exact – plays every time he calls. But it wasn’t until last night when he called that one line caught my attention:
“…you know I’d do anything for you…”
My brother and I have always been close. Not in a best friends way; in a blood sort of way. Growing up, it wasn’t my parents’ approval I hoped to get when deciding who to marry. I knew I wouldn’t marry a jackass. It was my big brother’s approval I was after. I wanted to find someone who could just as easily have been one of Troy’s buddies so that we could all keep hanging out once married.
Enter Mark. A guy I wanted to meet after a couple of years of hearing my brother speak highly of him (and grabbing a few beers with him).
For a year and a half, I had three men in my life: Dad, Troy, and Mark. And then the accident…and then there were two.
Mark and I were in a flooring store picking out hardwood for our house when I got the first call, from my sister-in-law. Thanks to small town folk who listen to police scanners, my Grandma Alice (mom’s mom) had gotten a call that Jim Whitlatch was in an accident. All we knew was the possibility, and that Dad wasn’t answering his phone. We were still in the flooring store when my mom called with the official news.
“Jamie, sit down.” Her voice was unfamiliar as she forced it to stay steady.
“Okay mom,” as I trembled to the secretary’s chair.
“He’s been killed.”
As we got into Mark’s car he asked where he should take me.
“My brother’s. Take me to my brother’s house.” I wanted him. I needed him.
Troy’s always been there for me, you see. I knew that even when I was little. By the first grade I decided that someday I wanted two kids – a boy and a girl. I wanted the boy first, because I wanted my daughter to have a protector, an ally, a big brother, just as I’ve had.
I recognized that he allowed me to play with him and his friends, something uncommon for older siblings. He stuck up for me when boys called me names.
He even happened to drive by when I got pulled over the first time. I was decked out in my dance team uniform driving to my high school for a basketball game when the lights flashed in my mirror. I saw a car turn off onto a country road just ahead of me and park. It was dark, so I didn’t know who it was. I thought it was a high school turd waiting to make fun of me.
I drove 55mph the rest of the way to school cussing at the car who pulled off that country road and followed me all the way to the parking lot. It was Troy, there to coach me through my first speeding ticket. “Tell dad, not mom.” It was sage advice that I heeded.
My family – my parents and brother and I – we were never overly affectionate with each other. But we were there for each other. We showed up for one another. In hindsight, that’s how we expressed love.
Now I’ve locked into writing. And with it my sentimentality has been unleashed. Stories or words that I wouldn’t necessarily express otherwise, I can type.
I wasn’t going to write about my dad this year. I certainly had no intent of writing about my brother. But last night, Troy called me…on Dad’s old number…on the eve of the accident…
“…you know I’d do anything for you…”
It’s been playing for seven years now, yet last night I heard that line as if for the first time.
I paused and let the words sink in. “Yeah, yeah you would,” I thought as I answered.
I’ve always been fond of that ringtone, because it’s Troy’s. Now, I’m even more fond of it thanks to that line; it communicates what’s he’s never said but always shown.
A lot can change in the course of one phone call.