Commode To Joy

finding happy (even in the crappy)

One Phone Call Can Change Everything

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 intention 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.

Celebrating my brother’s birthday. I was pregnant with my first, a boy, just like I’d always wanted.

Categories: Death & Grief, Family & Parenting

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82 replies

  1. This November it will be twenty years for me. Twenty years since I got that phone call, and it is just like yesterday. Like you, I was lucky to have my siblings. This post took me right back there, it was a little hard to read.

  2. 7 years…
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  3. I remember a call like that telling me that my sister had cancer. Life has those moments. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your story.

  4. Sorry to hear about your loss seven years ago.

    I wish I have a brother like yours.

  5. I received a similar call many years ago, my father had had a major stroke, I rushed 80 miles to be with him, but arrived too late.

  6. I wish to have such a beautiful bond with my brother.

  7. I’m very sorry for your loss. Take care..

  8. Gorgeous writing. Although I’m the oldest, I very much identify with your feelings about your brother. There’s just nothing else in the world quite like them. At least not the good ones.

  9. It was really heartouching. I have a younger sister, and I know how special this bond is. Amazing!

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  11. A beautiful post! I, too lost my dad. It was this year in June, so still very fresh and unfamiliar. But I know what it means when a phone call or message changes everything! So sorry for your loss!

  12. “…you know I’d do anything for you…” Made me think of my dad too. He is alive and sound, but I am now in a country that is furthest he can reach, Sorry for what happened to your father, but he is in your heart and so do you. He will watch over you and your brother through that ringtone.

  13. It’s difficult to write about things that are so close to our hearts. Thank you for writing this post. The Phonecall is a moment that is engrained in your mind with the passing of someone you love. My father has been gone for three years now and I empathize with your experience. The way you chose to honour him and keep him with you every day is beautiful.

  14. The pain never leaves, but the memories of them will always be with us. It has been nine years for my family, and as you have so eloquently stated, it seems like only yesterday.

  15. This reminds me of my brother. There are not an awful lot of moments when I need someone who can give me sage advice but when i do, he is the one who I call. I wish he would do that too.

    Thank you for writing this

  16. Thank you for sharing this. There is so much emotion and so well written.

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