I sent a long text as a probe:
Aunt Leta, I hope this is still your number. If it is, I’m your niece Cheryl with whom you haven’t spoken in years. I lost contact with my mother and I’m hoping you know if our family back in the Philippines are ok after that horrific typhoon. I know our family’s village was quite south. I hope this message finds you and your family well. Sorry about the length. If I had your email address I would’ve gone that route.
At 7am the next day my phone wakes me. I see that it is Leta’s number. I hope that it isn’t a stranger terribly alarmed by that novel. I let it go to voicemail. I see from my phone’s text translation it is her. I don’t listen to the actual message and I don’t call back for three days.
Even contacting her sister gives me anxiety. My relationship with my mother is complicated. When I finally do call her I am relieved. Not only because my family is alive and well but because Leta is a sane version of my mother. She listens to me compassionately. She hasn’t talked to my mother in four years after a falling out during my grandfather’s funeral. “She’s a difficult woman.” I say this line at least three times during our conversation.
She tells me my uncle Mark died a couple years ago. I am saddened by this revelation. That I wasn’t there for her during this time. Saddened by her loss. They were happily married for 34 years. I envied my cousins for having parents who loved each other. He was a good man. He helped me catch my first fish. She still lives in their same home in Ft. Walton Beach. She invites me to come visit her any time. Even move there if I wish. My cousin could get me a job. I thank her for her kind offer “if things don’t work out for me here I’ll take you up on that”. She laughs, “you loved it here when you were little.”
Leta speaks about her children without judgement. Her daughter is my age. Every week they go out to lunch and then to the movies. They actually enjoy each other’s company. I can’t fathom that. It is the opposite of my relationship with my mother. Aside from her being difficult, she is the first person to really break my heart, and I guess I never really recovered.
When I hang up I feel love. The unimaginable love of family. I resented my mother for years because I lost that part of my life. After a month of enormous shifts in emotion, I found myself nearly depressed with gratitude. All I had to do was pick up a phone.