For me, it was the outgoing message on my Dad's cell phone.
I have to admit that I called it more than a few times in the first weeks and months after he passed. I just wanted to hear his voice again and I knew that once the service was disconnected, that message would be gone.
There aren't many recordings of my father's voice. I have a few home movies that we took when our kids were young, but Dad wasn't really a talker. He was more of the sit on the couch in the corner and observe kind of guy.
I come by that part of my personality honestly.
These days, years after his death now, I have to go looking for his voice. Fortunately, I know exactly where to find it.
He recorded some books for the kids. I know that he hated doing it at the time, that my Mom totally made him do it, but I am ever so grateful that he did. I keep them on a particular shelf in a particular cabinet and the kids all know that they are special books.
Whenever one of them wants to listen/read those ones, hearing his voice stops me in my tracks. It's like he was just here all over again.
We take pictures, us humans, believing that they are the best way to capture memories. Those of us who've lost the ones we love though, we know that pictures aren't the best medium to conserve those memories, just the easiest. Smell and sound, now that's where the good stuff is.
I've smelled my Dad's scent exactly once since he died. I was in a grocery store a few months later when a man walked past me with the same combination of aerosol hair spray, Brut aftershave and Stetson cologne that he wore. Damn near brought me to my knees. I don't even know how long I was standing there, unmoved in the same spot, when this man passed by me. A store employee had come over to ask if I was okay, bringing me back to reality again.
For that moment though, it was like my father was just here again.
Pictures are good.
Smells are better.
And voices. Oh, the voices.
It's funny that my friend and I were just talking about this issue so recently, though we were doing so in a reflective place of grief. It's funny because only a few days later, I had occasion to revisit the past again thanks to voicemail, albeit in a different way.
Earlier this week, on an afternoon that ended up not going according to plan, I was trying to get a hold of my older kids after school. They all have cell phones, so this shouldn't be so difficult, at least in theory. Of course that would require them to charge their phones, remember to turn them back on after the bell rings at the end of the day and actually answer them...a series of events that clearly is impossible to expect.
Anyway, I had called each of them more than once, never reaching any of them. I called Mini-Me's phone again. Usually she is the most likely to answer.
She still didn't answer and it went to voicemail. The outgoing message played and something registered in my head.
She said her brother's name.
Why would she say her brother's name?
It didn't make sense, so I called it back, this time out of curiosity about the message as much as out of the need to talk to her.
The line rang and rang, then the voicemail picked up. I listened intently this time.
The message wasn't one she had recorded at all.
It was him, The Oldest. It was the message he had recorded years ago when that number was still his. It was his voice. His 10 year old, pre-pubescent voice. His tiny little boy voice.
I don't even really remember him sounding like that.
These days, his voice is low and booming. The squeaks lessen with each passing day as his transition from boy to young man progresses. He's over a foot taller than he was when he recorded that message.
I have pictures of what he looked like, certainly. I can recall the subtle changes in his face as he's aged.
His voice, though, I'd forgotten.
When my husband came home from work, I told him he needed to hear something. He asked what. I told him just to listen as I dialed his youngest daughter's phone number and handed him my phone, the dial tone running in the earpiece. He was confused.
Then he heard it and the smile spread across his face, the smile that told me that he'd recognized whose voice that really was and what it really said.
We can't keep our children young, we can't stop them from growing up, and we certainly can't go back in time, but sometimes moments like this one come along unexpectedly and remind us of who they used to be. Sometimes the past can be revisited just for a little while.
When she realized what was going on, Mini Me asked if she should change the outgoing message.
Not yet, honey...not yet. Let me listen a few more times first.