I don't know what started it, this admittedly morbid habit of mine.
I'm sure if one were to go back (please, dear God, don't) and read the many earnest and angst-ridden journal entries written in my speckled composition books circa 1999-2003, there wouldn't be any hint that I would be doing this.
But here I am.
"You have five saved messages. Saved message."
"Hi Tomi. Gobble gobble gobble. I hope you're enjoying your Turkey Day. I know you're at work. Don't eat too much gobble gobble gobble! Have a nice gobble gobble gobble day! (laughs) Ok, sweetie. Love you, Mom."
And there she is.
Her voice is bright and sing-songy, with the easy happiness of a child who knows nothing of being a 59-year-old woman working insane hours at two nursing homes while being a wife and a mother to three kids. There's a contented sigh at the end of her laughter. Her Nigerian accent (which seems strongest in the middle of words or when she's pronouncing her long Os) -- and the way she ends messages with "Smooches!" or "Love, Mom" like she's writing a letter -- instantly brings a smile to my face.
When prompted I press 9 to save her months-old message. And I press 9 again when I hear my dad's voice on the phone (his messages always begin with a slowly drawled "Hey T"). And again when my mom calls to hum a few bars of a Lady Antebellum song that she wanted me to hear and take comfort in the fact that one day I'll find a boyfriend. (Thanks, Mom.) And again when my dad -- whose messages show the economy of a well-written tweet inquiring into my safety -- leaves a particularly long message.
And I'll keep pressing 9. Because sometime between the last entry in those journals and when I stopped thinking of our split-level in Kansas City as home, my parents became real people. Real people who weren't trying to ruin my life but who were actually -- gasp! -- pretty amazing friends.
Friends who I'm starting to notice are getting older with each one of our weekly phone conversations.
"Old age ain't for punks," my dad will laugh after unleashing a world-weary sigh or a hacking cough.
They're also friends who I know won't be a phone call away one day. I can't even begin to process what I will be like when that day comes (and it's definitely when -- the days of "if" were left behind with those old journals). So I'm doing what my dad regularly says during our phone calls: I'm appreciating my loved ones now while they're still here, and not when they're long gone, when they've become nothing more than memories.
So I call. I plan visits. And I press 9.