Today, I finally got around to programming my uncle’s cell phone number into my cell phone’s memory. He let me know that his old home number is now defunct. Well, not defunct, because it will eventually be reassigned to someone else living in the vicinity of his home. But for my purposes, it’s defunct.
And that’s weird. Because for many years, my uncle has lived with my grandma—the only grandparent I can clearly recall: Ma-Ma. The spitfire who almost made it to 100. Perhaps you’ll recall my mentioning her previously. For as many years as I’ve been able to use the telephone by myself, I’ve had reason to dial xxx-xxx-3547. That was Ma-Ma’s and my uncle’s number. It’s ingrained on my brain. Even recently, when I haven’t called it as much, I knew it by heart and it lived on the cell phone under Ma-Ma’s ID.
And now, even if I leave it programmed into my phone (which I did), I’ll never actually dial it. It's no longer my uncle’s number—and of course, it’s no longer my grandma’s number. It hasn’t been. And now, it will belong to a stranger.
It made me think about how I store all those old numbers from my past in a special place, where time never passes, where information and settings remain stagnant. My old phone numbers and old street addresses, for example: now they’re the facts of someone else’s life. My past apartments themselves fall into this stagnant-memory category, too: when I imagine them, they’re either full of my stuff or completely empty. No one else can dwell there; that would be a violation of sorts. My old college apartment, my first real independent home? I was horrified when I returned for a visit and saw, upon passing the ancient structure, that someone had begun to paint it red instead of the Pepto pink it sported when I was a resident. How dare they? How could they paint “my” house red?
All those numbers and places, no longer important and precious to me, now in someone else’s wallet, cell phone, or address book. Even our prior house has slipped into this category: I keep in touch with an old next-door neighbor, and I’ve learned to not even glance at our old place when I’m visiting her. It’s too disappointing; the new folks have let it go. It needs care, and love, and attention, and it’s not getting any of those things. I can only imagine what they’ve done to the inside, to our pretty floor that Todd installed himself, to the cheery paint colors we chose. I can’t think about it. The old neighbor told me they keep birds in the living room. BIRDS. In MY living room. The nerve.
And I will certainly never glance at the windows of Ma-Ma’s old apartment when I happen to be passing. I don’t think I could bear to see someone else’s curtains hanging in her place. I don’t want to see that she’s not sitting there, sheers pushed aside, looking out.
I wonder who would answer if I called that old phone number.