“If you want to talk to me you have to call between winks.”
“I’m sleeping all the time. Twenty winks.”
“Winks. You’re catching 40 winks.”
“So call me later when I’m awake. When I’m not winking.”
* * *
Which I did.
“Did I wake you?”
“No the phone did.”
“That was me.”
“You? I heard the telephone. Not you.”
“That was me calling. So the phone rang and . . .”
“I know. I was sleeping. And it woke me. Not you.”
* * *
When I called again, she said, “I’m such a baby.”
“A baby? Is there something frightening you?”
“But, I’m such a baby. All I do is sleep.”
“That’s not true. You nap.”
“Nap, schnap, I sleep. I’m turning into a baby again. They sleep all the time. And do other things I don’t do . . . Yet.” She chuckled.
“You watch the news, read the paper, do the puzzle, join friends for breakfast and dinner, and . . .”
“Sleep all the time.”
“Nap all the time,” I muttered under my breath and said, “You are after all more than 106-years-old. And you do need your rest and . . .”
She trailed off, breathing heavily.
* * *
“While I’m between winks I have something to say.” It is rare now for her to initiate calls.
Is there something wrong I feared?
“I know this is upsetting you,” even on the phone, at 106 she can still read my mind and emotions.
I lied, “Not at all. I love hearing from you. It’s just . . .” I couldn’t hide my anxiety.
“Just that I never call any more. I’m so mixed up by what day it is.”
I wasn’t sure what that had to do with calling.
“I used to call you religiously every Sunday at 12:00. When I say religiously, I don’t mean . . .” She was breathing heavily.
“I know you don’t,” I jumped in, not wanting to tax her—it is now unusual for her to be able to sustain a conversation of more than five minutes. A few back and forths. Actually, with me doing most of the talking, which is easier on her.
But this time, with considerable effort, she pushed ahead.
“I know you are wondering what is keeping me alive.”
“Not really. I know that . . .”
“I’m too old and too smart for you not to tell me the truth.”
“I’m not. I’m . . .”
“Stop interrupting. At my age, this could be the last thing I ever say to you.”
“That can’t . . .”
“Yes it can. So just sit still.”
“We’ve talked about why I got to be this old and you told me it’s because of my IRA.”
“DNA, though your IRA doesn’t hurt.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about that. DNA, IRA they’re all the same to me.”
“In terms of the quality of your life that’s probably true. But you’re fortunate to have both.”
“Who’s doing the talking? Me or you?”
“Worrying is what keeps me going.”
“About everyone and then the rest of the world.”
“I . . .”
“You know how I always ask you about the young people in the family?”
“How I am the last one?” I knew she meant of her generation and, now, more and more, even of the next one as her nieces and nephews are aging and . . .
“I worry about them and need to know they will be all right after.”
I held back from asking what she meant about after. I knew.
“And then I worry about what Mama and Poppa will say.” Her parents died nearly 70 years ago.
“Will say?” I was having difficulty not responding.
“What they’ll ask when we are together again. If I took good care of everyone. As the last. As they want me to.”
“I am certain they . . .”
“You don’t know them like I do. So I am not so certain.”
“We can disagree about . . .”
“And I also worry about the world. Not just the Jews. Though about them I am most concerned They are not doing the right thing.”
“The right thing?”
“For themselves and their neighbors who have been there for thousands of year. My Poppa always says that it is the responsibility of the strong to show understanding and compassion. Not to make it worse for those who are weak and suffering. Shouldn’t we Jews especially have learned that lesson? After so long being weak and suffering?”
“About this we do agree.”
“So I read, I watch Wolf on CNN, I listen to the girls at dinner, and I know it is not yet time for me to go.”
“I am happy that . . .”
“But I am not happy. I am not happy living this way where I can’t do things for myself. And I am unhappy at what I see. Not with the family. Though I worry about this one and that one I know they are secure and either can take care of themselves or are being helped. This is what to me family means.” She took a deep, raspy breath.
“I am unhappy with what I see in the world,” she said, “Russia. Iraq. Syria, Lydia.”
“Lib-ya, yes, thank you.”
“You are not responsible for any of this. I keep encouraging you not to spend so much time watching the news. It upsets you.”
“What else do I have to do with my remaining time?”
“I understand. Though I have urged you not to dwell on all these troubling things, to do so is who you are. And, I’m sure you’re right, worrying, being concerned about everyone and everything has helped keep you going.”
“Where am I going?”
I chose to not respond since I did not have a good answer for either her or myself. Instead I said, “You can report about all of this to your parents when the time comes.”
“It is coming. But I try every day to live. There is still so much more . . .”