My in-laws were visiting Boise, driving my husband and I to a restaurant so we could eat dinner and catch up. I often forget to leave my phone ringer on, because I get in the habit of silencing it at work, but on this particular evening it was on. And when it rang, I saw the call was from my mother and only hesitated a moment before answering.

She had called to ask me what my phone number was.

Not some other phone number, like a home phone or work phone. The phone number that she had just called.

I was taken aback by her request and had to repeat it enough times that everyone in the car realized what she was asking (no one ever figured out why). When I got off the phone with her, we all had a good laugh.

There’s really no other option. My in-laws understood that my mom has problems with memory and common sense; the laughter wasn’t malicious. It was the kind of laugh that stops you from thinking about things that would otherwise make you cry.

The other night, she called me again – only this time, she didn’t mean to. And in the days following, I found myself relaying the conversation we had to several people in social situations. Because I found it highly amusing. The conversation went pretty much like this:

“Hello?” I said.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello?” she said. “Who is this?”
“Whoever you called.”
She laughed.
“I don’t know who I called. That’s why I asked. I was trying to get Peter, but I guess I didn’t.”
“Well, you came close. You got his daughter. How are you, Mom?” I said.

When she asked who it was, I could have just answered her straight. I mean, I did know who she had called. A part of me thought she would recognize my voice if I just kept talking long enough. But I also wanted to make a joke of it. A funny story to tell myself so I wouldn’t cry on the phone when she ultimately couldn’t recognize my voice.

I prefer to laugh at these things, to repurpose tragedy into comedy as a coping mechanism. It helps that my mom is a pretty good comedic audience, by which I mean it’s really easy to make her laugh. The words don’t even need to be a joke as long as the tone is right.

She laughs. I laugh. I tell the story enough times to make it more a story than something that actually happened. It’s just a funny story, a tale, a legend, distant and unconnected to my life except by laughter.

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