How Voice Mail Messages Saved My Life

My cousin left this message for me three months into my freshman 12 months of school. His Chicago accent was so thick that I needed to replay it a number of instances: Aye cuz, reply yo telephone, he stated. I talked to my mother, she instructed me you’re on the market doing yo thang. We had been children strolling via Hyde Park, dreaming about every part we needed to do, and also you down there making it occur. I’m actually pleased with you cuz. I really like you cuz, keep true to your self. You’re my motivation.

Voice mail has gotten a foul rep. Antiquated and annoying, it might probably simply be ignored and take up an excessive amount of telephone storage and is a problem if you happen to occur to have a long-winded relative; most of us have all however deserted it in favor of extra instantaneous connections. However I didn’t notice what a trove my inbox had change into till that day.

My cousin’s voice jogged my memory of strolling down 53rd Road, consuming Flamin’ Sizzling Cheetos soaked in melted nacho cheese as sweat dripped down our backs. And days spent wandering round Powell’s Books after grabbing catfish nuggets soaked in lemon pepper from J&J Fish and Rooster. His phrases — “I’m really proud of you” and “You’re my motivation” — reverberated inside my head.

A couple of months earlier than I acquired that message, I moved to Wellesley, Mass., to pursue a bachelor’s diploma in Africana research. What the admissions workplace, my mama and everybody else didn’t know was that I used to be operating away from a metropolis that had the identical cadence as my cousin’s voice. Folks at all times joke that us Black folks from Chicago are simply Mississippians in coats, and residing in Massachusetts pressured me to reckon with my very own demons and the sensation that someway I used to be residing on borrowed time due to my deteriorating psychological well being. I couldn’t convey myself to carry a dialog with anybody for longer than 5 seconds, and I used to be satisfied that if the individuals I cherished knew what I used to be coping with on the within, it could someway persuade them to like me much less, inadvertently making me love me much less. So I fled. And though I intentionally selected to go away Chicago, I couldn’t shake the shock and unease that got here with studying one other metropolis’s sound. I felt so distant from every part and everybody I knew.

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My thoughts went to locations so darkish that I discovered it arduous to sleep at night time, and I coped with medicine and alcohol. All of the whereas, I pushed away the individuals I really like essentially the most. Quickly they began to go away me messages that principally went untouched, somewhat blue dot sitting subsequent to every one as they piled up in my telephone, ready to be tapped.

There have been 50-second messages from my sister, singing R.&B. songs off key.

I don’t know why I used to be compelled to hearken to my cousin’s message once I lastly did — why I tapped on his blue dot over anybody else’s. However after I did, after his voice linked me to a youthful, generally happier model of myself, I made a decision to maintain listening.

There have been 10-second notes from my daddy, generally telling me in regards to the oxtail he was cooking for dinner in his thick Canton, Miss., accent, different instances merely checking in: I really like you my stunning child daughter. It’s yo daddy. Discuss to you later. Bye bye. The one-minute messages from my mama, asking her God to guard me from the wrath of despair, fearful that her youngest baby would someway slip via her fingers: Good morning, stunning, at the moment shall be an superior day, she stated. God’s providing you with one other day to maintain going — let nothing stand in your manner. The whole lot you want you’ll have! I’m claiming it within the mighty identify of Jesus! There have been the 50-second messages from my sister, singing R.&B. songs off key to place a smile on my face, and 30-second solicitations from my nieces and nephews begging for $20.

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The messages did what my household had hoped: They allowed me to slowly climb out of my state of gloom and self-imposed isolation. Each time I hearken to them, I’m transported again to Chicago — to my mama’s heat embrace, to late nights blasting Chief Keef’s “Almighty So” as we rode down Lake Shore Drive and to my homies’ rambling tales. Now I hoard my voice mail like little items of gold.

Not too long ago, I’ve begun doing one thing maybe much more old-school than leaving these messages within the first place: I began copying them onto CDs that I preserve tucked away in a secure. The final notice that I saved was one left to me by my grandma a number of weeks earlier than she died of Covid. In it, she requested me to FaceTime her in order that she may present me her new hair shade, saying that it made her look 25. As I processed my anger and disappointment towards a life lower quick, I listened to her message time and again, reveling in the best way her giggle made me really feel, listening to her say, Heyyyy, Renny Pooh.

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I shared the message with members of the family who, like me, had a tough time accepting the truth that she was all of the sudden gone endlessly.

However these recordings are infinite. I’ve an archive of eternal audio that enables me to expertise no matter reminiscence I would like, as many instances as I need to. My family members’ voices will at all times be with me. Able to be tapped on. Able to make sure that I’m by no means alone. On and on.