My aunt’s number wasn’t in my list of “favourites” anymore, but it was still in my contacts. Alone in my parents' garage, I sat cross-legged on the sticky dark green vinyl of a chair with loose wooden legs and went through a routine I’ve practised dozens of times over the last few months. I touched "Aunt Kelly" on the screen and waited for a robotic voice to say, "This number has been disconnected.”
My family still couldn't talk about her death out loud, but I needed a reminder she was really gone.
The automated recording had become something I could count on. Or so I thought. As I waited for it, with my phone in one hand and a sweating Coors Light in the other, I barely noticed when the call went through instead to an unfamiliar voice.
This is how I met Shawn, the man who took my aunt’s number. Eventually, Shawn would become a vessel for my hope and longing. But that day in the garage, he was just a voice I heard on the other end.
The night my aunt died, my phone buzzed over and over again, wobbling on the Ikea nightstand beside my bed. I rolled over and saw "Johnny Kash," a play on my stepdad’s name, on the screen.
It was the 4th of July, and I didn’t want to do anything for the holiday — I hated fireworks even back then. But in the middle of DC, outside of my apartment building, the city was celebrating. I figured my parents were calling because they were too.