My mother calls me periodically to let me know who amongst our family and friends has passed (or is in immediate danger of passing) away.
The conversation generally goes something like this:
Mom: Hi. How're you?
Me: I'm good, thanks. You?
Mom (deliberate pause): I'm tired. [Insert current nemesis' name here] is putting me through all kinds of changes.
Me (because I have no response to this): Mmm.
She is not insulted. This is not what my mother called to tell me about. This is incidental, the opening band, the prelim bout.
Mom: You know that little man that used to lived across the street from us?
Me: Uh-uh. I think I'd gone away to school by the time he moved in.
Mom: Oh. Well... you'll never meet him now. They found him dead in his house this morning. (Ding! Ding! KO'd in the first round of the Title fight.)
I used to respond by not responding. I would wait, in vaguely uncomfortable silence, for my mother to change the subject. She never did. She would just go on to the next item in the report.
I then tried the obvious: "Mom, I have no idea who you're talking about." I was trying to gently tell her that I wasn't disaffected, I was just confused. I didn't know who she was talking about and so wasn't able to generate the correct emotional response. I wasn't being mean, I was being what I was - unattached to a situation that had no real bearing on me. Sure, it was sad that someone had died home, alone (or by the hand of a cousin I had, heretofore, not known existed), but it was like losing Copernicus or "Touched By An Angel" - it didn't mean anything to me.
This tack didn't work. It was like explaining to a distant relative or stranger/friend of your parents, who hasn't seen you since you were very, very small, that you honestly don't remember them and that - without regression therapy - there is no way you're going to retrieve a memory from when you were two-and-a-half and they gave you an apple and you ended up with Granny Smith all over your face and you were just so cute and you couldn't say "thank you" properly so you said "tank-ooh." And that no matter how many times they say the words, "Remember, remember?" you won't remember.
Being unaffected was not excuse enough.
I wised up and changed tactics. I started giving her the desired - nay, required - and correct acknowledgment: "Oh, Mom. That's terrible. That poor little man."
And then we could move on.
Me: So, what else is new?
Now, you have to understand, the report doesn't actually have to involve death. Terminal and/or chronic illness will do just as nicely - as will pedophilia, drug addiction and general misfortune. And by family and friends, I mean random and sundry - people who may or may not be related to me, that I may or may not have met in my current incarnation or lifetime - from my mother's pastor's sister's friend to a woman who worked three floors down from my mother in the hospital where she worked for 31 years that I never actually met, but who knew me because she saw my Junior Prom picture and commented on how nice my dress was. All said in a breathless, mournful tone meant to elicit the response, " Oh, Mom. That's terrible..." Which, of course, now, it does.
To my mother's credit, there's no actual relish in her voice. I'm not saying it doesn't exist - that there isn't a little "Ha! There's another sucker I outlived" going on inside her head - I'm just saying that if it is going on inside of her head, she has the decency to keep it out of her voice. I'm just sayin'.
Sorry, gotta go. My phone is ringing.
"Oh, hi, Mom. What's up?"