Monday, November 28, 2011

Hanging on the Telephone

I spend a lot of time on the phone. This has probably always been true. The nature of it has changed over the years, but at the end of the day, I still log a lot of time. I hate the phone.

When I was a kid we had a turquoise desk phone with a dial. It rang with a real bell and it was the only phone we had. We didn't have an answering machine. We had my mom. My dad booked all his jobs over the phone, so it was a commodity. Still, he wouldn't answer the phone. My mom was like the secretary. She screened. When necessary, she'd book for him. Back then, if she was on the old phone with my sister or a neighbor, my dad would listen and ask questions, and sometimes say things like I wish I knew what you were talking about. It drove him nuts not to be in on it. Later on they got a speaker phone and they took all their calls that way. You had to get used to the sound of your own voice echoing into the dining room, or saying, Can you pick up? when you had something delicate to say. A second line was also put in upstairs -- or reactivated, since it was originally my sister's -- for when we threatened to tie up the line with our own calls. This meant we could take and make our own calls. When my brother moved out, it was all mine. It was tan, and it had a dial like the one downstairs, and I think we bought it used at Ra-Lin. 

I talked to my friends on that phone. Made prank phone calls. Got prank phone calls. Called in for radio contests. For a while in college, I talked nearly every day to a guy who was in love with one of my friends. I think he was gay, and he talked only to me, and never to her, which was weird. We had a lovely relationship though. I think we talked about films and music and books. Every day. I don't remember his name anymore.

When we bought our own house, I bought a black wall phone -- used at Ra-lin -- to hang on the kitchen wall. It had a real bell and a long cord you could wrap into the living room. In some rough spots, my brother would call in the middle of the night, every night, at about 1:30. He doesn't remember them and the conversations were mostly incoherent. He would tell me stories that I think didn't happen, and then kind of fall asleep, so that I would lay the phone back in the cradle and go back to bed, hoping that he wouldn't call back in five or ten minutes. After a few weeks of this, I'd unplug the phone. It was stealth: I'd go into the kitchen right before bed, and slip the jack out. I didn't want anyone to notice my fear, or the measure I'd taken to quell it. It was easier to just unplug.

Over the years, we've had phones with Do Not Disturb buttons, which sometimes Geoff calls DNR buttons. (To which I'm like just let me die already. . . ) They go direct to voicemail. Which is ok, but not as good as unplugged.

When no one can call me nothing can go wrong. No one can call crying or yelling. No one can go to the hospital late at night, or die. I'm suspended in a no-phone zone. This is best when my brood is within arm's reach, or when we're camping. I might do ok in a bomb shelter.

I have friends who lose their phones, literally, in couch cushions or the floors of cars. Or who let their batteries run out. Who don't call you back for days, or forget. If I talked more often to my sister -- instead of mostly in crisis -- I would be less likely to think that something was terribly wrong when I do talk to her. When I do talk to her, I remember how much I enjoy it.

Now, when the phone rings at night, I still assume the worst. I'm less nervous about texting, but the buzz of my cell phone can jolt me too. I won't sleep with a phone in my bedroom, unless Kieran is spending the night somewhere, and when I do, I don't sleep very well. Because despite the phone's proximity, I'm also afraid I won't hear it. That I'll miss it. Because I'm the mom I assume full responsibility for the phone -- calls from school, calls from children. What would happen if I didn't?

I might relax. I might write more. I might miss something. Something I could fix, just by knowing about it. Just by being on the other end of the phone.

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