A Phone Call Throwback

I find it so hard to answer the phone. I'm guessing a lot of people do because so few people ever answer theirs. Usually I know I won't be able to talk. Petra will be whining or Wally will be asking for his hat or water or tape. Something will be about to burn on the stove. The electrician will be ringing the door bell. I'll be late for something (many things). Alex will be showing me his soccer injury and asking where I put the Icy Hot. Or if those things aren't pulling me, if I'm actually able to work for a few minutes straight, then I have to do that. So why answer the phone only to tell the person sorry can't talk now. Or if it's someone you haven't spoken to in a long time and major life events have taken place since you last talked then you definitely can't answer with sorry I can't talk right now. But not answering sets off a whole irritating back and forth of voicemails and phone tags and losing the urgency of what you were going to say then when you do "catch up" it just feels like a rote thing.

But last night walking home in the evening with Wally near his bedtime I had had a glass of wine so things were a little blurrier and the night felt more open and when my phone rang I answered it. I just answered it. It felt almost like a rebellious act. 

I thought it was my friend Morning calling but it was her daughter conducting a survey for school. She asked in an incredibly grown up way what dish I was most looking forward to for Thanksgiving and I told her stuffing of course remembering my nieces conducting this same survey a few years back and giving the same answer. She thanked me most politely and Morning shouted from the background that we'd talk another time and that was it. We said goodbye. I was so glad I hadn't let it go to voicemail like I normally would have. So happy for the glass of wine and the anything is possible feeling you can't help but have walking home at night in New York. 

Today Morning wrote to thank me and a few others for participating. I told her how much I liked it, how something about it was so old-fashioned and part of what she wrote back was this: "I ended up loving it. At first it was a little onerous, particularly when nobody answered and I was worried about getting the assignment done, and then you answered and laughed and it was beautiful to hear this little girl calling an adult and then to hear the adult laugh. It was like a lost time. And there is something so wonderful about hearing people's voices that can't be replaced by social media..." 

I suppose years ago the slow living community might have viewed the phone call as too fast a mode of communication, preferring letters or at least a message sent along on a galloping horse. And it's true it interrupts the moment. But now the answered phone call without the default "I gotta call you back" feels like a throwback to a slower time. How charmingly vintage, for a child to call someone up and ask a question. And to have them answer. To hang up and be done. Without the voicemail or promise to call back there is no further obligation. It is not one more thing on the To Do list, weighing you down, demanding attention. It feels like living in real time.

As it turns out we did go on to discuss the phone call via email. And now I'm writing about it here, on a blog. So the experience had been mediated through various forms of social media. The charmingly simple phone call can't just be what it is. But already at the time it felt like more than it was. Because we so often don't expect a real connection now, and when it happens, it gives us pause. And LOL or a smiley face or "Ha!" are just terrible substitutes for someone laughing. Reading an email dictated by a kindergartener to a parent is just so not the same as hearing a five-year-old talk. 

How Morning described it, that's exactly how it felt, like a lost time. A Relic. (Ignore the fact that I answered a cell phone mid-walk. For the story to fully satisfy its metaphorical castings it should have been a landline.) If I had gotten the message and called Morning's daughter back in time for her assignment maybe that would have worked too but what elevated the moment was the fact that she called me and reached me, the girl in her pajamas in her living room, that her mom--my friend Morning--heard me laugh, that here in New York I heard the fleeting five-year-old voice of a little girl in Virginia.


  1. The Interview. That wonderful, intergenerational rite of passage.

  2. I really love your writing, and get excited when I see a new post from you. thank you! and I think i'm gonna get crazy and start answering my phone when it rings. :)

  3. Morning is a great name, isn't it? And that was before everyone had clever non-names for names. True Hawkeye re: the interview being an intergenerational rite of passage. I remember interviewing grandparents and even a distant cousin (WWII vet).

    holly - thank you! that means so much to hear that. really.


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