A Year in the Life, Week 49: The Telephone

This week’s prompt from A Year in the Life was to write about the telephone. Seriously. The entry is supposed to start, “THE TELEPHONE …”

Fortunately, I have very strong feelings about telephones, so this entry was easy for me.

Photo credit: Jmak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ericsson_1939.jpg

The telephone is the Great Disrupter.

My relationship with the telephone started its steady decline when I was in middle school. In elementary, I had my two best friends’ phone numbers memorized, and I spent hours on the phone with them, laughing and playing phone games. I guess at age 9 the awkward silence is non-existent, and I think those phone conversations made me feel grown up. My older sister, a teenager at the time, was often on the phone absorbed by gossip, and for my mom, a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, the phone was still her primary form of socialization. Perhaps I was in that very short period of my life when I connected more with my peers than my family, my older sister too cool to give me the time of day, my younger one still in preschool and only a fallback plan for companionship.

I began to withdrawn in middle school mainly because I was hesitant to grow up–I found the worlds of play and imagination too precious to leave behind. The older I got, the more I kept this secret, until nothing made me as happy as staying home, unburdened by societal expectations, and making up elaborate stories with my dolls and my younger sister, who had become my preferred companion.

During that time, the phone was an unwelcome intrusion from the “outside world,” taking me away from the only place I wanted to be, and stealing from me those precious minutes and hours of childhood that were already slipping away from me much too fast. I was overcome with dread when Mom or Dad would open the door to the upstairs and call to me that the phone was for me, and I hated having to think of things to talk about when all I wanted was to retreat into my own mind; keeping up a conversation was just so much work. I already gave over too much of my life to what the outside world expected of me–I hated that it could follow me home, too.

I came to a brief truce with the phone when it allowed me to hear my pen pals’ voices and develop a more complete and real idea of all those people “out there” who were like me. I’d always get off one of those calls with a little bit of euphoria, the excitement of being, at last, understood. But I think my feelings about even those calls would have turned to dread if they became frequent.

I had a couple friends who went through really hard transitions in high school, and I am glad that they felt they could call me. I was fully present for those calls, sitting in the stairwell gripping the phone to my ears, listening to the sobs or the soft quavery voices of friends facing their parents’ divorces, moving, or suicidal thoughts. I told these friends to call me if they needed to, and although I felt that initial moment of resistance, in the end I was glad they did. I did understand that some things were more important than retreating into my fantasies.

By the time I was in college and beyond, I’d come to accept my reluctance to use the phone, and I would tell people upfront that I didn’t like talking that way. That, and the advent of the Internet, made it so I hardly ever had to talk on the phone–and then I withdrew from the full-time 9-5 work world and cut down my phone interaction even further. Now, I almost feel a sense of anxiety about communicating by phone, and I use it only as a last resort. Even when I was in a long-distance relationship with Ivan I didn’t like talking on the phone, and I’m so glad our relationship no longer relies on those interactions. Because I did do it, two or three times a week, because I recognized that maintaining frequent communication was important to building our relationship. Sometimes we would hit a good rapport and I enjoyed it, lying in the dark in my bed with Ivan’s voice in my ear. (One of the reasons I knew I was falling in love with him was that just the sound of his voice on the phone made me happy.) I even pushed myself to call him if I went too long without hearing from him, and answering whenever he called (rather than letting it go to voicemail and calling back when I felt “ready”) was a huge part of opening my heart to him and letting him into my life. And now that we’re married and there is less pressure around those phone calls, when there’s less pressure for “quality time” because we have “quantity time,” a phone call from Ivan is never a disruption–it’s welcome, it’s seamless, because his presence is totally integrated into my life, because he is now part of that safe place, that retreat, that I once held only in my mind.

The list of people for whom I feel not even the slightest resistance in picking up the phone for is short and pretty much limited to my family, to the people I feel totally comfortable being myself with, to whom I can say, “Well, I don’t really have anything else to talk about,” rather than having to come up with some excuse when the conversation grows stagnant.

Caller ID has made my relationship with the phone less tumultuous. If I don’t recognize the number, I send it to voicemail, the call back when I’m ready. I used to feel guilty about intentionally ignoring the phone, but I don’t anymore. As an introvert, I need my time at home and my time alone to be emotionally healthy. A phone call is an intrusion to which I did not consent, and I have a right to say no to that. And I do, guilt-free.

And now, I’m going to call my mom! (She makes the “short-list ;)).