Friday, December 28, 2007

"I pick up phones to hear my history. I think of all the calls I've missed."

Growing up, one of the things that stuck with me was the later in the day a phone call came, the less likely it was to be good news. In my family growing up, we knew better than to phone home after 8 PM, no matter what, and no matter where we were.

At 55, I am, I suppose, all the adult I am ever going to be.
The growing old part worked far too well and the growing up part didn't seem to work at all. I still get nervous going into a darkened room and will search out the light switch even if I'm only passing through. And phone calls now? Even with, or perhaps especially because of, caller ID, when the phone rings in the evening, I am always startled (maybe wary is a better word). The phones we have take two rings to show me the number and name of the caller (and a voice chip somehow 'reads' this information and offers me an audio attempt at a name, sometimes to great comic effect), and I stand, transfixed, watching that little display.

Despite 'do not call' registrations, I get a lot of callers from folks who technically don't want to sell me anything, which is prohibited by the registry, but rather only want to take a few minutes of my time for a survey on a multitude of issues, services and products which, many times, always seem to end in what sounds suspiciously like a sales pitch. All of these morons I can handle and do, with a tad more relish and enjoyment than I really should have, truth be told.

When I see the name and number of my son or daughter in the display, however, my bravado evaporates and I start making horror movies in my head. I mutter 'please don't be anything bad' at least three hundred kajillion times between the second ring, which displays their name, and the third ring that never comes because I answer the phone. Both of them think it's cute their old man breaks out in cold sweats when they call him after dark--if my wife answers the phone, I pace and fret within eyesight and earshot, lest she forget to tell me of a cataclysmic catastrophe that has befallen one of them.

When we brought them home from the hospital, and they still had that 'new baby smell', I used to sit in a corner of their room and watch them sleep. I was fascinated by their breathing and with any and every movement they made while in their crib. I had no need of television-I had found my must-see and did so many times, for many hours, as they grew up.

As an adult, I can understand and internalize the realization that I cannot protect my children, who are in fact, adults, themselves now, from every evil and misfortune in the world, but when the day gets dark and the phone rings at night, my inner grown-up is nowhere to be found. And all the me that's left can do is stare at the ringing phone and hope the monster under the bed has gone away by the time I answer it.
-bill kenny

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