You know, I have a lot of feelings about talking on the telephone. But never have they shifted more abruptly than over the past year. While its ring used to make me cower, now it makes me brighten up and run toward it.
Crazy what a 100-year pandemic will do to a girl.
First, allow me to explain. For the past 15 years, I’ve been the person whose friends know not to call unless it’s an emergency. To me, a phone call always feels like an interruption. An obligation. Work that requires me to shed my natural, introverted self and pretend to be, horror of horrors, chatty.
So I tend to stare at a ringing phone. I tend to get very quiet in its presence lest the person calling can hear that I’m not answering. And then I feel guilty. And start procrastinating about checking my voicemail.
See? Lots of feelings.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. When I was a teenager, I was nearly as in love with the telephone as I was with long-standing crush Jae Bender (who, it should be noted, never called me).
In fact, I would sit on my bed in my buttercup yellow bedroom and stare at it.
“Ring,” I would gently whisper. “Ring now.”
In its silence, I’d pet it, hunched over like Gollum.
“It’s OK. You weren’t ready. But can you ring soon? For me? Can you ring in the next minute?”
Of course, like watching water boil, that never worked.
But when it did ring? I would dive toward it like a goalie trying to stop the ball. The prospect of who might be on the other end of the line was so exciting, so promising, it was like all of life had been reduced to this one victorious pinprick of a moment: someone had chosen to call me.
I’d pick up, force myself to swallow and then casually utter my hello as if I’d been busy with my super successful social life.
It was usually my friend Bonnie or Jennifer or Molly or Sarah wanting to talk about Bonnie or Jennifer or Molly or Sarah.
But sometimes, when the moon hit right and the planets aligned, it would be a boy calling. I’m actually laughing as I type this as I think this happened to me exactly three times in my entire teenage life, but so be it.
The seven-minute conversation would be intensely boring and exciting at the same time. We’d talk about hockey. We’d talk about homework. I’d try not to talk about homework too much lest he think I was a nerd.
He’d hang up.
Then I’d call Bonnie and Jennifer and Molly and Sarah to analyze the seven-minute conversation for hours.
So, yes, at that time, my relationship with the telephone was, albeit fraught, ultimately hopeful.
Things started to change in my 20s when I finally started to accept my inner introvert. No, I didn’t want to go to a show and watch a shouting band at The Pyramid. No, I didn’t want to mingle at an art opening. (Incidentally, if you ever want to see an introvert immediately curl into a ball, mention the word “mingle.”)
Instead, I just wanted to stay at home with my cat and watch VHS.
The one highlight was when my then-boyfriend-now-husband, who lived way, far away, would call. Every day, we would chat for hours and it would be very, very delicious.
But when I moved to Kentucky, that changed. For one, I was finally with then-boyfriend-now-husband. For two, texting was invented.
Over time, I’ve discovered I’m doomed to remain at the remedial level when it comes to texting. I never notice my faulty autocorrects. I skip words all the time. And I’m painfully slow at it.
Which brings me back to 2020 and the pandemic. I think it was around June and, suddenly, my phone rang. I looked over and saw it was the beloved Julie Harris calling.
“I haven’t heard from you all week, so I thought I’d call to check in,” she said. “I think we should do that from now on.”
We had a short, spirited conversation while she was driving and I was driving. And afterward, I felt … better. Less isolated. More connected. And without any of the pain of the remedial texter.
So that’s how it started. Yes, it took a 100-year pandemic to turn things around, but suddenly I’ve found myself not only answering the phone but picking it up to make phone calls. It’s reminded me that talking on the phone is far more efficient than texting. It invites you to cover ground you would skip if you had to write about it. And there really isn’t anything like hearing someone’s voice — especially now