The voice across the line
A couple of friends have recently told me that I need to talk about my problems. All the childhood madness, all the fears, all the things that cripple me emotionally. If I talk about these things, then they’ll have no power over me.
In fact, more friends tell me that I need to stop talking so much about my problems. That’s always the nature of friend advice, isn’t it? For every one that says X there’s one that says, oh, fuck no, you want Y. Great! That’s helpful.
I do find, though, that all this blathering about problems does dispel the power of the issues in question, and is tremendously therapeutic – every article, every blog post, every whatever. It’s worrisome to think that some of these issues are so huge that I need to spend, apparently, a lifetime dispelling them. But, then, I’ve already spent a lifetime in intense physical pain and have a childhood full of really awful things. While you were on a swing, I was sandwiched between the wall and the back of the couch hoping that I would turn to dust and vanish forever from the world.
One issue has recently come to a head. I have this phone phobia thing. I blame most of it on 15 years of phone service, dealing with impossibly evil customers.
Case in point. It’s 3am right now. I woke up, sweating, shaking, heart thumping from a dream. What was the dream? I was in my grandparent’s basement – a long ago time in a house long gone – and the phone rings. It’s my grandmother, calling from the kitchen upstairs. Weird. But, she says, “I’d like to place an order,” and I find myself trapped. I find myself stuck in a phone tree, all smiles, taking an impossibly complicated, 30 minute order for home delivered frozen food with a troubled customer, changing her mind, talking over me, second guessing herself, carping about how long it takes to make the order, and so on. I end the call and sit in that crowded, humid, dark basement and cry because now I’ll have to figure out a way to make the customer happy. I’ll have to get these food items to her. So I set off, far and wide, looking for the company that she was trying to call so that I can place the order for her. I call and I call, wait and wait, and finally I wake up.
I have phone service dreams that verge on night terrors on a regular basis. I’m not back asleep now because, once I have a phone service dream, I know that more are coming. This will now start a bout of insomnia for the next week, all for fear of dreaming about receiving a phone call.
It’s been seven months since I last had a phone service job, and yet I still feel like, if I ever had to go back to the phones, I’d rather kill myself. Simple things like planning a phone call – “I’ll give you a ring Friday!” – fill me with fear. I’ll spend the whole week dreading Friday. I’ll try to avoid the call. I’ll “lose” my phone till Saturday morning, or purposely get myself into a non phone call situation. I’ve even gone to the occasional mass to avoid a scheduled phone call.
The phone thing is one of those things people don’t understand. Probably because it’s fucking crazy. And it goes deeper (to be honest) than a bad phone service job. My mom feared the phone. We’d sit and let it ring and ring and ring back in those days of no answering machines when the phone would ring until you fucking hung up. Mom’s wild paranoia of the phone would take the form of an almost Hitchcockian-style freak-out as we’d fall into silence, mute the TV, and rock back and forth as the phone rang six, seven, twelve, seventeen, twenty-one times….
I have those dreams, too, sometimes. Sitting with mom as the phone rings and rings, elongated into dreamtime to feel like it’s ringing all night, mom’s panic ever-palpable.
Once, when I was young, I did answer the phone. Mom was incapacitated, as we say in our family of alcoholics, and I was fed up with the eternal ringing. It was a man. He knew my name, and he asked what I was doing. I said I was doing nothing. Then he proceeded to describe, in perfect detail, where I was standing and what I was wearing. I spun around and closed the curtains against the blank nighttime windows and he said, “And now you’ve just closed the curtains.”
I woke up mom and told her this, and she flew into a rage…Never! Never, never, never answer the phone!
Because they really are out there. The night creatures of my dreams. They really are on the other end of the line. Or it’s bad news. There’s that element of the phone, as well. I believe it to be, all this phobia aside, the worst invention ever made. Now the bad news travels as fast as the touch of a button. A beautiful day cut into splinters with the harsh ringing of the phone and the voice on the other end. The cops telling you your loved one is dead, the friend telling you they’ve lost a loved one, the reporting of incidents and accidents. Why else call but to talk about how so and so lost their toe in a lawn mower accident and ha-ha, we should get a drink sometime because Edgar’s doing poorly, it’s probably the stomach cancer again. Tiddly-ho! What are you doing Friday?
I tolerated such things for a long time because I had to. But, today, 2012… I don’t have to. And, frankly, I’m a bit curious about the motivations of people who feel the need to hear my voice at regular intervals. Texting is too hard for you? An email doesn’t work? Hell, write a letter. Because – and here’s the horrible thing – if it isn’t some tragedy, then there’s nothing really to talk about, is there? My friends are all white upper-middle class Americans. What you do today? Oh, well… Got a new HD TV. Mowed the lawn. Laptop died. What kind do you have again? I was thinking about moving all my DVR’s to an external harddrive. Hard shopping for that on Amazon, though. Who do you believe in the reviews? Molly says hi. Mom and dad are doing well. Hey, remember that rocking chair? Yeah, it broke.
AAAHHH!!!! Sometimes I hope for tragedy. Here I’ve had to stop everything and sit and talk about how everything’s fine, really. I’m happy everything’s fine but, really, I’ve got shit to do. I have to go yell at book designers, and fret over covers, and edit authors into the ground, and yell at printers, and obsessively check sales figures, and endlessly crunch company numbers like Scrooge. I have to get writing done – hard enough even now at 3am and the dead night world all around me. I have to decompress. Even though that is something I never do.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends. I just hate the phone. The phone should be a tool and nothing more.
I envy my uncle. He got rid of his landline and he downgraded his phone to an old school flip-phone circa 1999, which he keeps in a drawer at home. But, like me, he’s sitting in front of email all day. I have 15 active email accounts. They’re all up right now, they’re all up at work, they’re always up. There is no point in the day where it takes longer than 5 minutes for me to answer your email. That, in itself, may be sad to some…but it’s a dream for a phone-phobic.
And I have the smartphone nonsense going on, so the same goes for texts, and chatting. I am never far from you, my friends. And, don’t worry, if some crazy stupid shit happens, it’ll show up right here eventually. Or you can join the forums and live and breathe my life on a minute-by-minute basis. Every twitch, every murmur documented.
Overall…I’m very boring. I’m surprised my friends can tolerate me without wanting to vomit. What happened today, Nacho? Well, I watched 9 hours of Stargate while editing some book I’m planning to reprint (so, like, that only takes an IQ of 40) and avoiding my boss. Then I crept home on the Metro. Then I ate something bland and unexciting and continued watching Stargate while editing a book and avoiding my neighbors. Then I slept. Oh! And I had a dream about talking on the phone and woke up crying at 3am. Then I had some oatmeal and watched Stargate and edited a book until it was time to go to work…