Friday, July 24, 2009

Phone Phobia

Anyone in my family could tell you that I've never been a big fan of telephonic communication. Who knows how these things start. At my age I'm too old to go back and try to reconstruct when it started. However, I do not remember the phone being a critical component of my teenage existence...and I was a teen WAY before we had all these great online tools that allowed for nearly complete phone avoidance. I did not even have a cell phone until I started dating Eric, which means it would have been about 2003. I simply refused to get one, using the argument that I didn't WANT people to always be able to reach me. Eventually I conceded to allowing Eric to be able to reach me whenever he wanted, and got the darned phone. It turned out that it was a much more cost-effective method of communicating with my west-coast-based family as well. There were certainly more people in my contact list than just my family at the point that Eric died, but I really only used my cell regularly to talk to Eric.

I've always found cell phones inherently creepy. People pretty much have them with them all the time. So if they ring, there are limited excuses for them not to be answered

(1) The person is already on the phone. I could digress and share my luddite-ish opinion of call waiting, but we'll just leave that be for now. I'll simply allow that my opinion on call waiting led to several marital spats that never ended pleasantly.

(2) The person could just not be able to take any calls at the moment. This is self-explanatory, and happens to all of us all the time. We know when we can't take a call, even if the person on the other end is in the dark. Unfortunately, the in-the-darkness of the calling party leaves another, quite horrible, third alternative:

(3) The person could answer the phone, in fact would answer the phone, except for the fact that they simply don't want to talk to YOU. I hate not picking up the phone because I'm avoiding a specific person, but admit to having done it and feeling actual GUILT about it. I also hate the potential that every time I make a cell phone call, someone else could be making exactly the same judgment call about me.

This was the situation on March 27, 2009. Then Eric died, and that took my phone phobia all the way up to eleven.

Technically, I found out that Eric was dead over the phone. When Eric was late getting home from a day trip to his father's property in Indiana, I called his brother to ask if he'd check the woods to see if Eric was still there. I warned him that Eric had threatened suicide and I was worried. Cary's wife stayed on the phone with me so she could "let me know everything was OK" right away. At some point, as we chatted, she said something that amounted to "I've got to go..." and I knew. I knew before Eric's other brother, Gary, and his wife showed up at my door in tears. They were the ones who actually told me Eric was dead, but it wasn't new news at that point. So is it any wonder that I'm not overly enthusiastic about talking on the phone right now?

Right after Eric died, a lot of people wanted to reach out to me, just to make sure I was OK. I was completely overwhelmed, and generally not interested to talking to anyone who wasn't right there with me at the time. I was surrounded by family and I let them answer the phone. There were a couple of times when they informed me I really needed to take the call: when Jack Hannah called because of Eric's connection with the Columbus Zoo and when the executive director of my library system called, for example. Essentially I was in a constant state of not-taking-calls (see #2, above). This was a temporary thing, but it lasted for several weeks. Gradually, I started answering the phone again when I felt like it, and didn't when I didn't. I didn't always return calls. I admit I was rude. People who care about me will forgive me, those who don't care about me enough to forgive me for that lapse of etiquette can suck it.

On my first day back to work, I got in my car, ready to head home, and started crying. I didn't have anyone to call to tell I was on my way. I called my friend Molly instead. It helped, but there's still a void at those times when the cel phone would really be a useful tool: at the grocery store when trying to remember if there's still an onion in the fridge, when trying to figure out if there's anything that you need to pick up on the way home, etc. All those times are opportunities for me to remember Eric. Increasingly, that's a good thing.

My problem with the phone is diminishing daily, but since I've never liked using my phone very much, I've come to rely on the thing more for texting than actual voice communication. I have all the same anti-phone feelings I had before...but there's one much bigger one that I realize has begun to emerge. There is something very intimate about being able to talk to someone wherever they are, whenever you want to. In the loneliness of recent widowhood, that level of intimacy isn't the least little bit comfortable most of the time. This has nothing to do with relationship-y single-girl awkwardness...I'm not even there yet. I'm in a household of one again, and there are blessed few people I feel comfortable enough with to intrude on their lives whenever I feel lonely.

So, understand, friends, that my relationship with my phone is complex at the moment. If I don't answer the phone when you call, it could be any of the three reasons listed above, and I'm going to avoid feeling apologetic if it's number three (but if you're reading this, it probably isn't)! If I don't call you, it's not personal, it “just is.” Like I “just am.” Welcome to my life, the primary occupation of which is daily trying to get to a level of neurosis more in keeping with my pre-3-27 levels.


  1. Love love your writting. makes me miss you. love -a

  2. March 27th is the day my Dad died, only one year earlier. I hope you don't mind that I am making this comment from my phone.

  3. Ow, you captured it -- very true. Don't you also feel you have license to not pick up? I mean, HELL.

    We also had a long period of heavy phone use while he was ill. It was where I got to hear him telling people how great things were going. I could take his pulse to find out how much I was expected to lie in his presence.

    I still have phone issues 3 years out. Although, dating and discovering sexy texting did help the dang devices get a little of their groove back.