Rediscovering the Telephone

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked on the phone. I mean really talked on the phone. While at one time in my life, a ringing phone sounded an invitation, quite a while ago it morphed into an intrusion. In high school, I logged hundreds of hours with a phone receiver to my ear. My close friends and I would check in nearly each night as we sat in our rooms doing our homework. And unbeknownst to my parents, my boyfriend and I spent whole nights whispering to each other from our beds.

I got out of the phone habit in college, a pre-cellphone era, where each floor in the dorms offered a single telephone for every twenty young women. For those four years, I phoned my parents once a week, each Sunday, and calls with my high school boyfriend were limited to arrangements about when and where we would meet.

After college, working in Manhattan, then attending graduate school, the telephone became essential for keeping in touch with far-flung high school and college friends. And once married and a young mother, chats on the phone with friends and other young mothers functioned like mini-vacations from work and childcare, the only times I spent for and by myself.

I don’t know why my relationship with the telephone changed so dramatically, though I can guess. Life became busier and I had less time. My relationship with my parents, always troubled, became more toxic, and a ringing phone might well lead to a painful conversation. Teaching and coaching took up most of my time, with little left to squeeze in what a phone call might ask of me.

I was a late adopter of the cell phone. When it arrived on the scene, thrilling my friends with the ease of connection, I saw it as a ubiquitous intrusion into my life. While the car had once been a safety zone, a place where I had the space to reflect and imagine, I never knew when the phone might pipe up, invading my solitude.

When the Covid 19 crept into our life, Zoom became an essential avenue for seeing clients and attending meetings. My choir still gathers each Thursday evening on Zoom. Though we mute our voices because of the delay, we sing to each others’ smiling faces, and at the end of the hour we all feel uplifted.

But I have a dear friend who doesn’t work with a computer. She’s a landscape gardener who works outside most days, for whom technology represents the opposite of what she most cherishes. She does have a cell phone, however, a flip-phone, of course, and enjoys talking to friends while she’s working. I usually talk to this friend once a month or so, a relatively quick phone call to catch up on each other’s life. But she and her husband have had some health issues recently, and I’ve wanted to be in closer touch. So I’ve been phoning her about once a week to check in.

Last week, we ended up talking for over half an hour, not simply about the difficulty of life during the pandemic, but about the pesky weeds pushing up through my dymondia ground cover, a new recipe for roast chicken, and the latest police procedural Stephen and I have been watching. I usually see this friend as part of a group of women who come together for dinner once a month, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve spent time with her alone. But this phone call felt like old times, just the two of us sharing our thoughts and advice, an easy give and take, call and response, with no other goal than to connect.

Ironically, this call was a gift of Covid, which offered me the time to sit and chat, as well as the necessity, since a phone call is safer than an in-person get-together, even at the proper distance.

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