In the hallway the boys gather about in smelly heaps like old laundry, laughing and pointing and dancing in their ridiculously large sneakers. Hair sticking out in every direction, body odor of newly minted puberty encircling them in a miasma, they crow like four-month roosters, stomping their feet on the small pieces of paper scattered on the ground.
Each square has a blotch of red on it, some writing, a signature.
One boy picks up a larger piece and theatrically tears it into small then smaller then tiny pieces, throws it into the air like confetti. The other boys bat at it, sending the shreds flying around through the hallway.
The boys’ voices crack as they hoot and cat-call, which makes them shout louder. The teachers are nowhere to be found.
To the side a small girl stands, dressed in a slightly off-fashion red bodysuit and plaid skort, uncertain shoes, long hair massing about her head in a ‘my mother won’t let me cut it’ study of split ends and tangles. Head down, she tries to slip by, unseen, escape down the hallway to the exit, but she can’t avoid the tangle of boys, the shouts, the destruction.
The boys spot her, and the pointing and yelling sharpens, knife-like. Like a murder of crows, they caw in her face, pull at her hair, scoop up the shreds of paper off the floor and throw them at her. Winter gravel is mixed with the paper which stings as it hits her. The papers don’t fly well, and this makes the boys finally give up in frustration and turn away. They slam the doors open, shoving each other, grinning back at her.
One boy is quieter than the rest. He knows the girl, they were friends of a sort, of whatever sort boys and girls could be friends in grade eight, clouded in hormones and poor judgement. He shouts through the noise to the boys, “Let’s go, she’s not worth it.”
She looks over at him, her face dead. She’s frozen, mortally wounded, unable to edge one cell forward out of there. Minutes after the boys finally tumble out of the door and outside, away, she thaws enough to move.
Bending forward, she gathers up the shreds of her valentines, silent. Alone.
Thomas Mann differs with the bromide that “Time flies when you are having fun”. He argues, in his masterwork The Magic Mountain, that time flies fastest when you are bored, that time having fun can spread out as each moment is savoured. His main character, Hans Castorp, is visiting/imprisoned in a sanitarium on the top of said mountain, with a variety of other patients recovering (or not) from the dread tuberculosis. He thinks a lot about time and boredom.
The Magic Mountain is the perfect sort of book to read during this time of waiting, this forced enclosure. I personally am envious of the sanitarium, where you are fed four times a day, ushered on healthy walks, and expected to lay about wrapped in woolen blankets for prolonged periods of time. It’s truly not that different from pandemic self-protection, except that a. no one is fixing me meals and b. there is no convivial shared time.
But our situation shares a lot with what Mann describes. We’ve been living for almost a year now in an arrested state, holding back from projects, friendly gatherings, romance, family events, education, meaningful work, travel, ukulele gangs…We could be in a sanitarium given the way we have had to live.
In another similarity, our world, as Mann’s, is regulated by doctors, who examine the situation and tell us, no, you must stay here, in the enclosure, things are not better yet.
It is profoundly boring. And the time is slipping away. I can barely recall last summer, let alone the fall. I forced myself to do a weekly stitch-along project last year just to mark the time, as otherwise there are no guidelines through the fog. I dread beginning another one, and the time challenges it will reveal.
For all the guests at the sanitarium, time is flexed and changed, spun into fever dreams or secretive trysts, whisking by too fast and yet not at all. I can feel that change in our time, too. I barely know what time it is, let alone what day. Calendars are proliferating in my apartment, each an almost bare map of a life not quite lived.
I do not easily get bored. I have 1000000 projects on the go, a zillion things I SHOULD be doing, way too many books to read (including the 727 page long Mann book), places to walk, and god knows, exercise to be done (so I don’t end up further towards the ‘Asiatic-flabby’ of Mann’s book (or just plain flabby without even the interest of the Asian background- I once had muscle tone and am desperately seeking it)).
I’ve seen countless postings about how boredom is good for you, how it stimulates creativity, etc etc. I am beginning to doubt the effectiveness of long term boredom, though working on my books does seem somehow more enchanting.
But it’s all SO BLAH! There is something to be said in that one’s life only matters if someone else sees it, ergo the mass migration to happy family social media, and try as I might, I have trouble assigning my own value to my little embroideries or weirdly knitted scarves or writings that suffer from too many commas…If no one sees me or what I am doing, does anything actually matter? (Maybe I need to put more cat photos up on Instagram?)
“Now, now”, I hear my more motivated friends say. “You still have value, even just sitting there.”
Hmm. NOT the way I was raised.
Be that as it may, I wonder about the times to come, when we step out into the light again, when we can wander freely about our environment, laugh in a bar with friends and strangers over a beer or two. Will we end up like the characters in this novel, and be loathe to extend outwards again? Will we find ourselves longing for the sweatshirt days, the quiet of an unbusy world, the reduced demand from our previously oh so busy lives?
In the book, few people escape the sanitarium. Many die, many commit suicide, and our hero gets sent to the warfront. Their time on the mountain is a special time aside, girt round with threats and death and an undercurrent of banal evils. In our time, we struggle with lack of contact, lack of employment, and profound mental illness, and are forced to hang about, while outside our circle, death and destruction reigns. Will we be able to escape the pandemic? Will we ever feel safe in a crowd again? Or will it linger, like the ghost of TB spots, shadowing our lives?
I’ve been essentially alone now for ten months, with the occasional jaunt out to see a few friendly faces and my desperate conversations at the grocery store being my only social contact. I have almost forgotten how to speak. I see the news where people continue to gather and cause the virus to remain a threat and I am growing to hate those people. The non-maskers, the people campaigning against the vaccine, the partiers. Each news item means more weeks of isolation for me, and so many others.
I can’t wait to escape. I need to bump myself off others to know I exist.
It’s hard not to love Despair.com, especially in these times of comprehensive aloneness. They hit the nail right on the head. A few years ago they had another Demotivator that had a picture of a broken chain, with the title Dysfunction – which plays a lot in my head these days, lemme tell you, as I perch above my town, looking down at the empty streets.
When I get feeling lonely, my immediate response is to flee, go elsewhere, start again somewhere, better, be a better friend, Roman, countryman. Distract myself with the busyness of motion, thrashing myself into various new holes, tossing out shreds of my past, leaping into a new uncertain future.
Of course, as my wise son has pointed out – if I do this I am still carrying the problem with me. Because it’s the one doing the packing.
I imagine this time in solitude is, for many, a time of evaluating relationships, a time to reattach if possible, to sever if not. We are all defining ourselves without boundaries, except those sharp ones of the buildings in which we are incarcerated. (Though, in prison, I suppose you might still have company of a sort…) So much of who we are is formed as we bounce against others, rounding our sharp internal curves, finding our borders. Without these, it gets hard to feel real.
I’ve always liked the image of the Velveteen Rabbit – the stuffed animal who was so loved that bits of it had fallen off, its seams were all rubbed bare, ears bent into improbable shapes. All done by love. And making the rabbit REAL.
I used to feel very real. I had three loud, messy, imaginative children who were constantly pushing against me, forcing me to create new reactions and stretch my creativity. I was covered in kid slime and food and washable clothing. I never sat quietly without having one ear lifted to listen for pending disasters, fights, or suspiciously silent activity. I never ate anything without thinking if I should save it for the kids (or hiding it from them).
We used to have fascinating discussions. I miss those.
Now, they are grown and off and discovering their own realities, and while I know they are there for me if I need them, they are no longer here, smooshing peanut butter into my hair, emptying the fridge, scattering toys so I step on them. I can’t use them for edging. On the good side, that package of cookies is ALL MINE and no one else can have ANY. And, best of all, I can leave them in plain view on the counter and know I can return to find them just the same, without one missing.
My prior loves are off having meaningful discussions with someones else, and my dear friends are all tucked into their own cozy siloes, all finding their own edges. I find that as this isolation goes on, we seem to be turning ourselves inward more, getting involved in our interior selves – especially those of us who don’t have gardens or yards or big projects to throw our bodies against (or big men…sigh…but I digress). Others become fans of TikTok and do videos to share with others. I’m afraid my inner introvert (and serious lack of personal hygiene at this point) preclude such activities.
I know I am forgetting how to speak. It’s weird. Forming thoughts and words out of my mouth seems nigh impossible. I’ve taken to talking at the cat. He has taken to yowling back at me. I don’t quite understand him (yet) and know I should probably let someone know if we start having serious discussions about the world situation. I mean, I used to have lengthy chats with Pickles, the wonder dog, but he at least paid attention and had meaningful contributions that didn’t have to do with his service requirements…
People are getting crusty, and I’m beginning to want to step back from even mild contact because it can so easily go wrong when we are all strung tighter than a wire. Everyone is taking offense. Bluster abounds.
But there are also so many that are stepping up to the plate to help. I’ve donated as much as my budget can afford, but I still am tempted by this fundraiser being run by Despair.com – selling a T-shirt that says “A Lifetime of Social Distancing Prepared me for This” and, by doing so, donating money to the Feeding America Corona Response Fund. Why not check them out? I live in Canada and the gaps are also fierce here, but gosh, if I lived in the US I’d be really needing a way to try to stop the madness and discriminatory damage being wreaked by the governments. (I hasten to say not ALL governments, but a significant number)
I know, staying at home (potentially with fighting children or that spouse you were barely tolerating at the best of times) is gruelling. I know. I have an eternally shedding/hair balling cat and you haven’t lived until you are woken up six nights out of seven with that horrible retching noise, followed by a bloom of vomit smell.
(I know. I’ve brushed him, fed him oils, tried to make him run around. But I digress…)
The thing is, we don’t have it that bad, we people at home. Think of where you could be. Like a prisoner in a long term care home, for example. Because that makes me quiver with terror and nightmares.
It’s bad enough being limited by physical disabilities and living with that trapped feeling, but imagine being physically limited, such that you could not be taken anywhere else because you need professionals to care for you, and watching as your home-mates start to fall with Covid-19…
Because you know, without a doubt, that if you get this thing, it’s going to take you out, in a nasty brutish way. I hear it makes you feel like someone is standing on your chest and pulling your arms. I hear breathing becomes painful, wretched, impossible.
And to add to the wonder of the infection, you must also add the total isolation you will be in as you slowly, painfully leave this world. Alone.
Not that I ever wanted an audience for my last moments. Though I’ve been present at other’s ends and felt my presence was a comfort, so I might change my mind about that. But having no option for company as I gasp out my last few agonized breaths is a scary proposition. Options are good.
As are the options to get care. As a 60+ year old with multiple pre-existing conditions, I am probably not high priority for those scarce ventilators. But even I am higher on the list than many of my chums and definitely anyone in a care home. Those guys will just have to be let go.
And then there’s the life of the trapped health care workers. I remember from pandemic planning long ago that the only health care professions who were REQUIRED to show up to look after sick people were nurses. It’s a condition of our licensure, something about not abandoning patients. Lots of docs and other professions take their job equally seriously, but nurses are the only college required to be there, inhaling viruses and struggling through their own fatigue and overwhelming despair.
Bravo to them, to first responders (also tasked with being there, by god, no matter what) and all those who step up to the front as they can.
And yet, you healthy folks, you are still looking for loopholes, talking about sewing masks so you can go out in public as you will, sneaking into “speakeasies” in the UK, getting together with friends and family, “because it’s just us and I have to see the grandkids.”
Shame, shame on those of you who selfishly insist on living life as normally as possible, going for recreational shopping, taking the kids for play dates, meeting friends for drinks. You may not realize this, but you are likely committing murder.
This is the time to actually get your head out of your own arse and look after the rest of the society. Do without for a bit. It won’t kill you to not meet up, especially with all the technology available. Stay away from the parks. Don’t play with power tools. (You won’t get that sawed off arm looked after)(or, more likely, you will, while someone’s grandfather dies in the bed next over.)
So, stop it. Know that you are increasing people’s risk. Know that people will die if you don’t. Some will die regardless, but the next time you head out to merrily break the rules, imagine yourself at the end of a hallway in a care home, as the virus creeps down the corridor towards you, as your former dining mates become absent, as the staff change over to new, uninfected people. As they tuck you into bed and you lie, alone, trying not to inhale the air or call for help or panic, trapped as you are in a bed as helpless as a turtle on its back, unable even to fully turn your head. As death walks down the hall on soft-tread feet, opening the door to your room, slowly, slowly, inevitably…
Today I decided it was time to unwedge my dresser drawers and get rid of all the clothing that wasn’t “bringing me joy”. I dug out all the shirts that had lost their joie de vivre – the ones from cheap shops that were light and woven by factories where toxic chemicals are regularly present. I pulled out the wool sweaters I’d washed in hot. Actually, ALL the wool sweaters had to go, as my allergy to wool increases.
I sacrificed the pants I’ve been wearing for years with the turned up hem that refuses to stay in place. (I’d wear them and say to myself, “A turned-up hem means you’ll travel!” I did travel. Still living on peanut butter on toast paying for it.) I let go of socks that had done yeoman’s service for ten years or more. I didn’t thank them for their service, but we did share a moment. I tossed the dressy shirts of scratchy polyester. We didn’t have a moment but my 100% cotton sweatshirts could be heard snickering.
It was all going swimmingly until I got to my underwear drawer…
Those delicates desperately in need of bleach were an easy heave. The bras with the underwire teeth already bared I discarded with extreme prejudice.
But what about the sexy undies I’d bought in hope and thrill, thinking about what might happen when they were on? They slipped liquidly around in my hands, still in almost brand new condition
They made me laugh, made me wistful, tossed me into a meadow of memories. I couldn’t believe I actually had bought some of the things I found crumpled in the back of the drawer.
Some were too uncomfortable to even wear, bought in a naughty mood and tucked away – those ones that ride into uncomfortable places and make you walk funny. Some had lace so scratchy I’d have needed band-aids after wearing. (I thought that maybe it would soften after washing. It didn’t.)
The thing is, lingerie really is for the person wearing it. In me, it somehow creates confidence, a jaunty walk, a feeling of being sexy, even in an unfit self. There is something so pretty, so feminine, about those threads of undies.
I can slip on something light and lacy and maybe some pull-up stockings, and feel like I could be that woman who gets the bacon and fries it up in a pan…
… until the elastic attacks something it shouldn’t and I limp unattractively to the nearest washroom to detach myself. Heaven forbid I should try to tuck a tiny panty liner into them as the liner will immediately glue my buttocks together and make walking exquisitely painful. And awkward.
Ridiculous, really, given my body, rounded by chocolate, split by three huge pregnancies, tired and partially bionic. Kind of like putting those little ruffled hats on turkey legs…
But I just can’t let all of them go!! Dreams die hard. The urge to feel sexy dies even harder. (Ask any 70-year-old man) And the gym opens soon. I can be buff again. Can’t I?
Laughing, I tuck a few of the least painful ones back into my drawer. If nothing else, I can wear them and walk about with a knowing twinkle in my eye. And that brings me joy…
Sleeping has never been difficult for me – more it’s waking up that seems the challenge – but I find that as I get older, waking up at 4 in the morning is becoming a regular thing. I’ve even seen more than a few dawns lately, something I thought I’d left behind. More of a night owl, me.
And then it starts. There’s something about this time of the morning that makes me wander through my entire life, highlighting mistakes I’ve made, things I wish I’d done differently, things that were foolish (and not in a good way). I hold imaginary conversations in my head, rewriting them so I don’t sound a complete fool. I turn decisions around, looking for an option. I tell myself off. I tell others off. I revise my life to not make those mistakes I made, waste the time I’ve wasted, spend the money I’ve spent.
And I wonder about myself – how have I messed up so badly as to end up here alone and a mite lonely, with a cat who helps keep me awake by checking up on me as I toss and turn?. Little moths of doubt flutter about the room, batting their wings at me and leaving the dust of my misspent adulthood all over the place. Maybe it IS true that “The only consistent factor in all my dissatisfying relationships is you.” Or me, in this case.
I think about times when I’ve accepted bad behaviour from friends, where I’ve let my boundaries fall, where I have let myself down. I think about the shoulda dones – the wishes I’d spent more time with friends, less time being busy, the friends I’ve let down or sent away. Then I think about all the things I should have accomplished by now if only I’d applied myself.
I plan desperate new diet and exercise regimes, I contemplate moving to a new place, a place where I haven’t made so many mistakes yet. I writhe at the thought of bad intimacies, poor judgment, improper financing. I vow to attend church more often. I promise to do better, to make something of my life, to be kinder and more thoughtful and just stop being misled. I remind myself that I never make good decisions after two beer.
I can’t help but wonder why, when I wake up, I review all the miseries of my life, instead of the fun stuff. There has been fun – laughs with friends, creative outpourings, more affection than I probably deserve, the opportunity to contribute…
But still the night moths flutter, each one laden with a failure here, an embarrassment there, a poor judgment, a heartbreak.
I’ve always hated moths. Way back when I was small, I read a story about a boy named Denny who collected moths and stuck them to the wall of his bedroom with pins. At the end of the story, a giant moth comes to his window and he can hear its wings battering the walls. Then Denny is no more.
The story creeped me right out. I haven’t liked moths ever since and struggle to look at butterflies, though I adore their beauty.
I have a lot of friends who are dealing with chronic illness or the illness of loved ones or bereavement or even the loss of pets. So when I saw this article, it called to me: “The Other Side of Grief” by Whitney Akers. The article links to a group of stories about how people coped with their grief, from goat yoga on… One of the points made truly resonated with me:
“Even years later…a sense of deep loss comes in cycles, is hidden in the nooks of your house for you to unexpectedly stumble upon, and becomes a part of you forever…”
So true that. I fell across a sketchbook of my dad’s the other day (he’s been gone 32 years now, for context), and I had to stop and catch my breath, the feeling of loss was so acute. Every time I see an apricot poodle, I am overcome with memories of Pickles the wonder dog, my best friend through many years of my marriage. I talk to someone about a work issue and I can’t help my mind from skipping back to things I wished I’d done differently at work. I feel again the loss and embarrassment I felt when I was forced by my MS to leave employment.
People with chronic illnesses deal with incremental grief, too – every new challenge needs to be adapted to, self-image redefined. Inside we try to stay the same as we were (or better still, learn from our experiences), but our outer selves change and toss us about a bit.
Sophia Loren says: “If you haven’t cried, your eyes cannot be beautiful.” I agree. It’s like parenting or running a marathon. Unless you’ve experienced significant loss, you really don’t understand. And the type of loss isn’t what is important. It’s what it does to you. You can grieve the loss of a pet as heavily as of a person. (I urge you to avoid grieving for plants or fish though as they die frequently and you’d just be a mess.)
I’m not saying it’s okay or good for anyone to grieve constantly. I think that just lays you waste. But in my experience, it’s good to be prepared for those little bits of grief that leap out at you from the corners. It’s extra special good if you can appreciate the feeling and then use it to enrich your world, by helping others or creating art or even just smiling at strangers who look like they might be having a terrible day.
Sophia Loren also says:
“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.”
Mind you, perhaps sharing ALL of your past might be unwise (shameful details might lead to the wrong impression…;-) ) (ahem)
Of course, Sophia also said:
“Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.” and “Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.”
See why I love this woman?
So, while I’m not inhaling spaghetti (though now I am dreaming of it), I’ve decided to take the lumps the world has given me and sculpt them into something else. I know it helps.
I’m not a royal fan, though I give the Queen all sorts of credit for serving her office with
grace and charm throughout some tumultuous years. I’ve always been suspicious of inherited positions and wealth – it’s so cynical of me because of course, I inherited privilege as well – a healthy upbringing, sort of, good food, education, support. I suspect people feel the same way about me as I do about the royals.
This wedding, of Harry and Meghan, well, it won me over. It was THEIR wedding in so many ways, less pomp and more love. Lots of PDA. Hand holding! Who’d ever thunk it?
Weddings are funny things, anyway. You and some other person you think you love stand before all your mother’s friends and tell each other that you will stay with them forever, and then you go back and lead your own lives, sometimes stuck together or not. What, me bitter? Naw.
My ex and I dined out on the disastrous story that was our wedding day for years. It was horrible from stem to stern and at the time I was so proud that I held it all together. I’ve always been proud of holding it all together. It’s a thing.
I held it together that day when my father was taken out in an ambulance just before the wedding photographer arrived. I held it together when I knew he was in horrible pain, and yet my mother wanted to ensure the whole party went on. I held it together when my ex looked at me in horror at the altar (to be fair, he thought my dad had died). I didn’t complain when I started vomiting wildly on the wedding night, thanks to the impact of erythromycin, a dental infection, and champagne on my stomach, even though my ex never awoke as I shivered and retched. I didn’t fall apart when we went to the hospital to see my father the next day, and he struggled to keep back the tears.
I didn’t comment when my brother’s poor girlfriend had a mental breakdown because of the rudeness of one member of our family, I didn’t even offer my sympathy (I was overseas, but that’s no excuse – I probably felt in my mind that she was showing weakness.) And I didn’t even lose it when I realized I’d worked six months to pay for my mother’s friends to have a party. Or when my sister’s wedding got so much more support. (The family was accustomed to weddings by that point, less of a shock, and she is much better at stating her wants than I. Though she had her sorrows too – dad was long gone by then)
I’m good at holding things together, at least until lately. So why did I burst into tears at seeing Harry weep? At seeing their hands tightly clasped?
Ah, regrets, I’ve had a few. What possessed me to marry a man so afraid of PDA (public displays of affection) that I went without a kiss for 23 years, except in “certain situations”? I was raised in a home scarce in physical affection, and I hungered for it like an abandoned puppy. By the time my marriage ended, I was looking at men thirstily on the street, wondering, if I asked them politely, if they’d kiss me, just once. I went to my dentist just to feel his hands on my face. I remember my doctor touching my shoulder once, briefly, when I got my diagnosis of MS. I feel every touch every man has given me. God knows there have been few enough of them. I fell in love at the first man who was kind to me, who gentled me. Sadly, he was the only fellow I’ve met in all the years since I left my ex that was trustworthy with me. And he was lying to someone else.
It just about killed me, those years of affection desert. It’s taken me years to admit that I am a touch junkie (thus the needle felting in soft fuzzy wool, the craving for milk chocolate.) It’s taken me longer to understand that love requires regular feeding and care, regular laughter, regular kisses, regular touches, regular attention.
Just before the end of my marriage, I used to insert nonsense words into what I was saying just to test if he was actually hearing me. He wasn’t until he learned the phrase I was saying. We laughed over it. I was good at holding things together.
It’s taken me even longer to understand that holding things together isn’t necessarily a good thing.
So, this royal wedding made me think of my ex, now remarried to a lovely lass who is much better at speaking up. I wonder if he’s happy (ier).
I know I am lonely. Not for him. But for a kindred spirit, a companion with hugs. And perhaps a little coziness. I wonder what it would feel like to be with someone who wasn’t afraid to hold my hand and weep a little with me at the beauty of love, even if all sorts of people are watching. I’m tired of holding myself together. Sometimes I need a hug to pull in all my bits.
I’ve been reading a lot of research results lately and I’m starting to get disturbed. There are millions and millions of little mice going the way of all good research animals to help us figure out MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and lots and lots of other disease entities.
I am grateful for their (unwilling) service. I can’t say to stop the research on these poor wee things, because their contribution has been massive. But I am beginning to worry about the net karmic loss of snuffing out all those millions of mice for every year of study. Sooner or later, the balance has to shift and we’ll all start dropping from some mouse virus and it will all be fair, really, given how many tiny souls we’ve sent over that crowded rainbow bridge.
Every time I inject myself with my “disease-modifying medication” I send a wee thank you to the mice who squeaked their way through the multiple trials before we even dared to give it to humans. There’s even a special kind of mouse, bred to develop an MS type illness so then they can try to treat it. Mice bred to develop all sorts of other illnesses, too. So not only do they live their lives in clear plastic cages with little sensory input, but they get illnesses they normally would never have to deal with.
Upon such tiny lives are ours based.
Now, I know, your average wild mouse has an extremely short lifespan. We aren’t necessarily changing the length of the life of these mice. We’re just making them miserable for all their lives.
Of course, I may be wrong. Perhaps there is an inheritability acceptance of their sterile home. Perhaps, like families who refuse to leave Cape Breton or Gimli or the Eastern Townships for generations, these little creatures know nothing else and so think they are in paradise. After all, they get fed. Their nests are clean. I’m not sure if they get to mate with other sterile mousekins (but they must – otherwise where would new sterile mice come from?)
And there is hope. Mice don’t accurately represent human diseases after all, and they are pricey. So many doctors are giving them up as research subjects. Stem cells are making big inroads into the mouse subject market.
I do hope we stop using animals for research eventually. Maybe we could use those stem cells. Or Republicans. Or the Liberal government in Nova Scotia at present. Something with no feelings. Just sayin’.
That old yellow wall phone. We had one with an unnaturally long cord in the kitchen of our house. It was the conduit of intimacy. We all spent hours on this phone over the years – it was out of the hearing of the rest of the family once they retired to the den upstairs. I must have spent weeks of time on the phone – with girlfriends, with (giggle) boyfriends, with everyone. The cord was long enough we could jump onto the counter and pull up our legs and feel all cozied in while we talked of – what? I don’t remember much – usual things about school or latest likes or plans and dreams. My siblings did the same. My mother lived on it when she was at home during the day.
It seemed as if the handset was slightly warm all the time, handed over with no time to cool. The cord got all stretched out of shape as we dragged the handset into different rooms, all over the kitchen, around corners.
In my family, kids were at home on school nights, and that phone was our connection to people outside – fellow entrapped kids, the secret boy who walked me home from school, the plots and games of outside life. The time we spent on the phone was intimate time, endless hours of it, getting to know each other intensely, one to one. Even during university, I spent hours on that phone – either to the family when I was away or to friends when I was home. So many words, feelings, thoughts.
When my kids were little, we moms formed tight bonds, the coziness of babies crawling all over us opening our talks, making us friends in the trenches. We’d call each other at 4 PM, the witching hour when being with small children was grinding us down. But, like work friends, when our kids grew up and went away, often the friends went, too. We got competitive, or marriages broke up, or jobs moved us into new relationships. The friendships often didn’t survive.
I was asked recently if I had “intimate” friends, people who I knew well, who knew me well, and my first answer was no. After all, I’ve moved all over. I left high school in my senior year and moved across the country, inadvertently severing ties from my school year friends. I spent two years in Seattle and then moved to Canada. More severed ties. And then I married a military guy and moved and moved and moved. With all the moves and the kids and general messiness, friends made slipped away. Was it my fault? Theirs? Probably both sides got busy and forgot to make the regular connections needed to keep friendships alive. It’s tough to keep in touch.
So now I’ve settled on the very edge of the continent and am using FaceBook as my yellow wall phone. I find old chums and meet new ones, chat with cousins and family and friends – but most of these conversations aren’t close, don’t share reality. They don’t fill the need for the intimacy of face-to-face relationships. I truly miss those long conversations about nothing and everything, especially with people who know a bit of my background. I long for them.
I’ve grown accustomed to my distance, that long spiraled phone cord that hides the mess I sit in on the other end of the line. I push aside that stack of bills, the dirty dishes, the detritus of my lives, and put on my happy voice, or sad voice, or whatever seems right for that conversation, whether face to face or not. Which is usually nowhere near what I am really feeling. Interactions are shorter, busier, and I miss that one to one concentration and mutual sharing.
I had a phone buddy – a man far away who would call me almost every day, for no reason. We chatted about all sorts of things, for foolish amounts of time. Of all of my chums, he was the closest. Now he has become ill and can’t talk on the phone. I’m missing him so very much.
I’ve loved living a life of travel, of moving here and there. As I get older, though, I realize more what I’ve lost through it – the chance to have those friends from elementary school still around, the ability to refer to our shared past and add to it. The close crowd of family members who know me and love me anyway. As a Come-From-Away here in Nova Scotia, I’ve lived seven years without a bosom buddy, and it gets lonely at times.
Time to pick up the phone, and arrange a get-together…texting just won’t be enough.