intimacy and a modern invention

BellSouth should try harder to sell me things. I would buy caller ID in a heartbeat. The only reason I haven’t so far is that Chad doesn’t believe in any phone toys that exist outside his computer. That answering machine has never worked, but telling him this only serves to encourage him working on it (read: downloading hundreds of sound-card patches, swearing profusely) and it doesn’t get fixed. So, that’s that.

Why caller ID? Because I am notoriously bad with phones. I don’t like talking on the phone to 99% of the people who call me. Unfortunately for me and for the people who call me or expect me to call them, I have only recently pinpointed why I am so bad with phones. A normal day at home before work is like this:

Halsted sits at her computer, typing away on some email/poem/icq conversation/muck conversation. {phone rings} Halsted winces – not just her face, her entire body actually shrinks from the phone. She stares at it. {phone rings} Halsted continues to stare at it, then gets up and goes downstairs. Paces a bit. Goes back upstairs. Stares at the phone some more. {this repeats for about twenty rings until the caller gets the idea} Halsted breathes a huge sigh of relief and goes back to her ‘puter.

It’s a shame when I get an unexpected call from someone I really do want to talk to. Nine times out of ten, I won’t pick up the phone at all when I’m at home; the other one is when I’m feeling unusually generous, or if I’m expecting a call, or if Chad’s home. Because you just don’t use the phone like that, in his mind. It’s weird.

Well, yes. It’s an idiosyncrasy I’m not proud of, but it’s one I’m at least dealing with these days. Especially since I have come to the understanding of why I do this.

Talking on the phone is an incredibly intimate act.

My parents separated when I was 11 years old. During the school year, when I lived with my mom in Chicago, I would get a phone call once a week from my dad, still back in Pennsylvania. I wish I could say that I remembered those conversations; I don’t. I remember feelings from them, and the safety and warmth they coated me with that would last for hours, sometimes days, sometimes nearly until the next call. These were pieces of Dad that I could have, just for me, and just at this specific time. As the phone call was our ritual, the phone itself became a ritual tool, and one I never got in the habit of using casually.

Later on, I would realize just how intimate the phone conversations themselves could become. As I started to meet people online, and we emailed a few times back and forth, phone conversations were the next step. In the early 90’s, I spoke with at least twenty people I will never meet “face-to-face.”

And I spoke to some I did meet, too. A few I more than met. Two I was engaged to. One I married.

Mac – the one I didn’t marry – had and still has, to my knowledge, an absolutely entrancing voice: soft and deep, articulate and lush in its Canadian accent. The first time we talked on the phone was the closest I’d ever come to a real-life swoon. Our conversations were a bridge between the vagaries of online interaction and the tangibles of “real life.” They were more than words exchanged; they were pieces of day-to-day things we couldn’t immediately share. I fell in love with his words, first, and then him. Even though words weren’t strong enough to make our relationship work, they were strong enough to help me through some incredibly difficult times. Without the phone, I’d have been … lost.

Nowadays, I spend more time on the phone than I have in several years, since Chad and I started living in the same place. But these are almost always prearranged calls with a few, very close friends – this group including my dad and my mom. Without realizing it, I’ve created solid levels of intimacy in my life, and if someone doesn’t fit into the ‘phone call intimacy’ bracket … well, chances are I won’t call them, and I’ll be pretty weirded out if they call me. I couldn’t begin to explain how certain people end up in the different levels. Just today, I ended up telling someone I really like that he was in a less-intimate level than we both had originally thought. Suppose the levels will be subjects for entries all their own, someday.

In the meantime, I’ll be in touch.

{taking the phone off the hook}

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