I’m a phone person. Not a smart phone person, but a talk-on-the-phone-until-you-have-cauliflower-ear person. I love love love long phone calls with friends. It started with a yellow-kitchen-wall-mounted-phone and a long cord that I was able to stretch out onto the porch and into every room of our tiny house in my elementary school years. I talked to my best friend C. starting in about third or fourth grade. I’m not sure how we had so much to say in those halcyon days, considering that we spent the hours together in a tiny classroom with 15 other schoolmates, but we talked and talked and talked. We talked about boys and our friends and homework and our families and God and music and everything, everything, everything.
Later those phone calls turned to letters in the mail after I moved in the summer between sixth and seventh grades. We stayed in touch through college, and continued to write those long letters. When I served as bridesmaid in her wedding in the middle of our college time, after years of us living hundreds of miles apart, people remarked on the way that we finished each other’s sentences and seemed so close. It was due to those letters and phone calls while growing up together, even when far apart. We stay in touch peripherally on ig, and we haven’t had a phone or in-person conversation in years, but I bet I could still finish her sentences, and I am sure she could read my mind, even after all this time. I think of her and that stretched-out yellow phone cord with joy and also with a bit of sadness. I realize we grow up and move on, but she formed me into the person I am today, and I just want to pick up the phone and tell her thank you and to hear her familiar voice talking about everything and nothing, all at once.
It’s funny to think that I’m writing about phone calls, when we now use phones for texting and switch very easily to video calls. I still prefer the audio version, because I feel like I focus and listen more. Three friends reminded me recently of the joy of a long chatty phone call.
At the beginning of September or the end of August, who knows for sure, I received a surprise phone call from a really good college friend. The timing surprised me. This person and I had been very close in college and the first couple years following graduation. Following that, we stayed in touch, but the frequency of emails and phone calls began to dwindle as the years went by. There were a couple of fun weekends when I hung out with the friend and the spouse, but it wasn’t quite the same. Intimacy had been replaced with old-familiarity-yet-not-new-forged-friendship. Surprisingly, this friend and I picked up, after I picked up the phone, as if the years were minutes and the days were seconds. We caught up on everything and nothing (see a familiar theme here?) and talked about our current circumstances and the state of the world in 2020. What has followed in the days and weeks is not so many texts as one of us just picking up the phone.
We pick up the phone and answer “Hello.” It is a welcome, it is a beginning. Sometimes the phone calls are short, filled with pithy details and silly jokes. Other times, we get heavy as we figure out our ways in the world amidst heartbreak and a change in employment status. We take up the mantle of our youth and give each other the grace that comes with age and the deep knowledge of someone else’s soul who is not your romantic soul mate. We cheer each other on in first dates and second interviews and now, just a couple months into this new phone thing, we check in if it’s been more than 12 hours that one has heard from the other. The phone call is the same as our long night talks in college. We know when the other is about to show all their cards, their heart and soul, and we buffer each other with pauses and the grace that only comes from hard-won wisdom. We don’t give each other advice as much as just listen to the other sound out the beats of their hearts. It’s these phone calls that tie us together now, after all this time. Sure we’re not tethered to the dorm room phones of our college years or the spiral cords of our youth, but it’s still there, the universal truth of friendship and a person who calls you on your *&*(, but will listen with the patience of preschool teacher.
Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on my bed deciding on which household chore I would take on next, doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom, when I heard my phone ring. I was startled out of my quiet Sunday, because usually I have my phone on silent, and saw that another close friend from college was calling. I was excited to see that this friend was calling, because we have had a couple of covid-inspired-get-in-touch phone calls over the last few months and they have been fun. As soon as I picked up the phone and heard the familiar voice, I knew all was right in the world, at least for the moment. This friend was visiting family and walking a dog and thought to call me. I could remember our rambles, both verbal and bipedal, in the late nights in the dorm and on long walks to get junk food as a distraction from studying. We talked and talked. We gave each other updates on our lives and then we went on to family, politics, the glory of long walks, dogs, thoughts on applying for new jobs, the merits of staying in one place for a long time, and the allure of travel in a year when we are staying home. This friend always cheers me up and makes me think about things differently. This person is solidly good, grounded yet delightfully idiosyncratic. When we are able to travel again, I really hope to visit this pal and go for hikes and find adventures together.
Monday morning, I woke up super early. I did my morning routine of meditation and journaling, but I opted not to make coffee. Instead, when I was done, I changed into black tights, a grey tshirt, old running shoes and grabbed my house key, phone, mask, and a small backpack. I needed to get a couple of groceries and I wanted to get my coffee out, something I rarely do these days. I walked to the corner convenience store about a half a mile away and went into grab a large coffee to go. Just as I was making my way out the door, my phone rang. I paused to readjust the cup in my hand while I grabbed the phone out of my bag. Again, I was startled, because I usually have my phone on silent. Apparently, I had left the ringer on after my phone call the day before. The name on the screen made me smile.
I tapped and answered, “Hey!” My friend quickly asked if this was a good time. I said yes, and then we immediately dived into conversation, even though it had been quite a few months since we had talked. We laughed and giggled. Sometimes you have the deep-stare-into-each-other’s-souls talks and sometimes you have friendly pitter-patter. We caught up on this and that. This friend needed a little distraction before going in to take a professional exam and I was eager to fill the role. We have cried together and on one particular hazy September afternoon, we laughed for two hours straight, I kid you not. I have told this friend dark secrets and we have watched each other grow and change over the years. We have cheered each other on from afar and have remained close despite thousands of miles between us and sometimes infrequent communication. This is a friend with whom I don’t have to worry about my “status,” somehow, I feel we will always be okay. We talked a bit longer while I finished my coffee and my friend’s nerves quieted down. I sent love and a wish for success on the test as we hung up. I walked the rest of the way to the grocery store, basking in the caffeine-friendship-buzz.
Three friends, three sets of phone calls. There’s a kinetic connection that goes beyond college kinship or any formative time. I have several friends from college and other times in my life who I just don’t have the same connection with and I know it wouldn’t be the same if I picked up the phone and magically had the phone numbers to those other people These recent phone calls remind me of that. Regardless of the circumstances of us getting back in touch, I’m grateful for these friends’ phone calls, the confidences, the camaraderie of two people connecting in conversation over the miles.