The phone is ringing and it’s not like I have anything better to do, but I know who’s calling and I don’t want to talk, so I let it ring. It takes forever to pass through all eight rings and then stops. Because I’m a neandrathal and have one of those old-style answering machines, there’s a long pause where my message is playing over the line and the machine comes to life with the caller’s voice. His message is banal and has no point. He speaks for minutes on end without saying anything at all, and I start to wonder if the machine will cut him off. As suddenly as his voice came to life, he says goodbye and the machine clicks and then beeps.
It’s reassuring to hear him on the line, and that’s all I need from his calls. It’s as though I’m saying to myself “Yup, he’s still alive” and I like to think that he gets as much from leaving a message on my machine as he gets when I actually answer and just grunt “uh huh” as he tells me the same stories time and time again.
One day, he will call with a real problem and I’ll hear the anxiety in his voice on the recording. I’ll probably feel guilty for not answering (well, more guilty than I already feel) and I’ll call him right back. I’ll lie and say that I was just coming into the house as we was leaving the message, and we’ll talk for hours. He’ll know I was lying, but he won’t care because he got to talk to me in the end. After all, the end justifies the means. I read that in a book he got me for Christmas a few years ago.
One day, I hope he will call with really good news and I won’t feel guilty at all. I’ll listen to the message over and over and over again until my machine is almost worn out, and then I’ll call him. I’ll tell him the machine is broken and act like I didn’t hear the message at all just to hear him share his good news all over again… fresh. He’ll know I was lying, but he won’t care because he got to talk to me in the end. That will be a very good day.
Today is not that day. A few minutes later, the phone rings again and his voice sounds shaky and upset through the hiss and static of the machine. Today (like most days) he has a problem and his problems are mine. In a few minutes, I’ll call him back and go through the routine of listening to him, offering some advice that he’ll ignore, and then listening to him again. He just needs someone to listen.
So, for the few minutes I have before I call him back, I will collect my thoughts, relax and prepare myself. This is never easy, but in the end I like that he needs me. After all, the end justifies the means, or so I’ve read.