The other night, my wife got a call from a relative that she hadn’t spoken to in quite a while. The woman called during dinner, of course. Why people capable of calculating compound interest on their mortgage while separating two warring children armed with steak knives and making dinner for a family of six can’t manage to wrap their heads around the entire concept of time zones is beyond me, but she was happy to hear from her. When she hung up, my wife said, “I really should call her more often.” Meaning, ever.
This got me to thinking about all the people I know and care about that I just don’t seem to hear from anymore. Dinner was being reheated anyway, so I had some time to think about this. It occurred to me that I really hadn’t had a good conversation with my Dad, for instance, in a very long time. I love my Dad, and I remember when we used to talk pretty much every day. My wife gave me a strange look when I brought this up with her, however, pointing out that my Dad had died almost twenty years ago. Like this was a good excuse.
[Brief Aside: One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was, “Man who trip over same rock twice, deserve to break his neck.” He’d often admonish me with this gem told in a solemn fake Confucius accent, in way of educating me about some mistake I’d made for the sixth or seventh time. The frequency with which he used this aphorism prompted me to write a very short story in fifth grade about a dashing young knight who tripped over a rock in the road. He was stuck, turtle fashion, by the weight of his brilliant armor, but helped back to his feet by a passing Good Samaritan. The next day, however, when the incautious knight tripped over the very same rock, resulting in the same predicament, the next passer-by was a robber who killed the knight by breaking his neck and stole his money. As I recall, Mr. Barno, my fifth grade teacher with breath so bad two students dropped out of school that year to pursue a life of crime, wrote in his comments something to the effect that I should seriously consider pursuing a career in accounting. Thanks for that, Mr. Barno–hope you’re resting peacefully.]
There are dozens of good friends and beloved relatives with whom I’ve lost contact. It’s inevitable, I guess, as we get older and get busy with our own, hectic lives, and these other folks just keep moving away or dying. It makes it tough to keep in touch. It’s probably my fault, to be honest. I mean, I’m one of those folks that’s pitifully inattentive to maintaining contact with old friends and relatives. I don’t think I’ve made a long distance call or attended a seance in a really long time. And while I hate to admit it, there has been more than one occasion when I’ve returned from a long, tough day at work and looked at that little flashing red light on the answering machine and said, “No way.” Then I just delete those suckers without even listening. It’s true. So it’s entirely possible that my Dad left some kind of message, just touching base, and I erased it. It bothers me, now that I think of it, because if he left a call back number and I just deleted the thing, no wonder he’s so ticked off that he never called back.
On the other hand, it’s at least as likely that’s it’s their fault. I know how tough it can be to pick up the phone. My wife and I were recently traveling in Ireland, and we kept trying to use the cellphone to call back to a friend of hers here in the States. But who can figure out whether to put the one in front of the number or not, do you include the 01 country code, and all that other jazz that makes it just about impossible if you’re over fifty to make these things work? (Which is why we almost always travel with a child, just in case we have some technical issue.) Most of these people are really, really old now. A lot of them passed away before we even had cellphones or Skype. What do we expect?
I like to think that they’re probably too busy to call, anyway. Most of my parents’ friends are dead, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re so busy yelling at one another over how their partner screwed up the bidding for their great bridge hand that the subject of how the kids are doing just hardly ever comes up. Or Samba lessons, or something. Time just gets away from you, I know. Dad’s probably still upset I moved so far away that’s he’s waiting till I move back into his neighborhood to stop by. He hated that drive from Michigan to Long Island, no way he’s coming all the way back from the dead unless someone gives him a damn good reason.
Or maybe it’s just because they’re dead. I don’t know. Wouldn’t kill you to call, though.