The Woman on the Other End of the Phone
“WE’RE AT WAR!” … these are the words my mother blares at the end of the phone 16 years ago in 2001. It’s early, and I’m still a bit on Irish time house-sitting for my friend who lives on the sunny side of Lake Washington. I’d just returned to sort through my mess of a marriage and my upending life.
My mother had for decades started telephone conversations in the middle. Never a warm up: “Hello, did I catch you at a bad time?” Nope, answering the phone, usually at times reserved solely for bad news, she would start with whatever was raining—and it was always raining.
Her: I’ve two minutes to get this damn letter finished and I can’t get the stupid printer to print.
Her: Where are you? It’s almost 7 am and I’m sitting here waiting to get this proposal finished.
Me: It’s Sunday, Mom.
Her: Well, I’m still waiting.
Her: WE’RE AT WAR!!!
Me: With whom?
Her: We don’t know.
Me: Mom, its takes an act of Congress to declare war, so we kinda have to know who we’re fighting.
Her: Well, turn on the TV and see if you can tell.
Cannot say enough how much I appreciated the adoption of e-mail. To be fair, my mother was a genius. She was also an extraordinarily complicated and exceedingly infuriating woman and in moments like these when reality collided with her world, we all felt the sting of hysteria.
Our telephone battles had begun years before when I wasn’t formally diagnosed as hard-of-hearing, just the white label of ‘shy’—and therefore a clean canvas for my mother’s dedication to shove me over that annoying personality obstacle. Talking with anyone by phone before volume control and hearing aids was a chronic steel sliver that's too short to pull out yet sharp enough to snag painfully on just about anything.
Eventually, she and I found our truce, and I learned to find my peace with the telephone. Mostly, I enjoyed the liberty of answering at my leisure and the technology to choose a ring that suggested 007 could be on the other end.
Our 9/11 conversation has replayed often in my head. Today, my heart cracks a little more knowing our phone calls are no more. Many calls ended for good that fateful day, and in the wake of tragedy, the world rallied together to give hope and the charity of kindness. Now whenever my phone rings, I’m reminded in a good way there’s a chance to act with kindness and compassion for the one on the other end of the phone—even if it isn’t the end.