Friday, July 19, 2013

The unexpected phone call

I remember when I was first told that unexpected phone calls were scary.

I was about 12 years old, and my family was vacationing in Ireland. We were eating lunch at a restaurant attached to the hotel where we were staying in Dingle, and during the meal, our waiter came over, asked for my mom, and told her that she had received a phone call. I thought this was so cool. Here we were, all the way in Ireland, and someone was calling our family! In my mind, it was the equivalent of running into someone you know from on the streets of a foreign country. But my mom did not have a "what a nice surprise!" expression on her face as she got up to take the call, and my dad, remaining at the table, was clearly agitated.

I asked what was wrong, and he explained that unexpected phone calls - calls at the wrong time, calls when you're supposed to be unreachable, calls when someone clearly had to track you down, when the only people with your itinerary have it "just in case" - unexpected phone calls are not generally the bearers of good news. Now I, too, was scared - until my mom came back with news that the relative who'd been watching our house and dog had a question about using the car, or parking regulations, or some similarly mundane automotive matter. Although I accepted the premise that unexpected calls could be scary, the experience was not exactly convincing evidence of that.

I also remember when I really learned how scary an unexpected phone call could be.

I was a Junior in college, living right off of campus, and I generally kept rather later hours than my roommates did. One weekend morning at 2:30 or 3:00am, a few of my friends walked me back to my house after a night out. I often did that walk alone at night - it wasn't far and it wasn't scary - but they were still up and about and flirting with the idea of going out, or maybe staying in to finish up that last 30-pack of Busch Lite, so they came along for the walk when I decided to leave. I went upstairs and sat down at my computer in my darkened bedroom, not wanting to wake my sleeping roommate. I'd only been there 5 minutes or so when my cell phone started vibrating in my back pocket. That I was getting a call wasn't unexpected, and I assumed that the guys were making one last push to go on a nighttime adventure and were trying to entice me to join them. Then I brought my phone up and saw who was calling.

Mom cell.

My heart hit my knees. There were very few reasons why my mother would call me at 3am, none of them good. Trying to stay calm, I quickly and quietly left the room, still not wanting to wake my roommate. In the 15 seconds that it took me to get up and cross the room, every loved one I have died a dozen deaths. My mind raced, trying to figure out who it was. Not Mom, not if she's calling. Dad or Anna? Laura? Probably not Grandma or Grandpa, Dad would call then - or would he? - but maybe Pop . . . Is it Gina or Jamie? At this time of night, another college student, someone who'd be out late, drinking too much or doing dangerous things. If it's Dad's voice on the other end, then it is Mom . . . Car accidents, house fires, alcohol poisoning, could it be more than one person?

I mustered all the strength I had and answered the phone slowly, calmly, quietly.

Hi Katie
My sister's voice. Did I wake you up? She was drunk dialing me.
No, but you scared the crap out of me! Why are you using Mom's phone? I thought someone died!

She'd forgotten she had Mom's phone . . . hers was broken, Mom lent her one . . . all sorts of inexcusable excuses that I had no time for as my heart slowly climbed back up towards my chest, my knees went weak, and I started breathing again. Any other day, I'd have relished a drunk phone call from my sister, who I didn't talk to often enough, who I feared wasn't having a good time at college. I'd been drunk myself, 2 minutes ago, but unexpected phone calls are literal buzzkills and I felt sober enough to drive a car, take a test, interview for a job. Anything but talk to the drunk girl on the other end of the phone who was in the mood for a giggly late-night chat.

It wasn't the unexpected phone call my parents warned me about. But it did a pretty solid impression of the real thing.

Note: This post should not be interpreted as meaning that my disappearance from this blog over the past few months was the result of an unexpected tragedy. I've just been busy. And/or lazy.