Hello, It’s me

It’s easy to lose touch with friends, with family. People move on, drift apart. Distance, interests, the unanticipated paths that move us in separate directions. It doesn’t mean we don’t think of each other, don’t miss each other; it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be beautiful to see each other again. It’s just circumstance, and time, and the slow erosion of life.

Geez, life itself can be so tragically depressing, can’t it? But how much of the sadness do we bring upon ourselves? It’s easy enough to call someone, toss out a quick, “Hey, I can’t stay on, but I was thinking of you.” We don’t need to make promises of lunches and catching up; we don’t need to ask questions about employment or children. Just “hey, I hope you’re well” can change the course of a person’s day. For some, it can literally save a life.

I mentioned recently I woke from a deep afternoon sleep and my bearings were out of whack—time, place, reality—and I reached for the phone to call my dad. He’s been gone seven years. I shook it off and went outside, my day picked up where it had left off. It would have taken five minutes to call one of my aunts, the last two remaining of his siblings, and tell them I was thinking of them, “I hope you’re well.” One is ninety-five years old, the other eighty-five. Both are fine—for now. At what point do we say, “I should have called.”

I suppose we tend to believe we might bother someone, or that they’ve forgotten us or are busy, that they will wonder why the hell after all these years we’d call them anyway. But that’s probably not true—the proof is in knowing I’d love to hear from people. My aunts would be thrilled.

It’s been a rocky five years. More than a few times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call family, friends—some I obviously do. There are some people who I’ve remained very close to or became close to again. But many more I didn’t. So much can be misunderstood and interpreted wrong, so we grow distant instead of calling and saying, “Hey, you okay? What happened?”

If we called one person a week for just five minutes to say, “Just checking in. Sorry it’s been so long and to be honest I can’t stay on, but you were on my mind,” we might just make someone’s day, pull them out of some med-induced numbness to keep them from depression when both of those just might disappear with a call. Maybe not. But.

It was the end of November and twice the previous week at exactly seven in the morning my office phone rang and I didn’t answer it; I was getting coffee. The message was from a very old friend of mine. This was before cell phones, when an answering machine was the only device available if someone wasn’t there. In the office the voicemail could not be heard live; we had to wait until the message was left, then dial some code and retrieve our voicemail. Both times I tried calling back a few hours later but couldn’t reach him.

Then seven am rolled around a few days later, and this time I was in the office but my bag was on my shoulder, keys in one hand and coffee in the other, a bagel in my mouth, and a student outside the door waiting to ask something or other, so I let it go to voicemail and knew I’d try later that day.

Before I could, another friend of mine called and told me what happened. How they found him. How he left a note steering a co-worker to the garage.

I know had I answered the call any of the previous times to talk, it wouldn’t have made any difference in the outcome. None. But it would have been nice to catch up, spend a minute or two laughing one last time, telling him I’d call in a few weeks. That would have been nice.

My office phone rang another time and I didn’t recognize the “Is this Bob?”

“Yes it is.”

“ROBERT!!”

Okay. Let me stop here and say I actually despise the name Robert. I don’t know why. I like it from my family because that is all they’ve ever called me (long story), and to hear them say Bob is odd. One time a girl I liked in High School called me—actually called me!—and asked my mother, “Is Bob there?” and my mom said, “I’m sorry, there’s no one here named Bob.” (insert a loud Charlie Brown UGH). When we moved to Virginia Beach after ninth grade, I became Bob to everyone. It stayed that way with the exception of a few people who call me “Bobby.” But Robert has to be family.

I sat wondering from the obvious Long Island accent which cousin was calling.

“Ernie? Roy?”

“Ha! It’s Eddie!”

Ed was my best friend for years when I was young. We hiked every aspect of the state park next to our village, wandered the beaches of the Great South Bay, and taught each other everything we could know at that age about music. We were inseparable. Then thirty-five years later he called me.

We talked often before he left this world, and there was no awkward transition, no “what the hell are you calling me now for” implications. Just joy.

I do that now. I randomly call people—usually I know them. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me that everyone I was I still am, every way I have been is still simmering inside. If it is true that my “life has been a tapestry,” the people I have known have been the thread that held me together. And there are times, I’m telling you, times holding it together has not been easy.

Then I pick up the phone. “Hey, just wanted to say hi, I won’t keep you. I hope you’re well,” which almost always leads to a thirty-minute conversation, and those waters that have always run through my life still flow, holding me together, help me to know that just over the slight slope of the earth is someone who might not mind hearing from me.

We are all we’ve got. The money and house and cars and computers and trinkets and walls filled with art and attics filled with boxes are all secondary at best, all fade to the periphery of our lives compared to those we love.

We’re all we will remember.

Anyway. Talk to you soon.

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