The light on the phone base was blinking again.  Every day I check the phone and every day the message light is blinking.

Sometimes it’s debt collection agencies looking for Tunisia or Raymond.  Other times the calls are business service solicitations for the auto parts store that used to have our number.

Every day I delete them all and place the handset back on the cradle.  We don’t give out the number to the landline.  We use our cell phones for everything so I really don’t expect to have messages intended for my family.  I consider giving up the house phone sometimes, but ultimately I always decide to keep it.

Shortly after we moved into this house, I gave my new phone number to my father.  In this very brief conversation almost three years ago now, I told him how to reach me in case he was ever looking for me.  I gave him our new number knowing that he hated to call the cell phone.

I almost told him he could call me any time, but the truth is I didn’t want him to do that. I stopped myself before I let the words slip out.  In the five minutes we spoke, I wondered if he’d say that he wanted to call me again some time.  He did not.

What I should have told him was that I want his wife to call me when he dies.  That’s really the only time I want them to use my number, but at best it’s an awkward request.  It’s not the kind of thing you tell someone.  There’s no way to say that without sounding cruel.

I don’t want him to call me when my stepmother dies.  When she is gone, he will need someone to take care of him.  That someone can’t be me.  I won’t help him, whether he asks me to or not.  I will feel guilty about it and I will struggle with my decision.  I can only hope that when the time comes, if the time does come, I will stand firm in my resolve.

I don’t want the burden of his phone calls.  But I do want the satisfaction of rejecting him.  I want him to look for me and find I’m not there.  I want to be the one with the power this time.

Most of all, I want to know when all of this is finally behind me the only way it truly can be.  

Every day, when I come home from work, I check the landline.  The light is always blinking.  All of these thoughts run through my mind as I type in *86, then my pass code, then 1 for messages, then 1 again for new messages.  I listen to each voicemail, or at least enough to know that I don’t need credit card services for a business I don’t have and I don’t know Raymond or Tunisia so I can’t help get their debts paid.  One by one I delete them all, until the the phone finally tells me I have no more new messages.

It’s never my dad.  He’s never looking for me.  It’s never my stepmother, so I assume my dad is still alive.

Maybe tomorrow.

I’m linking up with the amazingly supportive community over at Yeah Write.  Read the entries and return on Thursday to vote for five favorites.  If you’re a writer, poke around and consider joining us.  If you’re a wealthy philanthropist (or someone with a couple bucks lying around), consider becoming a supporting subscriber.

Edited to add:  This post tied for first (or came in second, depending on how you like to view these things) in the weekly popular vote.  I’m always honored to do well among such wonderful writers.

48 Responses to “Landline.”

  1. Flood G. says:

    So heavy Michelle. This hit me right in the gut. I check the obits everyday to see if my Dad died.

  2. Oh my.

    First: Well done with the sparseness. It does not, in any way, take away from the power. Second: I appreciate that the bitterness is present, but not overwhelming. This is the kind of exposure that invites nods and acceptance, but doesn’t want questions and details. And I feel like I don’t need them. It’s enough to know how you are dealing with the present reality.

    • Thanks so much. I’m glad the sparseness worked. I didn’t want to over explain. Clearly there’s backstory but I didn’t think it fit here. I’m glad I chose to leave it out.

  3. Wow. Just wow. This post is so powerful because the tone of it is more matter-of-fact than hurt and sad. I feel like I don’t need to know the backstory at all, it is enough to read your writing, and I can understand, and I can see you checking the phone every day for the blinking light, and running through all the messages. Hugs, friend.

  4. Dana says:

    As you know I can’t relate to your situation, but by the way you wrote this, I feel like I can. I maybe should have waited to read this at home, because now I feel silly for tearing up at work when I’m supposed to be working. <3

  5. Kristin says:

    I echo Samantha’s comment on the tone of the piece. It is certainly powerful. I can’t imagine having this ritual as part of my day, but, thanks to your well-written piece, I can imagine you.

  6. This is so heartbreaking. I don’t need the backstory either. It’s obviously awful. Such a powerful and honest post. XOXO

  7. Marcy says:

    I too appreciate the matter-of-fact tone. Wow. I’ve gone through some rocky relationships where I have felt the same way about the call that will someday come. I’m sorry.

  8. I don’t need the backstory either. The emotion hits just as hard and you say it in such a concise, matter of fact way. So well done Michelle and hugs to you. xx

  9. such a complicated mess of emotion that i unfortunately relate with as well. i wish i could stop the burden of my father’s call but he never remarried and there’s only me. such guilt and frustration and resentment and anger and some where in there obligation and love. it’s almost too much for one relationship. such a compelling, honest, heart breaking read. i’m sorry.

    • I’m sorry for what you’re going through. As a younger man, I’m sure my father was OK on his own (I mean, he survived, so he must have been ok). But as an old, sick man, living in a secluded area with no ability to get around, I hope he has some bridges left that he didn’t burn. I carried one parent for years with little support, I can’t do it again, and especially not for him. Our estrangement, as painful as it is, is the best thing for my mental health.

  10. I so totally get this on a completely different level. You have NO IDEA. Great great post.

    • Hi Kim. I think I’ve read enough of your posts to get a glimpse of what you might mean and if I’m right (well, either way really), I’m so sorry. All I can say is therapy worked wonders, as did growing up and maturing. Still wasn’t and isn’t easy.

      Thanks for the comment.

  11. Gia says:

    UGHHHH gaaaah bllahhhhh is how I feel about this post. :(

  12. Christie says:

    This is straight to the gut. Brave warrior.

  13. Michelle, every time I read your blog I continue to be amazed at how powerful your writing is…..

  14. Jared Karol says:

    Michelle, This was a beautifully written piece. So stripped down, w/ all the emotion right there for the taking. I’ve never been in that situation, so I can’t say I know what it’s like, but your writing made me get close.

  15. Larks says:

    This is awesome and heartbreaking all at the sometime. Really courageous. Well done, as always.

  16. Saw the YeahWrite blurb about this on Twitter and knew I had to read it. Solidarity, sister. This is beautifully written, and so powerful. I relate in so many ways. :(

  17. Amazing job, Michelle. Honest without being abrasive, and concise without lacking detail. Hugs to you.

  18. My dad and I had a falling out for a few years and I worried quite a bit that if something happened to him my step-mother wouldn’t call me. Thankfully, she and my dad separated and our relationship is good again. Now I know I’ll be the one to know.

  19. This is a very strong piece. Thank you.

  20. Wow. I love how you took us from telemarketers to the very core of your history with your father. Powerful.

  21. Mamarific says:

    You expressed your bitterness and hurt with such honesty that the reader has full understanding of your situation without needing to pass judgement. Very well done.

  22. IASoupMama says:

    Oh, love… I think that this is my most favorite thing you’ve ever written (that I’ve read, anyway). So very powerful. Makes me love you all the more.

  23. So sad. . .and for some reason strengthened my resolve to stave off my husband’s desire to get a land line. I feel so free without one!

    • I wish I never got the stupid thing, honestly. It’s just sitting there, blinking at me and being annoying. And for the love of all that is good, why do so many debt collectors have this number??

  24. I applaud your honesty and bravery in this piece. That’s what you call fearless writing.

leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: