I am expecting a phone call--nothing too major, just a call from someone I've never met, whom I may be taking to dinner. While I wait, I'm left with one of those spots of time that trip me up so often: the few minutes here, the few minutes there, the time that seems too slight to be used but that, in the aggregate, would be mighty enough to make something, move something, do something, see something. About 45 minutes ago, for the second Tuesday running, a Wong Kar Wai film that fascinates me (not the same film as last week, I'd like to add) lulled me down for a fleeting nap, which is a pretty uncommon thing in my world. And now that I'm awake, and poised for departure (with only my boots to pull on and my coat to grab as I head for the back door), I figure that it's a good time to pop in for a memory or two.
How's this: I can remember the phone number my family had from 1977-83 (when we had this yellow telephone, with a piece of orange velcro on the side to hold the number two pencil that hung there until it disappeared despite the velcro; that disappearance always bothered me) because my mother made me memorize it to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," in case I got lost. That was smart; she got the number encoded pretty deep in my neural wiring, and so every once in awhile now I find myself wanting to dial 689-8001 to see whether anyone new has that number. Or to dial 688-6688 to see whether anyone has my small girlhood's best friend's number.
And here's where the switchboard has come alight and the call's gotten picked up; now I'm off and running.
When I was small, a family moved in across the street and took the phone number 688-6688. The mother and daughter of the family were my mom's and my ages, and we became two pairs of best friends. When my mother had surgery for the carpal tunnel syndrome in her left wrist (the result of years of working a cash register at Lombardi's in Detroit, during high school and college), she had to wear a small cast for six weeks; within days of her having had the surgery, the mom across the street showed up at our house, also wearing a cast. Turns out she'd slipped and cut herself open with an oyster-shucking knife. They had matching casts for the duration.
My friend and I were similarly inseparable, though without the injuries. Our matching styles ran more to dresses, though the pictures that survive of us in our matching dresses are funny to behold. I was never a very girly child; much of the time, I had short hair and ran around in corduroys or jeans and t-shirts (one of my favorites had a fake American Express card on the front and said "Don't Leave Home without Me"; another was a navy blue PacMan shirt my dad got as a free gift when he bought that new hot Atari game at Sears; when he brought them home, I was, for some reason, standing on the front stoop of our house's almost-never-used formal front door, and I screamed with excitement--an early instance in my career of doing things with a little too much flair and thereby making others around me uncomfortable or embarrassed). My friend had mid-back-length hair and hated to wear anything but dresses and patent leather shoes. And so even when we rocked the same look, it wasn't the same look at all: she'd be wearing a dress with the tights and the shiny shoes, and I'd be there with a sock falling down or my hair not quite as lovely. (And no, this is absolutely no comment on my mother's ability to dress me. I did my dishevelling myself, and my general lack of interest in those final, feminine touches still rears its head every once in awhile these days.)
When my friend and I were in first grade, we didn't have the same teacher. She was in the classroom across the hall, and I only saw her at lunch. Outside of school, we were thick as thieves. At school, even when I won the weird bonus points that got awarded for who knows what hoop-jumping and got a chance to sit wherever I wanted to in the cafeteria, my friend never seemed very excited that I was around. Sometimes, when I tried to wave hello to her from where my class sat, she wouldn't wave back.
In 1983, my family moved away from that neighborhood, and that state, and set ourselves down in southern Indiana. For the first year, my best friend and I wrote to each other. Sometimes, I recorded cassette tapes and sent them to her. Once, I remember making a postcard for her by embroidering a piece of cardboard with some tinsel from our Christmas tree (that was the year of the cat who defecated everywhere and had to go back to the humane society). And the next summer, we visited, and it was idyllic--even though the people who had moved into our yellow house had taken down the funky cartoon jungle animal wallpaper from my brother's room. During that visit, I finally learned how to ride a bike, at what felt like an embarrassingly old age.
And then? Radio silence. I don't think I ever heard from my friend again after that visit.
In high school, and then in college, and then in graduate school (which landed me only a few hours' drive from where we'd all used to live), I made sporadic attempts to contact my friend, and then her family in general, to find out what was happening in their lives. I would send a holiday card with a photo of my family and my phone number, in case they wanted to try to get together. But nothing ever broke the silence. The cards never came back to me in the mail, so the photos are still out wandering the world, somewhere. The silence is utter and decades-long.
The strange thing about this memory is its denouement: I suddenly realize (as I keep doing, over and over, these days) that some things in my life have been question marks or constants, strains and streams and silences and sorrows, for more than twenty years, all of which I'm cognizant of.
The phone call has come in; the dinner has been called off; I have written myself fully awake; and the time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things. My shoes, my ships, my sealing wax, my cabbages and kings--they all await, so I'm ringing off now.
A postscript to yesterday, because I hear that some people have been trying to figure out why a naked guy showed up as the aftermath of Monday. It's nothing more exciting than the fact that the Rodin sculpture pictured there is called "Fatigue," and that's exactly what I was--like some allegorical figure, through and through--by the time I hit my bed last night.
source for today's image: a pretty fascinating site memorializing Ma Bell.