You scrolled through your phone and skipped over names and names and names, just to get to mine.
You sat down, somewhere quiet and alone, gambling a little bit of your evening hoping I’d pick up and gamble a little bit of mine on you, too.
And I did. My phone tells me we talked for 33 minutes.
I almost didn’t answer; anymore, a phone call almost inevitably means a late bill reminder, a donation plea, a political ad. The person on the other line — if it’s a real person at all — is someone who knows Hannah McCartney through a pile of statistics on a piece of paper. I’m a specimen as random as the jumble of digits that make up my phone number.
I picked up your call because I don’t know you that well and because I like you. I’m not ready to let you down, at least not yet, and I don’t think of you as the type of person seeking me out for some kind of transaction.
It hasn’t always been this way.
As a product of the ’90s, I found talking to my friends on my own emerald green cordless phone to be one of the only pacifiers for my trite teenage angst.
Things needed to be dissected. Stories retold. Gossip hashed. Homework debunked. Family avoided. I recall staying on the phone with someone when there was just about nothing left to say; sometimes it was just about feeling the other person there, ready and willing to be bored with you.
And then AOL Instant Messaging came along.
That, I think, was when things changed. I remember the thrill of going online and waiting impatiently for an array of flashing windows to come up from someone, anyone on my buddy list; the initial “hey,” was more of an achievement in itself than was any kind of further meaningful interchange.
Wander away from the computer and leave a question unanswered for hours; sign off and go to bed without saying goodbye.
A text or IM often requires little more a few seconds of finger dexterity and a fleeting semblance of a complete thought.
It’s not even an activity; it’s become part of the rhythm of every single day. To go a day without receiving any texts feels like you’ve severely failed socially; to go a day without a phone call feels like you’ve once again evaded the faceless entity that’s out to burden you with needs, wants, demands, obligations.
And, when you called me, you reminded me that that’s not how it always has to be.
I felt my 14-year-old self flooding back into being, the one I’ve pushed away with a nettling case of jitters constantly cautioning me that, if I call you and take away a part of your day, I will most likely bore you or resort to the awkward silences that seem to define my somewhat gawky in-person presence so well.
I was biting my lip during the first few minutes of our conversation, sitting cross-legged on my couch with a little bit of a tickle in my throat. As I suspected, I bumbled over my words a couple of times, and I’m certain nothing I said was miraculously insightful or funny. But I was there and listening and visceral and real for 33 minutes, as were you. And, somehow, I didn’t send you darting off in the other direction.
What is both wonderful and terrifying about the nature of texting and any other mode of written, virtual communication is our ability to methodically alter our self-representations as we please.
Backspace, rewrite, edit, edit, edit. And, in part, that’s why I turned to writing — I like to go through the process of cycling through the convoluted way my mind thinks. For my sanity, I need to sometimes.
But who I seem to be on paper or in cyberspace is only a portion of the person I actually am.
Sometimes I am the one who stumbles over her words, laughs aloud at her own unfunny jokes and runs out of things to say. I’m a human.
I’ll call you soon.
CONTACT HANNAH MCCARTNEY: firstname.lastname@example.org