Exactly What You Want
I love to tell my friends how special they are to me. Unfortunately,
this urge usually strikes sometime around 11pm, which results not in the
"Thanks for calling" I'd like to hear but an annoyed, "What
the hell do you want?" As a consequence, I tend to prefer the
less confrontation medium of writing letters over calling.
Unfortunately, most of my friends are even worse letter-writers than I am
a phone caller. Different people have different ways of passing on
that "you're special" message, but that message often gets
diluted with statements from them like, "You never call; I always
have to call" and statements from me like, "You never write me
back." The truth is, we all want the kind of love we give.
That's why callers call and writers write, in the desperate hope that a
friend will get a clue and reciprocate in kind. The hard part is
that we usually receive the kind of love other people want that's why
they give it instead of the kind we want, and nobody is quite happy.
It's a vicious cycle. People who use the phone tend to think of
calling more often than letter writers, so they tend to call first.
As much as they want to hold out and make me be the one who calls,
eventually the frustration drives them crazy and they break down and call.
Once that friend calls, however, we've talked, and I reset my "call
friend" counter to zero, starting the cycle all over again.
"Why don't you give me a call next week?", really a blatant plea
from the friend for me to initiate the next phone call, is too subtle for
my ears and reaches me as "Talk to you next week." I
should realize that my friend will never come out and tell me how
distressing my not calling is, but I only get the positive feedback of
being called my friend calls and I feel loved and I never
experience the pain of phone rejection. I do suspect, however, that
waiting for the phone to ring is about as painful as running out to the
mailbox and only finding credit card applications, carpet cleaning
coupons, and supermarket flyers. Waiting to be called or written is
a terrible malady because it just isn't the same if you have to ask
someone to tell you you're loved; that's like having to tell people what
to buy you for your birthday.
With my father I have learned to call more frequently, but when I was
growing up, birthday cards were his special thing. He must have
heard my brother and I scrambling in our room when we found out, just
before dinner, that it was his birthday. We'd pull out the
construction paper and crayons to make a Special card for him.
There's no fooling my dad. He made it quite clear that he wanted a
store-bought card, that a store-bought card represented planning ahead and
effort; i.e., not a last-ditch effort to cover the fact that we had
forgotten his birthday. I owe a lot to my father for his many
lessons on life, and this one is no exception. It taught me plenty
about planning ahead. Before the next card-event I went to the
stationary store and bought over thirty cards, enough to cover every
occasion for the next three years. Now when I discovered that it was
his birthday just before dinner, I could scrounge through my box of cards
and give my father exactly what he wanted.
I know I am a frustrating friend. Calling is so simple, and yet I
seem incapable of doing it with any consistency. Sometimes I do beat
a friend to calling me and then I get to hear all about how exciting it is
to be the one called. It makes them so happy that I am tempted to
spread my calls out even farther apart, just to make my calls that much
more special. I've even considered using a calendar and marking
dates three months in advance for when I should call. Not that using
a calendar helps me remember my father's birthday any earlier than I have
ever remembered it, but it does remind me about calling a friend somewhat
earlier in the day than 11pm.
Sometimes I pretend that a phone call is really a letter, one that doesn't
need a stamp or to be dropped in the mailbox. It's a poor attempt to
accept my friends for who they are that is, people who never write
but it does seem to ease the pain. I hope they vice versa with my
letters. However, I must be honest. A phone call will never
excite me quite as much as an envelope in my mailbox does.
Even if it's just a store-bought card.