Issue 8

Getting 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.


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