Straight to Voice Mail
My parents like to talk on the phone. A lot. I am not particularly a phone person. I keep my calls short and I prefer being with people face to face. My friends know I am not the best at returning messages. I mean, I DO. It’s just a question of when that might happen. Text me, and you’ll have your answer right away. Call me and you might be waiting till your pre-schooler enters middle school.
So I’m not a phone talker. Which means, I’m not the best phone caller. This really bugs the shit out of my folks. When my parents don’t hear from me for a few days, they will undoubtedly call me in Virginia all the way from New Jersey. They would call every day if they could, and sometimes they do, but they try to temper themselves a little bit and play it cool.
As if I’m not on to them.
I don’t know what my parents think is going to happen to me or my family if we don’t talk for a few days. They try to be smooth about it. Let’s say it’s a Saturday morning and our family is out of the house at a soccer game for one of the kids. Let’s say that during this time, they try to call us at home. Nobody answers.
So what comes next? Well, naturally something terrible must have happened to us at 9 AM on a Saturday morning if we are not answering our phone. These suburbs we live in can be a cesspool of violence and turmoil when you look past all the shiny SUVs and minivans. I may have even chipped a nail. So my parents panic and call me on my iPhone. I don’t hear it because I am a running around like a crazy person, watching my 6 year old play soccer, yelling inappropriate things at the 15 year old referee and generally acting like I am watching Arsenal play and not a bunch of little girls who still don’t know what a semi-colon is.
Imagining the worst now. “Vhat if she is in a ditch? Or vhat if she had accident?” Now they start to panic. So they call John’s phone. He doesn’t hear because he is the team coach and is trying to cordon 6 year olds into some semblance of order on the soccer field, no matter that one of them would much rather play Duck, Duck Goose.
My father’s call goes unanswered.
The day passes and we finally realize that we have three messages from my parents, ranging from cool, “Oh, vee just vant to make sure you are gud!” to “Nobody is answering phone. I have called both of you… Ok, call ven you can…” The message sounds dejected and morose, as if John and I were sitting around plotting ways to ignore my parents.
I know I sound like a bit of an asshole when I say this, but these calls stress the shit out of me. Not because I don’t love talking to my parents but because if I am not available when they expect me to be, they assume that I am dead in a ditch somewhere or potentially ignoring their calls.
It brings back to mind the summer that my parents sent me away to camp. Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, to be exact, somewhere in the middle of nowhere the summer between 4th and 5th grade. I wasn’t particularly pumped to be leaving home for that long and I didn’t really know that I wanted to learn all that much about my Hindu heritage because, well, I was 10 years old. Most 10 year old American Hindu kids don’t want to learn about Lord Krishna. I could wax lyrical on Madonna, but not so much on Lord Ganesh, if you know what I mean.
So my parents sent me away to camp, which turned out to be pretty cool. I think they burst into tears when they dropped me off but I was alright. I was ok. I was with my older cousin, Shivam, and we were convinced that we could keep our shit together for the few months we were there. Besides, there were a TON of other Indian American kids just like us there and we already could tell that most of them hadn’t come to train to be yogis. I breathed a sigh of ten year old relief, ate some Skittles and moved on.
Imagine every camp song that you know and make it Hindu. Well as Hindu as you can to a bunch of American kids whose parents are all Indian immigrants. So well, that’s what they did. I remember singing along to the melody of John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” but in our own special Hindu way,
I hear the conch in the morning as it wakes me up
My counselor reminds me of my Hatha Yoga class
And stumbling out of bed I get the feeling that I should
Have stayed in bed today, but no way!
Seriously, I wasn’t missing no dang Hatha Yoga class. Not even at 6:30 in the morning.
So things went well. Friendships were made. It was like any other camp I guess, except for the fact that the people who ran the camp were all wizened Swamis in long orange robes. No matter, my camp counselors still dressed like Madonna and would sing Whitney Houston songs with us, so there was some balance.
The thing was, somewhere along the lines, I forgot to send letters home to my parents. This was a very egregious offense. The worst kind. I don’t know what bad fortune they felt had befallen me at Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, but apparently the wheels in their heads were turning and I am pretty sure they started regretting sending me to a camp that was five hours away.
And so one morning in the mess hall, Swami Dev got up and gave a long speech to all the young citizens of the camp and told us how important it was to keep in touch with our families while we were away. He then went on to read a letter from a very concerned parent who felt that their daughter had forgotten them and who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t find the time to write a letter.
Of course, Swami Dev was not one for subterfuge, so he looked directly at me in the mess hall as he read the letter, making me want to curl under one of the hatha yoga mats.
So, OF COURSE, I went and wrote the letter. And I DID miss my parents. But you know, people. 10. I was 10.
I look back at those memories now and think about how my parents feel about needing to connect and I realize that no matter how much I complain or bemoan their need, I need it just as much. And I think about how fortunate I am to have the gift of parents who care (especially after watching Breaking Bad. I mean, can you even believe Jessie Pinkman’s parents?) And while I have never been a meth dealer like Jessie, a part of me knows that those calls and those letters and the not giving up on me would not stop.
One day, I’m not going to have this. One day, the phone won’t ring in my house and move to my cell and then John’s phone as my parents try to locate me. I won’t get to feign annoyance as I tell my Dad, “YES, Papa. I’m OK.” I don’t know when, but I know that like most things that we are blessed with in life, this cannot last forever. One day, they will be gone and my phones will still be there.
And God, I will miss that incessant ringing.
There may be days when I am tired. There may be days when I am stressed. But I hope that my parents realize that every time I hear their voices, I understand it’s a gift. Unless they are being annoying… Well, even then.
As I write this I realize how much more I need to make an effort to run to the phone to catch it when it rings. While I still can.