Answering Machines and Other Disasters

She died while I was leaving my Wednesday mythology class. The building was new and the hallway bright. I got a personal pan pizza on my way back to my dorm room, and I ran into my friend and coworker S. in the lobby. We sat in the office to eat our lunches and I told S. how my mom wanted to see a picture of him with pink hair. He and I had used the same red dye, and while my hair was red, his was pink. That Sunday night he had shown up at my door to scream about his hair, but I was on the phone with my mom. I’d laughed. “Mom,” I said. “I’ll talk to you Wednesday night–S’s is having a hair melt down.”

Now S. ate his sandwich. “I can’t believe you laughed at me,” he said. I laughed again and finished lunch.

I thought about running upstairs to check my messages, but decided no one would’ve called. Maybe the football player would call. We’d gone a date that weekend, but I wasn’t much for football players.


I went to my next class. Probably by then my aunts were trying to get on airplanes to see my grandmother. I had some time and again thought of checking my messages, but the temperature had dropped and it was supposed to rain. I went on to meet my friends. We went to a visiting lecturer’s talk on neo-Nazis in America. By the time we walked out of the lecture hall, the storm was nearly in.

I could’ve checked my messages then, but I had to meet a friend for dinner. The cafeteria was serving their Thanksgiving meal, and I had three bowls of ice cream. I got to my room and saw the answering machine light flashing.

There were days when bad news took many months and several horses to get to you. Imagine Romeo and Juliet if they’d had cell phones. Imagine Moby Dick with GPS. Miss Havisham with a blog. Hannibal Lecter on twitter. The news about my mom would’ve been the same over a cell phone or delivered by a man on horseback. But it does change the story.

10 thoughts on “Answering Machines and Other Disasters

  1. Ai, what a photo, what a tale and how well wrought…

    In the brave new world of voicemail, I do miss the red blinking light. The mixture of anticipation and dread it induced was sometimes too awful but also oddly and a little masochistically thrilling.

  2. I don’t think you realize how much we are held in suspense for the next chapter in your tales.

    I feel a little bit like the girl, going on about her life, while life changing news waits, blinking away.

    Just go check the message and find out!!!!

  3. loriaustex

    That blinking light.

    One story about my dear friend Peter’s death: two days before, he’d snuck into my apartment and left a deliberate trail of paper towels that led to a bowl in my fridge full of peaches he’d gathered from his tiny grove. Two days later, I had a message on my answering machine — light blinking like a dolorous firefly — from an elderly woman in a town near his, calling to tell me he was dead, killed in an automobile accident.

    The anguish still fresh after all this time — ai, indeed, JES.

  4. Funny, I was thinking about cell phones as I read. And remembering a time in college when I didn’t even have an answering machine. Technology changing the way the narrative of our lives plays out…

  5. My Nana, the one person who knew me and loved me anyways when I was a suicidal teenager suffering from the PTSD inflicted upon me by life with her insane & abusive daughter, died in 1990. She was only 56, which seemed incredibly old to me when i was 18, and she died from emphysema. We were extremely close, but due to my selfish 18 yr old partying, I did not learn of her death until the following day, even though we lived in the same town and the call had been made.

    I remember coming home to my aunt and uncle’s around noon after a night of dancing and downing Jaager shots. My aunt sat me down and reprimanded me for not being where I said I was going to be or calling her to tell her of the change in my plans.

    Then she told me about Nana’s death. I had been planning on going to the hospice to have dinner with her that evening. I would have given her one of my lungs to keep her alive & even asked her doctor if that was possible. Obviously, it wasn’t.

    To this day I feel terrible guilt for not having been around to receive the news, to hug my Papa sooner, to give her the respect that was her due. I think about that every now and then when I get an important call on my cell phone. I think about the 18 hours that I lost grieving the loss of my Tues. morning pancake date with her. I would cook blueberry pancakes and bacon and make a fruit salad and coffee and we would sit next to each other, her oxygen tank on the other side, leaning over the TV trays while we ate breakfast and watched “The Joy of Painting” guy paint his “happy little trees”, her reaching over every now and then to squeeze my hand & tell me how much she loved me. She was simply magnificent.

  6. Sophie, be kind to your 18 year old self. And it is good to hear–after reading about your mother–that you had someone that kind in your life. Helps explain why you’re magnificent too.

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