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The Heart of It

Plain magic

Plain magic

My building at work features small rooms meant to provide meeting space without the rigmarole of scheduling. The intention is for impromptu groups to move out of hallways, where they block traffic and annoy others, and slide the door closed. A whole wall is a whiteboard; some have tables and chairs, others noveau-Seventies couches. The one nearest me has a working phone–a novelty–but looks out on the kitchen. It might as well be in an airport–constant motion, lookers-in. I prefer one hidden behind corners, away from traffic, the glass door facing a window. It feels open even with the door closed, protected and quiet. The room near the kitchen is for calling the doctor back. Mine is for calls with meaning.

It has been a rough six weeks. Very, very rough. The pharmacist’s assurance made good last week: normal came back. After weeks of feeling I was falling apart, a week of sitting solidly inside my skin was blessed relief. This past weekend a little off, and then Sunday a crash. Monday morning the walls closed in and I couldn’t face the light, but met my friend Steve that afternoon anyway, who listened with patience, laughed at the right spots, made wise old owl offerings. We waited at the ferry just arrived at the city, the sun no longer bright enough to hold back the chill as the cars streamed off, followed by raucous, happy people.

It’s going to be all right, right? He is older and he will know. Yes. It’s going to be fine. I walk past the noodle shop where we had a late winter dinner two years ago, a few days after I told my ex I wanted a divorce. He congratulated me, and it was light and warm. On the bus now the sun streams in, and that night it feels a little better. The week recovers inside myself, my skin going back on.

Thursday comes solid. I get up at a decent time, get to work at a decent time, am working when a friend texts he’s at lunch. I have saved up bathroom breaks to feel I’m not shortchanging the Man and go around the corners to the little room.

The phone is still magic. Dial some numbers and we are together, voices connected across time zones as if from on high, another power usurped from the gods. For once I am not a needy mess grasping for something I can’t even name, just happy to connect with him a little while.

I’m less tightly wound and I can hear him better, and he must hear something about me. Like deer from the forest, conversation comes when there is no hunger for it, unfolding when we are present and quiet enough to see.

Somehow, today in this little room, a door opens to a broad, high space where the things I bring up over and over expand. I want to keep the conversation private, but will tell you he said things that rooted me. What he said confirmed I was not imagining my life or my past. He said things I have lived, the place his words built as solid and as real as the metal table, the plastic cushions, the window’s overcast light. I hear through to him and hear myself, at last not in that shallow, narcissistic way, but full connection with another who is not me. The call is a gift, beyond shared story or common history or scenes we both knew. The call says to each of us that the door is open and we are walking through, and that as afraid as I am right now, he is there. Many are there. We all there.

Both of us are conscientious and feel minutes crawling over us. We both have work to get back to. As a last gift he tells me talking with me helps him too–never worry about it. And then it’s goodbye and the phone returns to a lump. I give the room, the phone, my friend, myself a quiet moment, noise of the hive filtering in. Moments are all we ever have.

A million years ago, when phones were attached to walls and minutes cost real money, I would call my friend with my eye on the clock, both of us agreed to twenty minutes, half an hour. He was in his tiny dorm room, and I was in a hallway of mine, the floor housing offices and deserted on weekends. I punched in miles of numbers to use a calling card on a pay phone. I remember the fuzzy but sparkling jingle–AT&T–and then the ringing, and the delight when the call picked up. I don’t remember what we talked about–school, of course; classes; people we knew; things we were doing. What I remember is the voice, golden and invisible, the time to share its sound and silence counted out and thus savored like a candy bar: infinite at the beginning, a sense of finitude at the middle, and then drawing out the end, cramming in nibbles: oh yeah, right, that’s great, I’ll tell you next time. And then: catch you on the flip side! Or: well, all right, friend. Or: okay, man. Then clicks, dial tone pouring out like fluorescent light, and the sense something precious has gone.

I like that constancy. I like knowing we can still connect with each other. We can learn to be there.

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