99: Just a Little Phone Call

99: Just a Little Phone Call

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Just a Little Phone Call

A man cannot free himself from the past more easily
than he can from his own body.

~André Maurois

The backs of my thighs were beginning to feel cold from the linoleum. I had been sitting there for twenty minutes trying to make a phone call, but had only managed to push three of the numbers. This wasn’t the first time I had attempted to call him. But something deep inside said this was the day.

I inhaled deeply, dialed the phone number and exhaled. Through the pictures that had been torn and tossed, the memories that had been forgotten and the stories that had been left untold, that phone number was etched in my mind. It stayed there despite my attempts to forget. It was as if my mind knew I might want it someday.

“Hello.” It was him, I was certain. The voice was so familiar — a combination of Yonkers and a rough life of sixty-five years. Although I was calling from my kitchen thirteen states away, his voice overwhelmed the space as if he were in the same room. For a moment I couldn’t breathe. I thought about hanging up.

“Hello,” he repeated.

“Hey, Dad, it’s me, Kierstan.”

Without missing a beat he responded. “Well hello stranger, what’s new?”

Did he really just ask me “what’s new?” What an absolutely complicated question, yet so expected. Where could I start? I could share how the weather had turned really cold and my herbs are starting to die. I’ve never been able to keep anything alive. Perhaps I could brag for a few minutes about installing a light dimmer. Maybe he would like to hear about my successful Thanksgiving dinner that I cooked entirely by myself for my boyfriend and me. I’d even admit the turkey was slightly dry. This sounded like typical father/daughter subject matter. The only problem was, we weren’t typical. It had been fourteen years since we’d last spoken. Yet the comfort in his voice bid me on and I was desperate to keep that connection.

How do you sum up half of your life? In fourteen years I went through middle school, high school, college, a year of law school and eventually earned a master’s degree. I had lived with my grandma and grandpa. I had lived with my aunt and uncle. I had lived with a roommate. I had lived alone. I was with my mother, his wife, before she died. I had been to four continents. I had lived in five different states. I had been married. I was divorced. All of this would be news to him.

The last time I had seen my dad I was in sixth grade. I thought about starting there. I ended up winning that science fair, thanks for the help. I broke up with Tom a few days later. I wore braces most of middle school, although the gap between my two front teeth was never corrected. I joined the middle school cross country team. I loved running though I’ve never been very good. When I looked back I realized the moments that make up everyday life are experienced with wholeness from using all your senses. Despite the desire to share my past, pieces would be missed in its retelling.

Part of me thought I’d really like to take this slowly, just tell him a little at a time, bite-size pieces. He would understand that, he’s a chef. But another part of me had this impulse to tell him everything as fast as I could. I couldn’t be sure if he would answer again should I call another day. I needed to tell him who I was, just so he would know. But how do you tell someone who you are when you aren’t absolutely certain yourself?

For years I would say to myself, “If I ever talk to my dad again, I’m going to tell him. . . .” I wished now I had written some of those things down. I wished now I hadn’t waited so long to call. But I felt fragile beneath the strength of his words, or rather, his silence. I had woken up this morning with the realization that if my dad chose to hang up the phone or talk to me, either way I would manage. I would heal. I was prepared for that. From the initial hello, I felt complete in spaces I had not realized were empty. I am so glad he did not hang up.

“What’s new, Dad?” I said. “Well, everything’s new and so much is exactly as you’d remember. I made it; or rather I’m making it every day. I’m not perfect but I just recently decided that I am pretty proud of the woman I’m becoming, and I think, should you choose to get to know me, you might be proud of me, too. I miss mom. I became a social worker and I’m certain she influenced that decision. By God’s sense of humor I look just like you, Dad. I’m creative like you, though in different ways. I’m not particularly religious, though I think God’s been looking out for me. Most importantly, I’m not angry anymore. I guess what I am trying to say is, if you call me I’ll answer.”

He gave me the score of the Cub’s game, recited to me a lamb recipe I will never make and told me he had a box of pictures. Would I like it if he sent them? He wasn’t overly sentimental but he was exactly as I remembered, and that seemed enough. The conversation flowed easily. We laughed a lot. So much of my sense of humor comes from him. After about an hour, we decided to hang up, but before we did he surprised me.

“I love you,” he said.

And just like that, I felt like someone’s daughter.

~Kierstan Gilmore

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