I am bad at initiating communication. I don’t call first, I don’t text first, I can’t be counted to reach out. Part of it comes from the fact that I don’t like imposing on other people’s lives, and am terrified that I am going to call or text someone at an inopportune time. Some of it is that I think that everyone else is doing fine and if they need me they will reach out. The biggest aspect of it is based on the fact that my life is pretty self contained, I’m ok doing my own thing and don’t like to admit that I need anyone or anything else, I tend to lean into the myth of independently living in the present. So something changed in me last month when I decided to start calling people out of the blue for no reason at all.
It was a slow night at work and there were about 5 of us in a group text, one of those old friend things where we are talking about nothing of substance and seeing where the mood took us. I generally hate these things, there is nothing like walking out of a show and having to catch up on 38 texts, but as I said I was bored at work. Somehow the conversation wrapped around to the suggestion of a “Secret Santa phone list” where each person calls one of our random college friends out of the blue, the idea of drunk dialing Benny Woo was a welcome example. I said it was a great idea, but there was one major flaw, whenever my phone rings from one of my friends I wonder who died.
I’ve made those calls, I’ve received those calls, every one of them is burned in my brain. Whenever a friend’s name pops up in caller ID my heart drops to the pit of my stomach and I think back to being in a Stewart’s parking lot last year, or my living room in 2013, or Kmart back in 2010, some of the worst phone calls of my life. Even if the conversation is light and fun it is hard to get back on track after that few rings of dread. As soon as I voiced that concern to the group everybody saw where I was coming from. The conversation died off shortly after that.
The next night I was winding down before going to bed, and I got a text from one of my best friends who hadn’t been in that group, “Hey are you still awake?” I hit the call sender button as fast as I could. Oh shit here it is, who died now, what tragedy has befallen us, what possibly could go wrong at 11:30 on a Friday night. Nothing. Nothing was wrong, nobody was hurt, everything was fine, he was just a bit drunk and lonely and hadn’t heard my voice in a while. Our conversation was the highlight of the week that far. We talked about the fear of receiving calls and he readily agreed, and volunteered that whenever he calls one of our other friends he needs to state that nobody has died within the first 15 minutes and ventured that the advance text was his way of warning me that nothing serious was going on. He planted a seed in my mind.
The next morning I texted the guy who suggested the Secret Santa Phone List “Sometime this evening I will be calling you, nothing is wrong, everything is fine, I just want to talk.” We talked for almost 2 hours that night. I put it up on social media and one of my close college friends who I have fallen out of touch with said that he wanted to talk. That Thursday I skipped an open mic and sat at home talking to someone who I had basically written of as dead. He is far from dead, he is still my friend, no matter what hard times and trials he goes though I will still be there for him, we are scheduling another call for next month, and I am happy to have my friend back.
To be clear it has not been as easy as I thought it would be. Trying to change my mindset from “Intruding on people’s lives” to “Connecting with people who I care about” is a challenge. One time I called a friend on her birthday expecting to leave a voicemail and when she picked up I panicked, mumbled out a few words, blamed bad cell service, and gave her a book recommendation. This is someone who I could spend days with swapping stories and talking about life, but my anxiety brain took over, tried a distraction, and plotted an escape escape. I have had a hard time coming up with a list of people who I want to call, I fear that everyone is busy fighting their own battles and that they won’t have time to schedule a call, especially since my schedule is so strange. I guess that the first step is asking, so if you want to have a conversation please reach out and I will do my best to make it happen, or maybe you can flip the script and give me a call, I will do my best to answer, especially if there is an advance warning text.
Last winter I was in a funk and spent a lot of time in my recliner knowing that I was lonely and could easily change that just by reaching out to one person, or going to one of the bars where I know people, or a show where I would be surrounded by a scene of people who care about me, or by picking up the phone and connecting with an old friend. But I didn’t make those steps, and just wallowed in the pain of being alone. That haunted me a bit, knowing that making a change was well within my power and the only thing holding me back was myself. This winter was different, I made the first move and did my best to open the door and get out into the world. But the hardest thing was still picking up the phone. So maybe now that the first few steps are behind me I can keep the momentum going. If you get a call from me out of the blue and it scares you I am sorry, (hopefully) nobody has died, it is just an old friend looking for a chat.