BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Why I’m Terrified to Answer the Phone

Man holding his cell phone

What’s wrong?

Did something happen?

Is everything OK?

These are the questions that consume me when my wife calls at a time she shouldn’t be calling.

Usually, it’s in the morning, not long after she’s left for work.

Considering we’ve just spoken and touched our typical bases — what our days look like, possibilities for dinner, how it’s conceivable she could shed so much hair and still have any left on her head — the only reason she’d need to talk was if she’s dealing with something out of the ordinary.

And that freaks me out.

I see her name flash across my home screen, and my mind sprints to the worst-case scenario. The world around me stops. I pick up my cell, slide the green phone icon right and brace for the inflection of her voice. That split-second of silence following my hello, it feels as if it lasts an hour.

Sadly, this is not a new source of stress for me.

For the last decade or so, ever since I started hearing about celebrities and public figures dying who were the same age as or younger than my parents, off-schedule calls have frightened me.

Every time I see it’s my mom or dad, I’m certain whichever one is calling is doing so to tell me something bad has happened to the other.

I know this is no way to live, that this thought process is doing more harm than good and is, in many ways, irrational.

But I also know it’s perfectly rational.

The overwhelming odds say that, at some point, my phone is going to ring, and on the other end of the line, the news I’ve been fearing will be waiting.

It’s a virtual lock. And a fact I can’t escape.

This is the rub of embracing life’s fragility.

On one hand, doing so ensures you make the most of each moment, because you don’t know what’s coming next.

On the other hand, the only way you can do this is to acknowledge you don’t know what’s coming next, that anything is possible — meaning your appreciation of the present moment is dependent on your acceptance of that reality.

Which introduces a whole new awareness to your reality.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find my proper balance. This defense mechanism keeps overplaying its hand, something that’s been evident every time my wife has called.

Just yesterday, while I was brushing my teeth, her name popped up on caller ID.

As always, despite that all her calls have been to warn me about traffic, or to ask me to put away avocados, or to make sure she lowered the garage door, I was certain her car had broken down or she’d been in an accident.

And as always — thank heavens, knock on wood, <insert your favorite superstitious, anti-jinx expression here> — she had not been.

She was hungry. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, and because we were meeting at her office in the next hour, she wanted me to bring her a granola bar.

It’s eye-opening, if not embarrassing, to subject yourself to such terror for what ends up being so trivial.

And I couldn’t help wondering what it would take to get my mind right.

But I’d also never felt such relief in being wrong.

*****

This originally appeared on Be Yourself.

 

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