My first sentient memory was waking in an empty bed in a bright room to a dull headache. I looked at my digital clock. It flashed midnight.
I am a heavy sleeper, so I keep several clocks. The analog clock on my nightstand told me it was just after eight.
I woke again, closer to nine. I pulled the pillow from between my knees and staggered to the bathroom. I combed my hair with my fingers as I relieved myself.
I washed my hands and brushed my teeth. I put on a kettle for coffee.
I soaped a sponge to wash the dishes from the previous evening. Consuela had sweetly spearheaded the effort to gather them into the kitchen. Once I had filled the dish rack, I took my coffee to get started on work.
The computer was dead.
Oh, right; I recalled the clock in my bedroom. I turned on the computer and went on to fix the other snafus from previous night.
I reset the digital clock, turned on the answering machine, and restarted the fish tank.
Someone at the party must have flipped my switches.
I live in a postwar apartment. The attraction of modern apartments, particularly for the original tenants, was that basic specifications could readily modified. My long-lived predecessor in this apartment had a bright idea: as there were no overhead lights in the bedrooms, she had the outlets wired to wall switches. When she went to bed at night, she could turn off the console television in the living room, flip two switches and turn in, confident that all the lamps were out.
It was a very nice idea in nineteen fifty-five.
Since then, of course, many things have changed. I did a good deal of redecorating before moving in, but somehow I overlooked the wiring. Nowadays, the wall outlets are dedicated not only to lamps, but also to power strips supporting things that didn’t exist fifty years ago. This is generally not a problem. But it can be a hangover after parties.
As people prepare to head home after a party, they seek out their belongings by flipping switches when they enter a candlelit room. It’s a natural reaction, though doing so at my place produces no lights—it just kills the electronics No biggie. I know how to fix it.
With my clock reset and my electronics up and running, I settled in to work. I had a productive day, happily uninterrupted by telephone calls.
My aversion to telephones is well known among my friends and family. I regard them as nuisances to be used only when ordering Chinese or summoning ambulances. I generally let calls go to voice mail and return them at my convenience. Ignoring telephones is a useful tactic if I want to get things done.
So it was that for a couple of days, I failed to notice that somehow, in the course of the most recent party, some unsuspecting soul had murdered my telephone. The phone had served me well for over a decade. Apparently its time had come. By being detached and reattached, powered on and off, its final bell had rung. Once I noticed its demise, I took steps to acquire a replacement. I picked up two phones, in fact, so that there would be a back up in another room.
My new phone rang not long after it was installed.
“Hank! Your phone works!”
“Hi Mom. Sure, it works. My old one died, so I have a new one. Still getting the hang of it . . .”
“Are you okay?”
“Sure, I’m fine. Why, what’s up?”
“Well, I’ll be darned. That bitch did it again.”
“What? Lucy? Why, what did she do?”
Mom explained that Lucy had called me and discovered that the voice mail did not pick up. She deduced that my phone was broken or out of service. She sent panicky emails to her parents and mine. I asked Mom to forward these emails to me.
Lucy’s first missive read:
Hello everyone. I am very very sad to write that Henry does not have a phone. I have called and called and there’s just no answer.
I’m very concerned about this! I have to be able to talk to the kids when they are with him. There could be an emergency.
I know he wants to be left alone, but he needs to accept that he is a father. It’s not responsible to have no phone.
Can you help??
My mother was quick to express her alarm.
Lucy, I’m sorry to hear about Henry’s phone. I’m scared because his great aunt is very sick. How will I reach him if anything goes wrong?
I don’t know what to tell you. He is very irresponsible to have no phone. Anything can happen!
All I can say is that you can contact me if you need to reach him. I see Henry when we trade the kids. I can’t promise that he will contact you, but I can promise that I will deliver your message.
I hope you aunt gets better.
Mom was somewhat relieved.
Lucy, thank you for offering. Please tell Henry to call me when he can. Tell him we love him.
Lucy’s father sent a short note wondering if the children would be “secure” with me while my phone was out of service. Lucy replied that she would hate to re-open the question of custody, but that was a real concern for her as well.
The emails went back and forth, fueled by Lucy’s anxiety and frustration.
Funny thing, though: at no point did any of these dimwits think to email me. Lucy did not cc me on the original email, and as they speculated about the possible fate of Henry and his phone, they continued to hit the “reply all” button.
I knew nothing about this until my mother called. I took a breath and composed an email.
My mother has forwarded to me the emails generated since Lucy discovered my phone was out of order the other day. I had no idea that there was concern, as no one bothered to email me.
It’s true: my old phone is no more. That relic of the last century has been consigned to the toy bin.
My new phone is up and running. Everyone is secure. Feel free to call anytime.
Lucy’s father emailed to thank me for the clarification. I told him that in the future, he should let me know when she gets like this. He knows his daughter is a little crazy where I am concerned.
One evening soon after, when the kids were with me, Lucy made a very unusual call to my parents. She rarely calls them for any reason. This time, she was apparently stoned. For over half an hour, she poured out her anxieties to my dad.
Henry is going to take the kids and leave, she said. He doesn’t have enough income to raise three kids in the city. He’s going to move south to live near you, and I will never see the kids.
She teared now and then as she spoke.
Dad tried to calm her. Henry is not moving south, Lucy. We would love to see more of him and the kids, but his career is in New York, and anyway, he would never take your babies away. He finally convinced her that there was no secret plan afoot.
Mom called to tell me about this. She asked why Lucy was going off the deep end.
The divorce is now final, I explained, and very fresh. I think it is sinking in that because she no longer controls me, she can’t always be in full control of the kids.
We wrote off Lucy’s call to drunk dialing.
Lucy subsequently arranged for Jason to have a cell phone. Now she calls him when she wants to speak to the kids.
She never rings my phone.