Making the Call
I hold my breath for a moment, letting it out slowly.
“Let’s do this.” I whisper to myself. I pinch the flesh between my thumb and index finger, threatening myself into action. In a rush, I pick up the phone and hold the 3 key. Speed dial zips through the numbers. In a moment I am greeted by the dial tone, awaiting my father to pick up the line.
I silently play the game I invented as a kid. “Don’t pick up, don’t pick up, don’t pick up,” I chant in a whisper against the echoing ring. Synchronicity is on my side and the call connects to his voice mail. I rush through a message, hitting all the familiar points.
“Hi Dad, I hope you’re well. I’m doing well. School is going great. Just leaving you a message to say hi. I’m sure we’ll catch up soon. Have a good night. Love ya.” I hang up the line, exhaling with force.
Calling my father always sends me in near panic attack territory. I would be a perfect candidate for a psychological study entitled, “The direct effects of traumatic telephone conversations to the central nervous system”. They would connect transmitters to my pulse points, have me dial dad’s number, and watch as I fall apart.
I open my laptop. For minutes, I stare blankly at the research article, the words blurring into meaningless spikes in the snow. I should have read this article weeks ago. I should already have these concepts crammed into my brain. I should be prepared for my final in the morning.
I should be better. I should be better. I should be better. Another chant from my childhood has found its way back to me.
My roommate, Tina, tumbles through the door, holding a half empty bottle of Honey Jack Daniels.
“Alicia, why are you in here being lame? Finals are over!”
“Your finals are over. I still have one in the morning. Sociology, remember?”
“Did you tell me that?” she asks herself, then takes a long drink. “Maybe. Do I have any finals left?” she takes another drink. “Nope!”
“Did you invent some kind of alcoholic magic eight ball?” I snicker, closing my laptop.
“What?” she’s spinning in a circle, struggling to get out of her jacket. I imagine a dog chasing its own tail.
“You were asking questions, then…never mind.” I laugh as she falls in the mess on her bed. Being ‘Party Tina’s’ roommate for the past nine months has been wildly entertaining. The girl did everything. She could put away a flask of tequila, secure the lead in Macbeth, and ace a physics exam in one afternoon, easy. Nothing ever seemed to bring her down. She was made of pure energy and the need to burn it off on everyone end everything around her.
“So, are you going to miss me this summer?” Tina called out from behind the curtain of her hair.
“No. I’ll be too busy working.” I think of my internship at my dad’s offices. Paper cuts, blisters, and migraines will be my new roommates. I had been promised long days of filing and resorting paperwork to help him with the downsizing. I could conduct a study called, “Determining lack of enjoyment for life with step 1, The Internship.”
“Well, I’m going to miss you, Alicia.”
“That’s sweet.” I say flatly against what tastes of a lie. We hardly hung out with each other outside this room. I once overheard a girl say, “No, the other Tina, Party Tina, rooms with that pre-law nerd. I think her name is Alyssa or something.” I was literally a non factor.
“I’m serious!” She sits up and steadies herself. “I think you would be fun to be around. If you, like, wanted to be that way. Fun.”
“Uh, thanks?” I turn away to my laptop, my face feeling hot.
“No! Ugh, I’m saying this wrong. Alicia, please, hear me out, okay?”
“You’re so focused on school and grades, and that’s amazing, you’re so smart and I would never knock you for getting the 4.0. But there’s so much more to experience in life, and I just see you missing it. And I don’t mean just parties and guys.” she rushes on, in response to my face of disgust.
Though I enjoy her tales and support her sexual independence, she knows I’m not interested in creating my own anthology of sordid adventures around campus.
“You’re like, so closed up. It was really bad when I first met you. Remember move in day? I was going through so much. Sad from my going away party, excited to meet you and be in college. But you and your dad kept looking at me like I was an alien!”
“I had never seen someone act like that before.” I laugh at the memory of her laughing one minute then crying the next. For months, my dad asked if I wanted to request a single room. “I thought you were crazy.”
“Me!” she points to herself, mockingly. “I prefer the label, ‘free’. But really, people label others to make themselves feel more comfortable within the box they reside.” She leans into me. “But I think you’re just about ready to burst out of yours.”
“What are you talking about, Tina.”
“You.” she points to me. “Moment of truth. Do you really want to work for your dad this summer?”
“Of course. I need to help him file and transport paperwork so that when his law firm starts up again,”
“Stop. You’re not hearing me.” She sits on my bed. “Do you want to do the work? Invest the time in this path of life? Is this what you imagine for yourself?”
I look out the window. Campus has become a safety zone for my imagination. I’ve thought of being a part of the wild scene that Tina rolls with. I’ve thought about signing up for a trip to explore another continent. I’ve thought about telling my father I don’t want to be a lawyer. But I always knew my reality would play differently.
“It’s what I have to do, even if it’s not what I want to do.”
“Alicia, look at your hands.” Tina says gently. I look down and realize I’m digging my fingers into my palms, causing deep red crescent moons to form.
“Sorry.” I release my fists.
“Why are you apologizing to me?” Tina sighs. “I’m the one who is sorry.”
“For not being able to force you out of your shell. And I tried. I saw it starting to crack at the edges. But you can’t live excitement vicariously, Alicia. You have to find it in your own life. And I don’t see that happening if you’re just following in what other people want you to be. You’ll just keep hurting yourself silently.”
I exhale a shaking breath. Everything she said was true. For nine months, she’s been my entire social life, via proxy. I stressed each day about the impression I was making, how well my courses were going, how I could get and stay ahead. Because those were the questions my father asked each day when he called.
“I don’t know how to be any other way than this.” I whisper, still looking at my hands. It was easy for Tina to be carefree. She didn’t have expectations of her behavior. She could worship the gods of adventure and discovery.
“It’s your life, Alicia, you’re in control. Do you really know that? What if you didn’t go home next week. What if you didn’t work at the law offices, at least not immediately. What if you just followed your own path for once? Made your own excitement? I heard they’re still taking volunteers for the trip to Brazil.”
“I knew you’d want to go!” Tina runs to her book bag. She pulls out a pink sheet of paper and thrusts it into my hands. It’s an application for the service trip to Brazil, due by the end of the day. My heart thumps loudly in my ears as I read the trip description. I want this.
“I knew it! Do it out right now, no more thinking. I’ll take it to the Office of International Affairs.” Tina paces as I complete the form. She snatches it just as I’ve filled out the last line.
“This is everything. I’m so excited for you. Can you feel it? The winds of change have come!” She dances around, pulling me to my feet. We are spinning and giggling as I hear my phone ring from across the room. Tina kisses my cheek and takes off out the door.
I pick up my phone. It’s my Dad. I gasp in air, then stop. It’s my life.
“Hi,” I say with a smile. “So, I have something to tell you.”