28 Unable to Connect
The forest is dark but the sky is clear with stars. I stand in the snow, holding a phone in my hand. Behind me, the camp fire lights up the night and laughter from the people around the fire reaches my ears. I turn my face up to stare at the sky and the stars, then I look at the fire and after that, forced, my gaze turns down to the phone.
I hesitate to take off my gloves to dial the number.
My muscles feel heavy and tired after today’s hike but my mind races like a wild horse on an open field. Instead of the luxurious relaxing feeling of a good day’s work, I feel anxious and ashamed. The conversation from just moments before has left my body burning.
“What does your second child do nowadays?”
“She’s finishing her Master’s Degree. You know, writing her thesis.”
”Oh, she’s come a long way! What is she writing about?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure. I think it has something to do with communication?”
“Does she plan on graduating this Spring?”
“Um, I don’t know. Probably.”
“What does she plan to do after that?”
“I… I don’t know what she’s been planning. But then again, who knows what the kids think and do nowadays?”
I had always been sure I would be able to give equal affection, curiosity and discipline to all my three children. I had brushed away the talk about how the second child tends to get the least attention because the first child is the rebellious rule-breaker and the third the slightly spoiled because of her youth and take all the attention they can get.
I had been sure it was just talk.
And suddenly, here I was, in the middle of nothing, realizing how little I knew of my second child. How I had fallen into the stereotypical pattern and failed to give equal affection to all three of them.
After the conversation, there had been no more questions because everyone had realized I didn’t have any answers to give. In the silence that followed, I had reached out to my backpack, taken my phone and walked away from the group, saying I needed a moment for myself. Now, I look at the phone and finally, after several moments of hesitation, take off my gloves and press the home button, making the screen fill with light. I have 72% left of the battery, enough to make a call.
My body is filled with a mixture of cold and grey shame, a feeling of loss and wonder. I feel a strong need for compensating for all these years of failure, a need for fixing everything. I try to understand what has led to this moment in the woods, to this burning sense of shame in my body. Where did everything start to go wrong?
The screen goes dark. I press the home button again. Now the battery says 63%. It doesn’t like the cold. I don’t like the cold. In fact, I’d rather be at my second child’s door right now, ringing the door bell, asking if I can come in for a cup of tea and a friendly talk. Would she let me in? I really don’t know. But I could call her instead.
I could call her, but the battery on the phone keeps on announcing dropping percentage. Soon I won’t be able to call her because there won’t be enough power left to make one.
I could call her. I should, I really should. But what would I say?
I stand in the snow, thinking about calling her, searching for the right words to begin with. I almost find the courage to do it, but then the cold starts to creep into my fingers and toes and neck, and I shiver. I slip the phone into my jacket pocket and walk back to the people and the fire. I feel disappointment and anger with myself but can’t help but think
if there’s even a point in trying?
Even if I could call her or walk to her door, I wouldn’t know what to say. Because how do you pick up the conversation after ten years of hollow small-talk?