Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Needing a "Phone Man."

A friend of mine had to make a really difficult phone call at work the other day. He had to call a grieving mother, who had just lost her daughter in a currently unsolved homicide, and send the condolences of his company.

His intent was all right, and of all people this is the guy who you'd pick to make the call. He is genuinely compassionate and caring and gentle and kind.

He dialed the number, and the mother picked up. He got only a few words out of his mouth before she cut him off - screaming and cursing at him, and then hung up. He was mortified.

I told him that maybe she just needed a "Phone Man."

When I was about 10 years old, my parents were giving me my own phone line for my birthday (cell phones were still the size of brief cases and cost as much as houses). Great gift, and was nearly an incredible surprise. But my father ruined it. The phone guy came early, and he let him in (in front of me, and said "here's your birthday present," a week before my actual birthday). Not such a big deal, but here's what you need to know - I never once saw my parents fight, but since I was seven years old I knew, really knew, they would get a divorce. (They did, when I was fourteen.)

In keeping with tradition and never fighting with my father, my mother lost it - on the poor phone man. She screamed and cursed at him in a way I'd never seen her do to anyone. It was a little scary. But then she kissed me, grabbed my hand and we went out for ice cream.

What I realize now, and probably knew then, was that she yelled at the phone guy to avoid yelling at my father (for my sake, not his). She needed to express her anger, frustration and disappointment, but misaimed and hit the poor phone guy instead of the real target.

I think this grieving mother needed a phone man - she needed to curse and yell and scream and say all the things that she can't (or isn't supposed to) say.

I told my friend that he was actually exactly what she needed. She needed an outlet, and he was some anonymous voice on the other line that made a perfect target.

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