While talking to my friend one morning, I heard the distinctive sound of a child’s heavy breathing from the upstairs extension. “Is someone there?” Silence. “Can you please hang up? I am using the phone.” I hear an abrupt click followed by fleeing footsteps and the slam of a bedroom door. The culprit was no stranger but rather my ten-year old son . I sat him down and explained that conversations are private and it is impolite to eavesdrop.
Oh the hypocrisy…
Flashback 30 years to my teenage self lying in the coolness of my suburban Long Island bedroom. It is midweek during the summer and raining. I am bored having not yet begun my summer job. I hear my mother from the kitchen downstairs talking to Bridie who is both her cousin and best friend from childhood. They grew up in Ireland together on adjoining farms. They enjoy an often complicated relationship, as close relations sometimes do. We still do not know who is the older of the two. I knew the drill well. The two would chat for a while and then Bridie would suggest she “come over for lunch” the following day. My mother loves her cousin dearly but some days is not in the mood for hosting a lunch but as always, cannot bring herself to say no. After they hang up, she complains bitterly but Bridie nonetheless, arrives the next day. All forgotten. And so it goes.
I pick up the receiver knowing it is wrong. My mother and Bridie are making small talk. I wait for the next pause in conversation. Putting on my best Irish accent in imitation of my mother, I ask “Bridie, why don’t you come over tomorrow? “ Bridie does not miss a beat, “Why I was just going to suggest that dear.”
The next few moments remain to this day, both vivid and jumbled in my memory. I recall a momentary silence as my mother dropped the receiver and her thundering footsteps ascending the stairs toward my room. In my haste to lock my bedroom door , I leave the receiver dangling on the bed. Bridie is still on the line. I try to hold the door shut but am no match for my adrenaline pumped mother who with the strength of Goliath pushes the door forward and lunges toward me. Generally a nonviolent woman, the incident has unraveled her to the core. Grabbing the only available weapon in sight, the phone, she begins to pummel me with it. In the ensuing chaos, I do recall one thing oh, so clearly… Bridie’s voice calling out from the other end “Hello! Hello?” HELLO? Is everything alright? Dear?” in between the strains of my screams of “Mom, NO PLEASE, I’m sorry!” MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Strangely enough, though I saw her numerous times after, Bridie never mentioned the phone incident. There is no doubt in my mind that having lain witness to the payback, if not in physical presence but in audio, was all she ever needed. And, I learned my lesson in spades. Sometimes though at family reunions, my sister with a gleam in her eye will ask my to recount the story of mom hitting me with the phone (nicely downplayed) which my father too always delighted in hearing.
I think I will have another talk with my son.