The Telephone Grizzly

People don’t realize that the telephone is the first lifeline that snips when a parent takes ill. When my mother’s cancer seeped into her brain, she didn’t know to ask for her black diary. That’s where she stored my phone number and those of all the people she called every day for something or other.

A decade later, when my father, the late Daddykins, dissolved into his illness, he stopped going to the phone. Instead, it went to him. It went to him through the person of the deputy secretary of homeland security, Vinayagam.

The young man would take the cordless phone to the rust-orange sofa by the window where his boss sat, newspaper on his lap, buried in the fog that separates the dying from the living.

“Saar, it’s your sister!” he'd say to Daddykins. “It’s your sweet sister from Kerala, Saar.” And my father would intone into the phone, fielding my aunt’s endless questions like an iPhone Siri, incapable of a laugh, a cry, a chortle, a snicker, a squeal, a surprise, a chuckle or a point of view.

Those of us who have lost a parent know that the day of demise isn’t the day of an actual, physical, blood-congealing death. It’s the day following which the parent will not come to the phone. It’s the day the parent is taught, by someone else, to greet the child.

For me, the telephone, especially my landline, is a grizzly monster, a demon that screens and permits incoming calls only from those on earth. For instance, it didn’t ring the morning of my birthday when, like the Times Square ball, Daddykins’ call would be the first one to drop so I could begin my life anew.

But I know one man is trying hard to keep my father alive. When I called Vinayagam today, four days after my birthday, he did what Daddykins always did. He sang into the phone exactly the way his boss used to, like a broken record. He sang the first two lines: “Happy Birthday to you, Kalpana. Happy Birthday to you, Kalpana.”

For those eleven seconds, for exactly those cadent but unmusical seconds, Daddykins was alive, again.

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Eating Alone

I enjoyed a nice meal alone at a local restaurant this evening. As I ate I was reminded of my sister's questions about the act of dining in solitude at restaurants.

"Wait, how on earth do you go to a restaurant all by yourself?" she’d ask whenever she found out I'd dined alone. "Just what do you do?"

"What do you mean?" I said. "I eat."

"How do you eat? All alone and all that?"

I've never understood how she has never understood that eating was not originally designed to be a communal experience. I assume that the lone neanderthal man speared a deer and relished the animal all by himself. I believe he pierced coconut husk, threw the nut on a rock and sank his teeth into jagged flesh. Things obviously got complicated as men and women got cliquish, learned social graces and laid down rules and etiquette. However, the simple act of eating itself was a quid pro quo arrangement between man, an implement (hand or fork or spoon or chopstick or ladle) and his mouth.

My sister told me that she could not fathom how I hammered, to rudimentary nothings, the act of eating alone at a public place. "Like, how do you just sit at a table all by yourself? What do you do?"

"I read. I look at my iPhone or my iPad. Sometimes, I might type into my laptop. Oh, I also love to people watch,” I explained while she looked on with what I might only describe as slack-jawed wonder.

"It’s no big deal," I told her. "I'm busy most of the time anyway."

"Doing what?"

"Eating."

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