when the phone doesn’t ring

i have a hunch that i’m not alone. i have a hunch there are kitchens all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, where there are tears, and telephones that don’t ring quite so much.

where there are kids, good kids, great kids, kids without twitches and warts on their noses. kids with big bold ideas, and marvelous senses of humor. kids who are dear, kids so amazing you would like to bottle them, copy them, fill whole conveyor belts with them. kids you’re convinced could take over the world, right now, if handed the keys and told to start driving.

but for whatever reason, whatever twist of the popular culture, whatever roll of the die, the phone doesn’t ring. not nearly as often as anyone wishes, hopes, crosses their fingers. not nearly as often as some heart-aching mother gets down on her knees, begging for just a wee dose of mercy.

maybe you remember the feeling. maybe once there was a saturday and you called the gaggle of kids to whom you were most closely connected. and you asked if maybe they wanted to play, and you heard, in the background, the giggling. only the person there on the phone made like no one was around, and they weren’t so interested in playing with you.

so you hung up the phone, there in the upstairs where you’d gone so no one could hear you laying your shame on the line. and you stared out the window, into the yard, while you felt the sting singe you in a way that, even now, even 40 years later, you still remember. it still makes you twinge.

you wondered, through eyes burning with tears, what in the world it was that made you so very uncool.

and going to school the next monday was the hardest thing that you ever did. looking them in the eyes, knowing they spent the rest of their afternoon, maybe, laughing about how they dissed you.

and so it’s been off and on through all of the years, when someone you love, someone you birthed maybe, comes down in the kitchen and wonders out loud why they’re so all alone. you suffered through sixth grade where the stories were awful. where you heard of the girl who called your kid names. who shrieked as if he was poison when he happened to take the seat next to hers.

and now you field questions like these: “shouldn’t it be more like 50-50, you approach kids, they approach you? shouldn’t other kids sometimes wanna call me?”

or observations such as this: “i’m realizing there’s a distinction between kids respecting you, appreciating your ideas and the way you express them and liking your sense of humor, and thinking of you as someone they’d want to hang out with.”

you listen to a kid you love tell you he’s heard all about the parties and getting together that will go on throughout a long weekend. and then you watch him call one, then two, then three kids. and each time you hear him say, oh thank you, as he hangs up the phone, and reports that the kid who he called was already out, already hanging with friends.

and it rips you, really it does, from one end of your heart to the other. so you pile in the car, you go get a movie. you pop popcorn. you laugh. and you sit very close.

but it’s a saturday, for crying out loud. a saturday night. and the whole time you’re watching scene after scene you are wishing you could do something to fix all the pain. you wish you could call other mothers, or put up a billboard. hello, great kid sitting at home. any chance you’ve got one to spare? one who might care to spend time with just another great kid on the planet?

but you can’t do that, not really you can’t. so you sit and you suffer in a way that you haven’t since back on that saturday, long long ago. when it was you who was drowning in a bath of pure pain.

and now, 40 years later, you realize you’d take a double or triple or a quadruple hit, if only, maybe, please, that darn phone would ring.

someone, turn off the silencer.

there’s a great kid who i know, a marvelous kid who makes me laugh harder than anyone i know, and he’s sitting alone, just doing his homework. it’s a saturday, or a sunday, or a monday or tuesday, and there’s no one but us in this house, it sure seems, who realizes how sorry that is.

and i have a hunch, really i do, that he’s not alone. that in kitchens, and bedrooms, all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, there are kids, there are tears spilled by the ones with no one to play with.

it’s not so easy to say i know a kid who is quite rather lonely sometimes. not always, mind you. but often enough. too many saturday nights. do you know a kid like that? do you wish, sometimes, there was a worldwide registry for really good kids who just weren’t finding their groove? do you know kids who are going to make really fine grownups but these kid-hood, it sure can be bumpy? are you a grownup who once heard the giggles on the other end of the line? what wisdom would you share? who wants to start a saturday night club for the coolest kids in the world?
p.s. cool photo above taken by really cool kid i happen to know…