Before high school and Facebook, there were a lot more phone calls. Landlines: voices traveling under the ground and whispering beneath our feet. Solid phone calls where everyone had the same area code and could be found at home. Instead of calling our voicemails, we responded to messages left on answering machines, the red zero blinking whenever there was a power outage, asking to be reset.
Keeping track of conversations is easier when they’re all written down, and when you can see what you said and when you said it and go back and analyze all of the tones over and over again. When you say something out loud, it’s gone as soon as it leaves the air.
I ask, “Can I call you?” Phone calls can go on and on, and you don’t need to worry about whether your words are “seen” or misinterpreted or ignored. You don’t count the number of times you talked to each other or talk out loud to someone else at the same time. Silences are full. There’s something calming about doing chemistry homework late at night and hearing someone else’s breathing.
Long phone calls melt into a feeling. Sometimes there are a few fuzzy quotes that kind of convey what happened when revisited a week later. Sometimes there aren’t. The feeling stays.
Going back and reading old Facebook chats, I see the times I wrote, “Can I call you?” They’re dark-outside times, and I can’t remember what we said, necessarily. Phone calls happen late at night when talking is quiet because everybody else is asleep, or supposed to be asleep. Phone calls happen late at night when voices don’t sound the same as they do a few hours earlier. Maybe because they’re quieter, or maybe because they’re just colored with the softness of time stretching out, with the softness of homework to be done and showers to be taken, voices to hold through a piece of plastic until we say goodbye and can go upstairs and fall asleep.