Thursday, September 5, 2019

Waiting For the Phone to Ring

From the Amazon #1 Best Seller - True Course - Lessons from a Life Aloft by Brigid Johnson

Chapter 10 - Waiting for the Phone to Ring 

As an airline pilot, you spend a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring. If your seniority is junior, you are often on what is known as “reserve” where you have to be on call to take a flight on short notice. Some days on reserve are really busy, and then there are days you about as busy as the old Maytag repairman. If you were lucky dispatch might release you early. Not often. My answering machine played Engelbert Humperdinck’s song “Please Release Me Let Me Go.” Dispatch was not amused.

But phone calls in our lives are like that; some were bringing good news and some bringing tragedy. You're almost sixteen, soon to have a license to freedom in your pocket, the polished chrome chariot to your future sitting in the driveway in the form of an ancient Volkswagen Beetle. Sixteen, a mile marker for some, for you anyway, old enough to drive, time stolen through pale fences that line the roads as you rush towards your future.

There's a boy in the cello section of the orchestra that you like, but he's always hovering around the delicate, blond flowers of the flute section. You are part of the posse of math and science geeks that occupy the wind and brass section that plays with the orchestra one day a week. But there you are with friends, armed only with overbites, wit and lung capacity, as you sit outside of the strings and the flutes, moving clumsily around like bespectacled bumblebees among the flowers. There's a dance coming up, a Sadie Hawkins one, in which the girls ask the boys. Your dad will have to drive you, but it's almost like a real date. With hopeful eyes, you bumble over and ask him to go with you. The blond next to him looks at you with a withering giggle. He says, “Uh. I'll call you later” with an expression that is not so much a smile as a dismissal. But you are too young and naive to see anything but the smile. You rush home, anticipation lingering around you, waiting to be breathed in and let loose in a sudden exhale as you rush to your room to wait. You will sit there in your room in silence for hours as the family eats without you, as dinner dishes are put away, and the room grows cold, your breath vaporizing in the growing dark. Waiting for that phone to ring.

You're eighteen, in college, trying to be grown up, as you took your first summer class there at age fourteen when you were still a child. But you are a child who is now carrying a child. The older guy who swept you off your feet and took what can't be replaced was gone with that call from the doctor. You remember the night she was born, ten pounds, six ounces, after thirty-four hours in labor, her head crowning, her body bursting forth onto the sweat and blood-soaked sheet. You remember only getting to hold her once, for just a moment before she is handed over, in your pain, to her adoptive parents, incredulous of her soft hair, perfect fingers, smelling of the womb, of warmth, of love. You look at her with a peripheral glance, while you uttered the name you would give her and the words you were not able to say again for years, for in fear of their utterance, the object of those words would be lost to you. I love you, don't forget me. You bring nothing home from the hospital, even as you left something there, not a baby, but something you could have lived your entire life with, without ever having known it was inside of you

It's an open adoption, you know where she is, and with who, but your word is your honor, and you promised not to get close. She has the option to contact you if she wishes when she turns eighteen but if she doesn't? That, as they say, is that. You gave your word, and you will respect it. There is nothing to do now but get back to your life and try not and notice that when you stop to think if she is safe from harm, your breath catches as if there is no air, and you are going to have to learn to either not worry about her every moment or live without breathing. So, it is as if she is fixed in that moment, forever an infant, the walls of that hospital, the door to that room, fleeing away, leaving just her image, preserved within a tear, inviolate in innocence, forever safe from harm and alteration. It's the only way you can sleep at night, as for the next eighteen years you wait for that phone to ring.

You get through, as best you can, with family, and a dog. A rescue, a runaway, soon to break your heart; that Husky. He was fiercely independent, living the life that philosophers and knights are known to do. You are pretty sure he was purebred, an incredibly beautiful dog, and one that probably set someone back a few dollars. But all that mattered was he was lost, no tag, and you tried your best to give him a home. Huskies are born to run, and with them, they will take your heart. You are determined to ensure that dog wouldn't be lost again; getting him vaccinated and tagged, with good food to eat, and a warm bed to sleep in. He spent the next month trying to escape the prison that he viewed his home and your ministrations. Even with long bike rides, and a big yard, he was determined to escape. He'd dig under the fence, climb over it. He was good with the family, he behaved well inside the house, but he was forever a compass between the far horizon and your affection, both implacable.

You try the big pet store dog training; you tried pleading and tears, which works neither on men or dogs for good reason. You tried walking him morning, noon and night. Finally, one day, he got out past your legs at the front door and ran and ran, not looking back. All you could do was put up fliers and worry. Waiting for that phone to ring.

He was found and returned safely. You would have asked him why if you could, were you not a good “mom?” Was he searching for the home he was lost from? All you got back was an inarticulate gaze, behind which could be either sadness or yearning, though he never let either show. You'd give him all the exercise you could, so he wouldn't run away. But it wasn't as if he was exhausted. He merely surrendered, as if he'd given over and released completely that grip upon the horizon that called, if only for now. It was a relinquishment that in some souls would mean death. But for this dog, it was simply a deep, soft sigh and a longing gaze out of a window as he rested his head on your arm. You do what you can to keep him happy and safe the rest of his life, but tell yourself you're not going to get another rescue dog after he's gone. Or any dog—you can do all right all by yourself.

You're in your thirties happily playing kerosene warrior, loading up a transport plane, simply getting ready for your responsibilities that night, the four bars on your shoulders a reminder of your duties. You don't know if it was pain or illusion that drove you to the skies, leaving broken hearth and home for that greed of adventures that flutters out there somewhere beyond. You don't look inward too closely, being more focused on what is outside, for what is there behind the darkness is more final than simply the loss of one's illusions. You're all aware of it, and one night, while waiting for the fuel guy, you get word that a plane is down, and someone says, “Isn’t that the one that John was flying on?” You pause for the rest of the words, there at that moment before the sun plunges into the edge of the earth, the shapes and forms of aircraft fixed by that already fading explosion. But you can't stop what you’re doing, each of you has one ear tuned to the task, men moving and working, shadows on the wall, not of flesh and blood, which is so fragile, but shadows of enduring hope and will, quiet as the murmur of your breath as you work, one ear still listening. Waiting for that phone to ring.

You're all grown now, still logging those miles on the road, still checking in with your dad when you arrive at your hotel when you travel, for though you're grown up, he's seen his ninety-eighth birthday and he worries, especially now that his days grow short. The phone lies silent on the seat of the car as you head out, the thump of the tires on the pavement tapping out a Morse code that is more felt than heard, the wheels pulling you further away from everything you have counted on and closer towards the unknown. The thump of the tires takes you back to those days on the back of a motorcycle, riding with your brother. You think of him, his arms strong in command of that bike, his hands calloused but delicate as he tended to your elderly father as his primary caregiver. You think back to your last night together, sitting out on the deck, birds twittering above as they built nests for their young, their sounds that of the chirp of a clock, counting off each and every second of spring. You could not imagine him so sick, even as you can't imagine him not being here now, talking to you each night, the cell phone silent in your pocket. The house is so empty now, with him gone, your furry best friend gone as well, the two of them quitting this earth within just a few weeks of each other. No regrets for that dog, that time, for you realized how alone you really were and added a purebred Lab puppy to your life.

You ponder a puppy again, a clean slate to start with a new friend, fresh starts, no scars, no history. But you also consider adoption, a rescue animal, one that needs sheltering as much as your heart does, one that will take more work, more trust. You said you never would, but hitting five-oh, you realized that life is a risk, never a possession. You fill out all of the paperwork, and you wait, there with a picture of a fuzzy older black Lab mix saved to your computer, wondering if she was already adopted, praying they would call. But it was time for other thoughts as you're nearing your destination, the blue and red lights guiding you to where you are called.

 After hanging up your professional wings at age forty, you followed in your mom’s footsteps and took a job in law enforcement, using that Ph.D. in a law enforcement related field earned late in life that you are probably still paying student loans on. It was a difficult decision, but you have outlived your sibling and your mom. Your dad is in failing health and needs someone there for him and not gone for days at a time. As a siren fills the air, you can't think of the future, and you can only drive through avatars that mark the accumulation of tears Waiting for that phone to ring.

You are here, this moment, now, lying in bed. You shut your eyes, laying your hands flat against the cool sheets, trying to will yourself to sleep so early, going on call at midnight. You remember what your martial arts instructor told you about breathing, how you enter the true home of your spirit with each intake of breath, each exhalation, actions as old as time, a rhythm that is both life and death. On the nightstand are two phones, your personal one and the one that tethers you to duty. You never know when that one will ring, a call signaling the excessive burden that is nature, fate or someone's personal jihad.

Tonight, you somehow expect it to go off, thinking of swinging out of bed and grabbing the bag, jumping into the truck. Gear in the back, teetering as if to fall, you accelerate too fast, the high beams blinding more than illuminating as they cut through the fog that coils in the lows in the road like a snake. You do this, as the world sleeps, in that state of blessed forgetfulness in which the most fragile of senses can slumber, free from the godless dark intents of man and nature. You go because it is what you do, as much as who you are

But tonight, the thought of that drive already exhausts you, even as you can't get to sleep. You look to the clock, wondering what time it is where the man you love is at, a mission for him that's as much a part of the love of what one does, as the duty, something you so understand. You wish he wasn't flying right now, burying the worry under the Kevlar exterior, but it's what he does, those trips as an engineer to distant factories, as much as whom he is. He'll call when he lands, so you know he's safe. You will smile, and you will both laugh, happy to be connected again.

Till then, you lay in the embrace of the sheets, all the thoughts of what is going on in the world tickling your senses like electricity, a flicker of current before darkness. On a shelf are photos, a boy, and a little girl in the lap of the man that chose to be their dad, having a snack of apples as he reads to them. There's another picture of those children, in motorcycle leathers, years later, in front of a couple of Valkyries in his driveway. There's an old picture of a group of pilots, all friends, all intact, even after a scare or two. There's a photo of someone holding a musical instrument, not the silly high school crush, but a person of substance and honor, who, through time and the tears that come from suspect choices, was always there for you, softly touching your scars while bearing your history.

Among the photos on the nightstand is one of a little girl with eyes the color of a storm-tossed sea, shaped just like yours. There's photo after photo of a young redheaded girl, all of those many years that you missed, a dance outfit, a soccer game, graduation, there in scraps of memory you can now safely hold and breathe in. All you have is a single, faded photo of a baby to show for those years you simply waited in silence, in stone.

Below that is a photo of a senior black rescue dog, taken by her foster mom. You’ve completed the paperwork and hope to adopt her. You glance at all of the pictures and smile, breathing deep as you drift off to sleep. As the sound of an airliner passes over the house, you realize that outside trouble may stir; shadows may rouse themselves from sleep. But somewhere far above and far away, someone slumbers aloft in that red-eye back from London, their breath, in and out, a rhythm which is not the mind, but the heart, marks and calls its measure. Somewhere far away, your child and her children sleep safely in their beds, as safe as a scared teenager, turned protector of those that have no voice, could make them. The clock ticks off one more notch of breath as you lay in that big bed in a quiet room, a too-long empty dog bed lying in the corner. Waiting for the phone to ring.

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Welcome to The Book of Barkley and the Blogville dog blogging community. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on our Lab Rescues that have joined our household since Barkley left us.

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