TTLG: Pick Up the Phone
If my mom wanted to call home when she was in college, she got her jar of quarters and walked across the quad to the only dorm with a payphone, dialed the number and crossed her fingers that someone would pick up. If they didn’t, maybe she’d try again tomorrow. But calls were expensive, so they were short and infrequent. And if her parents wanted to reach her? They were basically s—t out of luck. They could try to call the payphone and ask for Susan, but on a campus with thousands of students and hundreds of Susans, those were tough odds. When she was away from home for months at a time, her contact with her family was limited in a way that’s hard for me to imagine.
My family has always been really close, so it’s not surprising that we keep in close contact despite all living in different places. Growing up, we were treated as a unit in my small town, referred to as “The Langfitts.” In high school, much of my time was spent with my parents. I trained for marathons with my mom, so we spent hours on long runs and getting coffee afterwards every Saturday. I took dance lessons at a studio in the town next to mine, and before I had my license, my dad would drive me on the hour-long round trip three times a week. Before coming to Dartmouth, the idea of not seeing my parents and siblings every day freaked me out. I’d never been away from my family for an extended period of time, and I was scared about how much I’d miss them.
When my parents dropped me off my freshman fall, my mom left a book on my bed with a letter she wrote saying that she was worried about missing me, too. She knew she’d miss talking on our runs and hearing about my classes over coffee every day but told me to remember that she’d always be just a phone call or short flight away. I cried reading that letter and called my parents for the first time since starting college life, a full two hours after they left. They’d barely made it out of the state.
Since then, I call my parents every day, often multiple times. Anytime I’m walking around campus, from class to class or from the library to the gym, I call my mom for a quick check-in on what’s been going on since I last called. Frequently, I don’t even have anything to say. She’ll ask what I’ve been up to. “Since we last talked two hours ago? I stood in the KAF line, drank my iced coffee and watched an episode of ‘The Great British Baking Show’ on FFB. What about you?”
When a call can’t get the message across, FaceTime is even better. I FaceTime my parents to show them mugs I made in the pottery studio, the crazy-bright Hanover sunsets and the snow as it’s falling. My mom can be more up-to-date on Hanover weather than my napping roommate. I send my parents pictures of cool jackets I find at Listen, and they watch YouTube videos of my dance group’s performances. Though they aren’t actually here with me, they are as close to here as they can possibly be while sitting in the kitchen eight hours away.
My siblings have the same habits I do. Sometimes my whole family ends up on a group call together because when I decide to call, my mom and dad are already on the phone with my brother and sister, and they merge me in. My sister FaceTimes us to show us new tattoos, and my brother sends songs he thinks we’ll like in lieu of playing it in the car together. I have to imagine my mom spends much of her day talking to us, and it amazes me that she is willing to give us so much of her time. There is little that goes on in our lives that she doesn’t know about.
When I got back from this past winter break, I cleaned out my desk and re-discovered the letter my mom wrote for me freshman fall. I cried all over again. While texting and calling keeps us close on a day-to-day basis, that letter has perfectly preserved the feeling of connection with my family for four years. In hindsight, I can’t believe how worried I was about missing home when I have so many ways of staying in touch, even when far away from the people I love.
After graduation, I’ll have one more summer at home before heading across the country to live in San Francisco for a little while. It will be the farthest I’ve ever lived from home and will also place me far away from the friends I’ve made at Dartmouth. I won’t be able to pop into Mid-Mass to see if my trippee wants to get lunch with me or walk around the library until I find someone to take a study break with.
Thankfully, texting and calling and FaceTiming means I can stay up-to-date with what’s going on in everyone’s lives. When communication is easy and instant, it becomes ordinary — but this regularity is exactly what keeps your relationships strong when you’re far apart. I don’t have to live on your floor to know that your roommate is being annoying and you’re thinking about getting a dog. Being included in someone’s day-to-day experiences is a special type of closeness, and I appreciate that technology allows me to do that from across the country.
However, I also want to send more letters. Even though we talk every day, rereading my mom’s letter instantly gave me the comfort of a long run and home-brewed cup of coffee. The time and effort put into a letter can preserve a specific feeling for that letter’s entire existence, acting as a time capsule of your relationship at the time of its writing. A text is great to hear about your day, but when you get a new job or turn 23, I’m sending you a letter to tell you just how proud I am of you.
That being said, I’m going to call my mom and tell her I finished writing my essay for the Mirror.