by Denée Tyler
My mother passed on many traits to her children. Some of us have her jaw, strong and square; some of us have her skin, pale and freckled; and some of us have her hair, dark and curly. Other siblings have inherited her aversion to messiness and her anxiety about heights. I have had the misfortune of inheriting one of her less desirable attributes – her telephoning phobia. To speak plainly, making a simple phone call is more terrifying than donning a string bikini and swimming through a raging river filled with piranhas and crocodiles while being shot at with deadly blow darts. Phone neurosis continues to be a hardship throughout my adult life. I put off calling until the last possible moment, and sometimes I even resort to (Gasp!) little white lies to cover up my weakness.
I refer to a recent calling incident. My school has one of those really cool antique popcorn-popping machines. As teachers, we are allowed to use it for family and neighborhood functions IF WE ASK. A few months ago I made the monumental mistake of bringing the popcorn machine to a neighborhood movie night. Everyone was intrigued and envious: “Where did you get that?” “Do you think we could use it for our next (den meeting, family reunion, formal dinner party)?” Here is where I really messed up because, in the pressure of the moment, I said, “YES.” Now people occasionally call and say, “Do you think we could borrow the popcorn machine next week?”
The problem is that this necessitates a phone call to my school to ask if the popcorn machine is available. Notice that I say phone call. Email does not work for this particular task. So, I add the phone call to my list of things to do: sort my spices, dig up the backyard, translate the Iliad. These are all obviously top priorities and need to get done before the phone call. Day after day important things come up, and the phone call gets pushed to the bottom of the list. Suddenly it is the day of the event, and I realize I still haven’t called to ask about the popcorn popper. What am I going to tell the neighbors?
I resort to those aforementioned little white lies. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I’ve been down with hand, foot, and mouth disease and haven’t been able to talk for a week, so I couldn’t call and reserve it.” (Unfortunately, I can only use this excuse once, so I save it for a real emergency.) “I’ve been meaning to tell you that UDOT dug up the whole street outside my school; the phone lines have been down all week, and I couldn’t call and reserve it.” (This excuse is usually good at least once or twice a year.) Or, my personal favorite, “I called and left a message, but Mrs. Fitzgerald never got back to me.”
I really do feel guilty about shifting the blame for my personal inadequacies onto poor Mrs. Fitzgerald, but I don’t feel guilty enough to actually make the call.
They say that karma never fails to get you in the end, and that’s what’s happening to me now. My 23-year-old daughter Alison inherited my love of literature, my dislike of cats, and my phobias about telephoning. The other day she actually paid my teenage daughter Megan ten dollars to pretend she was Alison and call BYU to ask some questions about an upcoming senior seminar. If you ask me, I think Alison got off pretty cheap.
I wonder how much I would need to pay Megan to act as my personal secretary for the rest of my life . . .
The phobia is oh so real. The rest of the details may or may not be true – you decide.