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Telephone

So, for the past 6 months I’ve worked at what is basically a telecommunications place on my campus, except we’re not technically selling anything, unless you count encouraging kids to apply and eventually attend our university as selling. So, the bulk of people I’m reaching are between the ages of 14 and 18. Most people put down their home landline or family phone when they give us their information, but a few give us their personal cell phone. 

One thing that’s really struck me lately is the sheer attitude in most of these teen’s voicemail messages (and yes, more often than not we get the voicemail, which can be more weird and interesting than dull at times). There’s a scathing sort of tone at times that is just funny. Like, “I’m too cool and too busy to even bother with answering my phone, leave a message you peasant.”  

My favorites, though, are the ones who just leave a simple “Text me” for their voicemails. Straightforward, to the point — “Cater to my inability to answer a simple phone call.”

It reminds me of the saucy, incredibly stupid greeting I’d made for my first cellphone back when I was about 15. I think it was something like, “Hey, it’s Dani. I’m probably busy doing something way cooler than you because I have a life, leave your name and number after the tone.”

The last part really took the “cool” element out, but it was something ingrained in me since I was a kid. All of our phones, the landline, my parents, included it, so it seemed like I’d be pushing the envelop just a little too much if I’d left it out. 

My mother heard the greeting nearly a week after I’d recorded it, and left a terse reply in my inbox, telling me that I was rude and needed to change it immediately. I would have complied, too, except I didn’t know how. When it came time for colleges to start calling me, I am fairly certain it was still there, embarrassingly enough.

Which brings us full circle. I try not to make any kinds of judgements about the people I’m interacting with. The frustrated mom who picks up with a snap might be simply having a rough day. The kid who hangs up on me after the first ring could be a work. The dad who scolds me for mispronouncing a name is probably just tired of people being lazy about respecting his choice to incorporate his cultural heritage into his son’s name. Maybe “dinner” is codeword for “fight” or “homework” for “I don’t know where they are right now, damnit.”

Sometime times people tell the truth — I’ll never forget one girl hurriedly telling me she’d just found out she was pregnant after she’d said she wasn’t going to seek a degree and I’d inquired as to what she was looking for outside of college. A month ago a weary mother requested if I was a praying person that I keep her troubled daughter in mind. Another senior girl spoke to me for nearly forty minutes about looking for a place that would let her husband stay over occasionally when he wasn’t at basic training or deployed. And today, a father warmly told me about the charity his family created after his son, the person I’d been calling for, was diagnosed with cancer. Other co-workers have described calling a family who’d recently lost the student we were seeking to a coma after a rough car accident.

When I hear those sassy voicemail greeting, I’m often inclined to roll my eyes and be generally disdainful of the overly-dramatic and puffed-up false egos of these half-children-half-adult creatures. But then I think back to my own voicemail and the shit I went through in my own struggle through high school. And, goddamnit, I wish them the very best of luck. 

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