Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hocus, Pocus, Please Let Me Focus

The conversation usually always starts off well. I am alert. Excited. I love a good discussion. Especially when the interaction flows back and forth like a good tennis match.

(Or, in my case, I prefer a really good egg toss.)

But sometimes, the ball stays too long in that person's court. Their sentences run into paragraphs and those paragraphs flow into chapters and then into a short book and then it's a novel.

I really do try and keep my focus. I ask a question and if the talker lifts his finger up as if hushing me, and wanting me to save my questions for the end, then it's all over for me.

My eyes start to cross. I shake my head and blink hard. I nod my head a time or two. I know they're losing me, and I succumb.

It begins with my ears first.

The voice takes on a more hallow sound with an echo to it. It's very soothing to me; similar to the ocean waves lapping on the beach.

Then I feel it in my eyes. They start to lose focus and I begin to see this person through a soft-focused lens. Eventually their face turns into one of those Magic Eye images from the 90s, where an entire 3D illusion appears before me.

Seems like then, the only thing that wakes me up out of that blurred coma is one of two things:

They laugh really hard.
Or they say my name.

It's a startling wake-up. Like an unexpected loud siren alarm clock blaring in the middle of the night.

I panic! "What?! Say that again?" as I laugh nervously with them. Unless I have confused their crying with laughter, and nothing ever good comes out of that moment.


An old teenage friend calls me out of the blue about once a year. For the past four years, he asks me where I was when the plane hit the World Trade Center Towers on September 11th. Before I have a chance to say, he is telling me his story of hearing it on the radio while driving to work. After two hours of not talking, only listening, my ear feeling flat from the telephone, I stop him to say I need to hang up. He is only at the part of his story when the second tower is being hit.

He forgets I watched it unfold, too, staring at the TV set in the darkness of my bedroom.

Every year now, in three or four different phone conversations, I have heard the same story. It is memorized now. I can recognize when he will pause. When he will change the fluctuations in his voice. And, always around the second hour, just when the plane hits the second tower, I need to let him go, and say "let's finish this conversation another time." Only sadly, it never begins where we have left off. He begins again at the beginning. I've never been able to get past the second building with him.

I know I'm just one of hundreds of people he tells this story to. I try and be polite. I ask him questions but he doesn't hear it. When I make a comment, he ignores it as he recites his story he tells over and over again.

I know this has been traumatizing for him. I should listen through to the end. But I know that story only too well. It isn't just his story. It is all of our story.

He called again tonight. The answering machine picked up before I could find my phone in time, and as I heard his voice, I decided to let him leave a message.

I could tell he just wanted to talk. Not converse.

I sat and listened to it in the dark of my room. He began by saying how the goverment should have given more money to the surviving families from September 11th. My answering machine hung up on him after a couple of minutes.

I went to hit delete. But I couldn't.

The message light is still blinking.

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