We got home and the house was dark. This teenage kid from down the street had knocked out all the phone lines and power lines in the neighborhood. There was trouble at home with his parents and he was upset about it. His mother had gotten a letter in the mail informing her that she had a cancerous growth on her right eyelid. She didn’t want to talk about it and she had thrown away the letter, but the father ended up finding it in the trash. They avoided one another after that, the mother in denial, the father not knowing how to approach the subject. He stopped halfway down the stairs one morning, and through the bannister and the crack in the bathroom door, he could see her in the shower. She caught him looking at her, her right eyelid drooping noticeably and uncomfortably, and she turned away so he wouldn’t see. The father just stood there in his blue pajamas halfway down the stairs, not knowing which way to go or what to do. I guess the kid figured that if his parents weren’t going to communicate, no one else in the neighborhood was going to either.
I felt bad for the kid, for his parents, for his family, but I was still mad that he had knocked out the phone lines. I gave up and slammed the dead phone down on the hook. My wife suggested trying our old answering machine that was built into the phone. We could at least pick up our messages. I shrugged and figured it was worth a try. There was only one message on there. It was from my daughter’s old high school principal. He was droning on and on about something, making endless digressions that began with, “When I was your age,” trying to make it clear that he sympathized and understood. I was about to erase the message, but my daughter said that she wanted to hear it. She said that everyone always got a kick out of the principal’s long boring stories. I handed her the phone and she put it to her ear and listened, laughing from time to time.