My Anti-Pavlovian Protest

I remember when phones were fastened to the wall, their receivers connected by spiral cords. We dialed them with rotary dials. If you called someone and they weren’t at home the phone would just ring and ring.

We left home without the phones. We found our way or got lost. If we needed to know something, we went to the library and looked it up in a cabinet customized to house cards for the Dewey decimal system. We relied on the great rooms full of floor to ceiling bookshelves, the bookshelves full of books.

I remember the sound of the busy signal. I remember memorizing phone numbers. 277-8088 was our number on Wallace Lane. We knew we had an 801 area code but we didn’t use it. We wrote letters to people far away. Long distance calls were too expensive. I remember dialing 0 to reach an operator, a helpful person, with inflections in her voice— a human waiting to connect us to other humans.

I remember learning the proper way to answer the phone: Hello, Seymour residence, Nan speaking. I was so nervous about doing it right that once I answered the phone the way I had been taught to start a prayer. Dear Heavenly Father I blurted. There was silence then I hung up. I didn’t answer when it rang again.

I remember the day in high school mean Mr. Adams taught us about behavioral conditioning and Pavlov’s dogs who slobbered at the sound of a bell. “If you think you are better than those dogs” he sneered, “ask yourself if you decide to pick up the phone when it rings, or if you automatically pick it up.” That day I decided to decide. After that, when the phone rang at home I would ask myself if I wanted to pick it up. Often I didn’t, so I didn’t. I remember my mom flying in from the laundry room only to find me sitting calmly in the kitchen next to our ringing phone. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, grabbing the receiver. She didn't particularly appreciate my anti-Pavlovian protest. 

I miss being independent from phones. I miss being genuinely lost. I miss not googling.
I miss the way a field of disconnection cast connection in a more precious light.

I miss cursive.
I miss handwriting.
I miss Whiteout with its tiny little paintbrush.
I miss blowing on it and waiting for it to dry.
I miss trying again.

I miss our backyard on Wallace Lane which was a forest of feral Scrub Oak, my brother Todd perpetually swinging through it. I miss a particular Y-shaped tree which grew close to the house and just low enough for me to grab both sides of the Y and hook my right foot in its crook, then I could swing my body up into its cleft. First, I would hitch up the sides of my long cotton nightgown and tuck the edges into my underwear. From there, I could scramble up the roof and all the way to the top, which I often did at night.

The summer I was nineteen I waitressed downtown at the Hilton coffee shop. We closed at midnight. After refilling ketchups, I would fly on the freeway up from the valley floor back to the Wasatch foothills in my stepdad’s Buick Skylark. The car so sturdy and powerful, I pretended I was in a rocket ship. Once home, I would ascend to the rooftop then wait for the resonance of restaurant clamor to subside. There was no phone to look at then, no Facebook or Instagram to check. I would just sit on the roof for a quiet hour, facing East. I remember the way one green light blinked from the opposing foothills of the Oqhuirrhs. I remember the way the lights in the valley looked like a bowl full of stars.

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