How can I be 56 years old and still be uncomfortable leaving a voicemail on the phones of people or companies I don’t know? My words tumble out awkwardly and hesitant as if I’ve never left a message in my life. I feel like I end up saying the dumbest things and when I hang up, my face is usually all balled up in a pink-hued cringe.
I recently left such a voicemail at an inn where I was only trying to make a reservation for the weekend. Just make a call, speak to the nice innkeeper, get a room, hang up. But the nice innkeeper didn’t answer. He or she was busy. Or off for the day. Or in the bathroom or ordering Spanx on the internet or God knows what else. All I know is that no one was there to take my carefully rehearsed call. I knew what to say when they answered. When they didn’t, I was at a loss. Suddenly, I had no personal vocabulary or professional presence. I was a babbling idiot who ended up wishing them well and NOT leaving my phone number so they could get back to me, as was clearly instructed in the message.
Oh, god...do I have to call back again just to leave my number?
When I was growing up, the phone in our house was in the kitchen, like most everyone else’s. Was it there because it was the woman’s job to answer each ring, like some properly apronned secretary? Was Mom supposed to take messages while scouring the sink or rotating the roast? There may have been an extension in my parents’ room, but I wasn’t allowed on it. On my 16th birthday, the best gift ever was my own phone. Not my own line, like some of my friends, just an extension, but who cared? It was a maroon trimline and I felt like the prom queen. I didn’t actually have that many people to talk to, but in case A Boy called, I could chatter away all night long in private. But if that Boy called while I was out, I would have never known. (That’s probably when they all called, now that I think about it.) If no one was home, the phone went unanswered and unheard, like that tree in the forest.
I don’t recall when telephone answering machines started showing up plugged in next to everyone’s Ma Bell, but I feel like it wasn’t until I was a single parent…and woman… in the early 90s. It was a terrible time to get a telephone answering machine because then exes could leave unpleasant phone messages that make you smash what little glassware you have in your home. In addition, the home answering machine introduced an entirely new kind of anxiety for the single gal: The Did-He-Call Syndrome, triggered by a small, red, hopefully flashing, light. I hated that damn light. My messages were usually from my mom, my ex or Columbia House music club. (I think I still owe them money…) I always called my mom back, I never called my ex and I continue to this day to ignore Columbia House. This is probably when my Voicemail Anxiety began.
At some point in my personal telephone history, I realized I started to count on people having answering machines so I could leave whatever pertinent information I had to relay and could avoid talking to people. Speaking on the phone has never been a favorite pastime of mine, so being able to leave a message rather than enter into a long conversation about, well, anything, was preferable to me. I got my first cellphone 15 years ago, the month that I went back to school. I thought it was extravagant, but Angelo thought it was imperative that I have it since I would be driving to Massachusetts up to three times a week for the following two or more years to earn the degree I was after. I have to admit, it did make me feel both fancy and safe, but I don’t think I made one call on it the whole time because I was worried about the rates.
So, if I am so hip that I acquired each and every new telephone technology practically upon its arrival, why does having to leave a voicemail give me sweaty palms and an empty brain? I suspect it is texting. When texting, and its ungainly cousin “texted,” became the bleeding edge in communication, I embraced it. Communication without opening my mouth? Brilliant! Writing is what I always wanted to do anyway! I’m in. I can avoid making a phone call by sending a text? Done. My brain switched over eagerly and immediately, without so much as a CUL8R to the voice-message-composing cells I once may or may not have used to their fullest potential.
So, I know you’re dying of curiosity. Yes, I have a reservation. Yes, I had to call and fumble through another embarrassing explanation of my previous message, but at least they didn’t block my number.