collect.

There used to be a time, when some of us of a certain time, moved away from home, and called collect. There were operators then, mostly women in my memory, who would come on the line when you dialed 0, asking what you needed. A collect call, please. Connecting the call the operator waited while you listened in; a collect call, do you accept the charges? Once there was a yes, the line was open for the conversation and the operator left the call.

There is a time, for those of us from a certain time, when we stopped calling collect, and called direct. Our own phone, with our own long distance plan, and a way to pay the phone bill. That same time would find us talking about what we were doing, or going to do, instead of asking what we should do.

The shift from child to adult is the difference between paying the bill, or calling and expecting someone else to pay it. A way forward where the road becomes our own, and the way to get where we want paved by our answers instead of our questions. This same shift happens well into adulthood, when we have replaced or added to our parents other calls; to friends, work mates, siblings—what should I do, when should I leave, what will happen to me?

I wonder sometimes if those are all the ways we still call collect, still wait on the line while someone accepts the charges, the person on the other end paying for our unanswered questions, accepting the charge of our blame or disappointment when they give us advice we didn’t like, or don’t want to follow; when we don’t know how to stop asking.

What does it mean to call direct? To me it means to pay our own way with no operator interfering. It means to make the calls we can afford, and leave the phone in it’s cradle when we are growing from our question to our answer. It means picking up the phone when there is nothing expected except connection.

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