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.


You went somewhere I could not find you. That last year, on the phone, I would say your name as many times as I could. Hi dad. Thank you dad. I love you dad. Bye dad. Every time I said it another tie to who you had been to me, who you had always been, the name I called you the same as all the years I had been yours, your daughter.

As I got older, I saw you less for what role you played for me, and more the man you were, the one you wanted to be—honest, charming, solid and sure. Your height kept me small, protected—the memory of the night when I watched ‘Carrie’ on tv in the cold side room of our old farm house. Too young and so scared I yelled from my bed, dad, dad, dad! Down the hall you walked, and slept in the other twin bed. How did you know to do that without making me feel weak, childish?

Your name held me to you, all those years, and especially the last few months, knowing you were leaving, the losing of you honest, solid, sure. I don’t know how to do this I said to my sisters. You don’t have to know, not yet, they said.

And then I knew.

I say your name still, into that place where I cannot find you. I miss you dad. I remember you dad. I won’t ever forget you.