[Editor's Note: In a romantic mood. This is outdated, but I was thinking of it again recently and decided to dig it up. If nothing else, it offers some relief for today's earlier post.]
I was silly at the Verizon Store. [She] and my dad were teasing my about my phone dilemma—the apparent attachment I had developed to my now-obsolete cell, whose imminent loss I bemoaned unabashedly and whose inadequate replacement I condemned unforgivingly. “It’s just a phone,” she said, and I’m sure to her that’s true, but she has an iPhone. Or, to get to the problem’s marrow, she upgraded. She can’t possibly understand, because my new phone sucks. I hate it already. The interface is awful, it’s uncomfortably shaped, the spacebar on the keyboard doesn’t work right, and nothing functions as smoothly as it should. And I paid to have this instead of my old phone, which I loved.
We joked in the car that my previous phone was the one that first held her number, that first called and texted her. It was on that phone that we first flirted, planned, fell in love. It was on that phone that she texted me, “Je pense a toi et c’est terrible,” on that phone that I invited her over the first night we kissed, on that phone that I repeatedly surprised myself to find the memory filled up, quicker and quicker each time, with sweet nothings. I wasn’t serious at first, but even as I pronounced the joke the sentimentality hit me.
When a cell phone messages or calls, it sends a signal up to a satellite hanging blinkingly above the earth which then redirects back down and to its destination. Imagining those invisible beams of data bouncing between phones, I think there must be some spectrum on which they are visible: staticky webs of criss-crossing signal streams raining down from orbit and wrapping each device in the ephemeral glow of information. They’re white and grey and plain, except for mine and hers; when we text each other a great red signal throws itself into the stratosphere and rebounds explosively back to ground. On the right spectrum, you can see the difference—the cosmic deference satellites and air waves give our love-enriched, ruby text messages and our sanguine phone calls.
Riding away from her—on a train moving so slowly, crawling along so jerkily that I almost believed it was straining, yearning against some irresistible pull to give me the time to change my mind and get off—I was faced with the sudden realization that this imposter phone is my link to her.
She used to be at my fingertips. As soon as I felt the vibration, I would whip the phone from my pocket where it fit comfortably, always oriented in the same way. I would unlock it with a swipe of my thumb and open the text in the same action, and there were her words, each new message a brighter moment of affectionate oblivion. I would respond fluidly, easily, comfortably, as if speaking my native language.
Now I’m abroad, a tongue-tied stranger. I fumble to unlock the thing, thumb clumsily through the incessant menus and ads that pop up from nowhere, struggle with the keyboard to reply. All the while I worry about the years I’ll spend with this phone. Will I adapt? Will I be able to slyly peek at her messages during class? Will I learn to handle it gracefully, so as not to poison each interaction with curses and regret?
I worry that I won’t manage to balance it against my ear at night as I fall asleep to her breath, pretending she’s next to me. I imagine the sensation of the sleek new plastic sliding over my shoulder to muffle itself in the blankets; the spectral stimulus touches my neck, making me shudder. Suddenly I’m amputated, neutered. Pathetically, I miss the annoying tone that would wake us up in the morning—her to the tone, and me to her crankiness.
So she can’t understand. Her iPhone works so much better than her old phone. She can even e-mail me with it, Skype me—whatever. I am closer to her now. But I can barely text her. For two years (or until I snap and get a better phone) she is a little farther from me than she was before. My insecurities about leaving her in [-] are a little less tenuous. I’m a little farther away and miss her a little more (who thought it were possible?). I worry a little more, knowing that others have better phones, faster reaction times, greater facility. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet; I’ve seen romantic comedies. I know the difference between ‘happily ever after’ and a lifetime of regret is a moment. Now I watch her life not as before, but on a delay, with a handicap. What will I miss in the grey period?
Sentimentality is a funny thing. How is it that the vast, sweeping changes in the trajectory of my life never seem to bother me, but a new phone inspires such melodrama? Graduation was fairly meaningless. Law school was natural. France for a year? My biggest upset was the visa paperwork. But details resonate with me.
Men love women differently than women love men. Distance affects them differently. [She] worries about me falling out of love with her; I worry about her. Now, farther away than ever, I do not think I have ever worried so much or missed her more. I only hope we truly are on the cusp of a reward for our patience and trust.