My Mother gave me a Magic Phone when I was only seven. She told me that I could use it to call the Universe if I was sad, lonely, or upset. Or, if I really had some exciting news to tell and no one to tell it to. I wasn’t very good at it when I first started. I would pick up the little plastic handset and speak into it, but nobody answered.
My Mother told me that I would learn to talk over the Magic Phone as I got older. She was right. The first few times it bothered me that nobody answered my call. After a few tries though…I was able to use my imagination to make the Magic Phone work. I even got to know Carol (she was the operator who connected me to the different Departments: Office of So Sad, Bureau of Bad days, or the all too common- Lonely Days Department.
I used that phone all the way thru my teen years. My first year of college I had to call the Minister of Future Dreams on it. I had always wanted to be an Engineer…but I was flunking Calculus. I liked working with my hands. I always built things, or took things apart when I was a kid. At my college it was more about the Math and textbooks, not the tinkering, soldering, connecting of metal, plastic, or wood- that I so loved.
So I called on the Magic Phone to ask if I should quit. To my surprise (surprise is a gentle word to what I actually felt…what I felt was scared shitless) a voice answered. It was Carol.
“I am going to put you right through to the Life Choices Section. DO NOT HANG UP! I know you are surprised to hear my voice- don’t let it scare you. I have been listening to you since you were seven. Stay on the line. I have Life Choices on the other line and will connect you. DO NOT HANG UP!
Kevin, this is very important. All Life Choice calls are considered emergencies. Don’t you dare do anything, make a decision, or quit…until you talk to them! Okay?”
I had almost dropped the phone. I had almost hung up. Her words rang in my ear: “DO NOT HANG UP!” So I did not. A good thing too. Because when I first heard the words from the Life Choices Lady (a sweet sounding middle aged woman named Becky DuVois) I knew I had called the right place.
“Kevin. I have your records right here in front of me. (I heard paper being shuffled around with a light rustling sound) It seems that somewhere along the line you left the sharp edged future of higher math. I see here that around tenth grade you started to work more with wood than with engines and metal. Is that correct?
I nodded. That got a laugh from Miss DuVois.
“Kevin, I can’t see you nod. You have to answer me.”
I guess she worked with so many dumbstruck callers that she knew I was nodding even though she couldn’t see me. I laughed too.
“Sorry, Miss DuVois (“Please, call me Becky.”) err…okay, Becky. Yes, I had to build something in my woodworking class. It turned out pretty good.”
I could hear the laughter barely contained in her voice, just the right touch of incredulousness along with the laughter.
“Well…I won the State Art Show in Sculpture for the Wooden Virgin Mary I carved for my Mother in Wood Shop. “
“I would say that is a bit better than “pretty good”, wouldn’t you, Kevin?”
“Yes, Miss DuVois…I mean Becky.”
“Okay. So here are your Life Choices as I see them right now. You can struggle along for three more years in College. You will pass all four of your Calculus Classes. You will also pass all six of your Computer Science Courses…but barely. (Another rustling of papers) However, if you do that, I see in your records that you will burn out in graduate school…and oh…oh my. Can this be right?”
I heard the surprise and worry in Miss DuVois’s voice…it made me nervous.
“Can what be right?”
I heard more rustling of paper, and a muttered curse under her breath.
“Well, if you choose to be an Engineer as your Life Choice…your records show that at 27 you will quit your Ph.D program. At 28 you will be living at home with your Mother and Father…and you will be working the night shift as a janitor at Fairview General Hospital making…wait, can this be right? (Another curse under her breath) Well, according to my notes, you will be making the grand salary of seven dollars and eighty five cents.
“That’s minimum wage! Nobody can live off of that.”
I heard Miss DuVois sigh.
“I know. I know. But that is only if you make that Life Choice.“
There was a really long silence before I spoke.
“Do I have any other choices? I mean my Mom and Dad both want me to be an Engineer and make a lot of money.”
I don’t know why she wanted me to call her “Becky”, because when she spoke this time her voice was iron hard, convincing, devoid of any friendly Beckyness.
“You always have a choice. Always. Most folks use the excuse that they didn’t have a choice to cover up the simple fact that they didn’t think Life through. People end up in situations beyond their control and let Life dictate their choices. It makes me mad.“
I swallowed. Then her voice changed back to the warm Becky friend voice I preferred.
“Kevin, you are not an Engineer. You have the mind, heart, soul, and skill of an Artist. According to my records (again there was a shuffling of papers across a desk or in and out of folders), if you choose Engineering and three more years of college over dropping out and going to a Carpentry School- you will never make more than minimum wage. (Another rustle of paper being shuffled)
And…this is so sad. You will never meet her either.“
My mind was spinning.
“Carpentry? That isn’t Art…err…is it? And who is ‘Her'?"
“I can’t tell you who she is. I can tell you that if you make the wrong Life Choice, you won’t meet her at all. Carpentry is a good solid job. It keeps you around wood as you learn the skills to work with wood. It will give you a solid base to earn a living until you start your Wood Art Business. Your reputation as one of the best Finish Carpenters in the State will be the springboard for your later success in the Art World.
Plus you will meet her.”
That was it. The Phone went dead.
It has been ten years since I used the Magic Phone to call the Office of Life Choices. I picked it up again…wondering as I dialed the little plastic wheel with nine numbers and zero placed under each circular cut out- would Carol answer?
“Hello, Kevin. How may I direct your call?”
I smiled. Carol’s voice hadn’t changed a bit in ten years…all teeny bopper gets her first job with a little bit of the town gossip mixed in. I suspected she knew what department I wanted to talk with, and why I was calling. I bet I was right.
“Well, Miss DuVois over in Life Choices told me a decade ago that if I followed my heart and not my Parents wishes…I would make a living doing carpentry. She also said I would venture on to become an Artist with wood.
“Go on…” I heard Carol say.
“Well, I haven’t shown anyone my work yet, but I have about a dozen pieces I have been working on that I think might be pretty good.”
“High School State Award ‘pretty good’?”
I laughed too.
“Maybe a bit better. I know a lot more now.”
“Well then you don’t need to talk to Miss DuVois. Who do you wish me to connect you with?”
“I’m not sure which department I need to talk with.”
“Well, tell me why you called, maybe I can steer you to the right person or department.”
I could hear the kindness in Carol’s voice…so I blurted out something I hadn’t even told my Mother…or even myself.
“Well, Miss DuVois said if I followed my heart in business, I would meet the girl of my dreams. I…I…I think I met her.”
I could hear the scream of delight from Carol even when I held the phone a foot away from my ear.
“Oh, that is wonderful. Has she seen your Art Work? (Carol’s voice went suspicious and deep) Has ANYONE seen your Art work?”
“No. That is why I am calling. I think she might be the one…because I want her to be the first one to see what I created. I haven’t even shown my Mother my work yet.”
Carol didn’t even hesitate.
“Okay, I know right where to direct your call. DO NOT HANG UP! ( I laughed. I wouldn’t hang up if you offered me long life, billions of dollars and perfect health…I just wanted to know if “she” was “Her.”) I am putting you right through to the True Love Found Branch. I am skipping the Romance Section…they will understand. Plenty of time for them to reach out to you later.“
A few moments later and the sweetest, softest, gentlest, most caring kind voice I ever heard came online:
“Hello? Kevin? This is Mrs. Berry. How may I help you?”
I told her all about the girl I met when I volunteered to help build a Habitat for Humanity House. I told her how smart, pretty, strong, caring and competent she was. I told her that for six weeks I looked forward to going to the build site. I told her how we ate lunch every day together. How we laughed and giggled about silly stuff. I told her how safe I felt around that girl.
I told her I had never even had a girlfriend in High School or College…and that I mostly just worked and watched a few Netflix Shows. I poured my heart out to Mrs. Berry. She just prodded me with the occasional :”uh huh”, “you do say”, or “that is so sweet.”
Finally, I wound down. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, or what I might hear.
“So why are you calling me tonight?”
“Because tomorrow is our last day. I am afraid I will never see her again. I never asked her out. Heck, I don’t even know if she is single, or married, or whatever. We just seem to get along…and those questions never seemed to be important. “
“Well, I can check on that. Hold please.”
I wish I could describe the music the Magic Phone played while on hold. I guess if you put a rainbow, some kittens, mixed them all up with your favorite ice cream, and sweetest memory, then somehow played that as music…oh, and added a touch of delight…you would be close. I almost wished I could stay on hold longer. Almost.
“Okay, Kevin. I have some real good news. Real good.”
My heart was thumping so hard I could see my shirt moving to the beat. My hand got so sweaty I almost dropped the phone.
“What would that be?”
“She is single. (my heart soared) And guess who is on the other line…right now…right this minute, with my Colleague Hank here in the True Love Department.”
I was so befuddled I just blurted out what came to mind.
“You have more than one line?”
Mrs. Berry’s laugh was everything you can imagine coming from a wise loving woman- a laugh filled with all the joy of Motherhood colored with the romance of True Love.
“Of course, silly. It wouldn’t be fair to talk to just one half of a True Love, now would it?”
I laughed too.
“Is it her…I mean…is she the one on the other line?”
I was trembling. The phone was clicking against my ear like raindrops.
“Yes. Samantha is on the line right now with Hank. She is crying because she is pretty sure you are the one, but scared because you never asked her out. She thinks tomorrow will be the last time she sees you.”
“What do I do?”
Mrs. Berry laughed again…a laugh that held the certainty of True Love in it.
“Kevin, hang up with me right now. Then call Samantha. Here is her number.”
I did just that.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Samantha, it is me, Kevin. You know, from the build site.”
A quick indrawn breath was all I could hear on the other end.
“How did you get my number? I never gave it to you?”
I didn’t want to sound like a creep, weirdo or stalker. So I told the Truth, which was even weirder.
“While you were talking with Hank…I got the number from Mrs. Berry…she said Hank gave it to her as soon as she asked for it.”
There was a long silence. Not uncomfortable…I heard the “hold music” from the True Love Department playing gently in the background.
“You…you…you…have a Magic Phone too?”
“Well, yeah. My Mother gave it to me when I was seven.”
I could hear the amazement in Samantha’s voice. I knew from her reply everything was going to be okay.
“I got mine from my Mother too. I was six! Can you bring yours over to show me?”
“Sure. I will be right over.”
Sam and I stood in the doorway to the Nursery. Both the twins were sleeping. Sam leaned up against me as we just watched them sleep. When they get older we will tell them why one of them is named Carol, the other Hank. Until then, they can wonder why two plastic phones, one pink, one blue, are always in their room.
You never know when they might need to make a call.