Disconnect

I am afraid
Of people behind counters
And of talking on the phone.
Ring
Ring
Ring
“Here; you answer it.
I don’t know who it is.”
My husband shakes his head,
Takes the phone, and says,
“Hello”
Like it’s not the hardest word.
He smiles,
Calls me ridiculous,
Kisses me on the cheek.
I laugh even though
I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.

I am afraid
Of neighbors across the street
And of visiting our friends.
“Our friends”
Because I don’t have any of my own.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband says hello again.
“Dinner next week?”
He raises eyebrows at me
And I nod my head,
like I know he hopes I will.
The next seven days are
Composed of dread and low expectations.
During dinner my mind
snaps a picture of every awkward silence
and confused stare.

But after is the worst,
When I take the photographs from their box
and read the writing on their backs.
Look.
They hate you.
You always say the wrong thing.
Why do you—
Why?
Why.
Now I am especially aware
That they are our friends.
“Our friends,” not mine.
Because he is the one
Who answers the phone
And I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid
Of congregants in their pews
And of talking to the pastor.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband isn’t here to answer.
He’s across the room,
A link in a circle of strangers,
Talking to our friends.
So I sit next to the pastor’s wife,
Our bibles on the pew between us.
She tells me it’s the devil
Saying those things I hear;
It’s the devil
Making me afraid of the telephone,
Of being a link in the circle,
Of singing the wrong note during worship,
Of talking too much, too little,
Too fast, too loud,
Too soft, too slow.
“It’s the devil,” she says
When I bring up brain chemistry
And therapy and medicine.
“It’s the devil,” she says.
“Let me pray with you.”

So we pray.
And I try to concentrate,
But I’m too busy being afraid
That I will say the wrong thing,
Pray the wrong thing;
That she will notice
My stutters–
My halting phrases–
That I am holding her hands too hard,
Or that my fingers are too cold,
That I am too open, too closed,
Too little, too much.
But most of all I am afraid
Because we are calling God
And he might notice too.

Ring
Ring
Ring
I hang up before He answers,
Smiling at the pastor’s wife,
Letting her hug me after “Amen.”
She laughs at the devil,
Her way of giving glory.
I laugh too, even though
This devil is me
And I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.
“Just pray,” she quips, looking away,
Punching a number
into her cell phone,
Like it’s something she
does every day.
“Call on Him and He will answer.”

But that’s what I’m afraid of.