My dad called me yesterday while I was outside in our yard with the kids. Sitting on a sunny patch on the front stoop, I answered the call with a, “hi dad.” To which he responded with a loud and crackly, “there is [crackle crackle] mail [crackle] can’t read sender [crackle] … [fizzz].” No greetings. No formalities.
My dad and I have been talking like we live on two different planets for years now. I am not sure what it is about our particular connection, but no matter how expensive our phones, no matter how fast our fast internet speeds, when my dad calls, the conversation I catch is always in bits and pieces, coming to me from someplace really far away.
“I have mail there? And you can’t tell who sent it?” I repeated back, doing my best to decipher his words that made it through. I left my parents home in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of 2006. Since then I have lived at half a dozen addresses in three different cities. So the chances of this piece of mail being important enough to warrant a special call is highly unlikely. Yet, here we were.
“The return address is hand written, but I can’t read it,” he said louder than needed. “Someone on [fizzzz] Malibu Drive. Do you know [crackle] who [crackle crackle] Malibu Dri….”.
Hand written, the words played over in my head. Then he added with great importance, “it’s in dark blue ink.” The mystery thickens.
Malibu Drive. Hand written. Dark blue ink. Who is this person!?
I thought back to the time when I dated someone in Charlotte who wasn’t quite happy with our break-up. Or may be an old friend from India who wants to reconnect after all these year. But it was the Malibu Drive that I kept coming back to.
I adjusted myself on the porch to follow the sunny patch which had now shifted slightly to the left. My dad continued to go in and out as he described in great details the script, the stamp, the creases that graced the envelope. At the end of the driveway, I could hear the distant voices of my children arguing over something, someone crying, and then it was silence again. Except for my dad who was still talking about the letter. “If I say nothing, will he eventually sniff the letter to see if that gave us any clues?” I wondered.
This person, who lives on Malibu Drive and handwrites letters in dark blue ink is a recluse for sure. Someone who smells like mothballs and old books. Someone who still uses an ink pen that needs to be refilled, with a metal nib worn down to the smoothness of a baby’s bottom after all these years of handwriting letters in dark blue ink. Someone who found a poem I had published as a 19-year-old, the name of which even I can’t remember. Something about world peace it was I think. Someone who has better things to do than get on the Internet and do a simple Google search.
“HELLO, HELLO,” my dad’s voice brought me back, “[fizzzz] what should I do [crackle]?”
“Open it.” I told him as serenely as I could. “That’s all there is left to do now.”
I heard him put down the phone and ripe open the envelope with this fingers. The sound of paper being handled by old hands in my ears. My eyes settled on the kids, who were now running around barefoot on a driveway littered with a million spike balls fallen from the trees above. “Put on your shoes”, I had repeated a million times before while standing right in front of their beautiful faces. To them though, I might as well have been on that same planet from where my dad was talking to me right now.
Finally he was back. “OHH”.
“Oh, what? What does it say?” I straighten up a bit as I asked eagerly but not wanting to sound it.
“Oh, it’s for Bible sale. It’s just [crackle crackle] …. “.
And that was that. If he was disappointed that the handwritten dark blue ink hadn’t amounted to much, he didn’t give it away. I tried to do the same as I mumbled “I was right about the old books part at least”.
“What did you say?” my dad asked.
“Oh nothing! I just [frizzz] …” I replied. He didn’t ask more.
“You’re doing good? [fizzzz] Are you eating enough? Because I don’t think you are eating enough”, he said this like he always does when he is about to say goodbye. “Yes dad”, I replied as I always do.
The mystery safely rested in a crumbled ball which I assumed he would dump later in the recycling bin next to shoe rack in the garage. There wasn’t anything more to talk about but each of us held on. Listening and taking comfort in the mysterious crackles and fizzes that seem to do the talking for us a lot of the times.
Once upon a time I was too young and impatient to care about such conversations. But these days, it’s nice to make something out of nothing. Together. With my dad.