The Voice on the Machine

The first time you called I wasn’t home. It was a time before call display or voice mail. I had the old-fashioned answering machine.

“Leave your message after the beep.”

Your name was Ed ______, you were looking to talk to Al. I could tell by the tone and intonation of your voice that you were an elderly gentleman. That you had stories to tell and memories to share. I could also tell that you were haunted by someone or something. There was a subtle note of desperation to your voice. Congenial enough, but edged with a sense of longing.

You were bound and determined to talk to Al.

The next time you called I was home. I recognized your voice. I told you that “Al didn’t live here” and that you “had the wrong number”. You were surprised by this but very apologetic for having disrupted my day. I told you “no problem. Have a nice day.”

You sounded kind. You sounded respectable.

You sounded lonely.

The next time you called, again I wasn’t home. This time you left a very long message on my answering machine. You still thought you had reached Al’s residence. You were drunk.

You shared a lot about your life on that recording. In fact you filled up the entire tape and were cut off.

You were crying when you spoke.

It broke my heart to hear an old man sob. Heart wrenching sobs. It broke my heart that I was unable to put my hand on your shoulder or on your arm and offer some sort of support, some sort of comfort, some sort of validation of the heartbreak you were feeling.

To be a silent, comforting witness to your pain.

You sounded desperate for forgiveness. The type of forgiveness only a long time friend could give. You didn’t leave your number. I couldn’t call you back and tell you that Al didn’t get the message.

Two weeks later I was reading the newspaper. I read your obituary.

This time it was I who was crying.

I could put a face to the voice.

I wonder if you ever felt forgiven?


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