Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Brief Survey Back

First of all, I've never had my own room.

Well I guess there was that time I started sleeping in the oversized closet we used as our toy room. One night when I was nine and feeling poetic me and my stuffed pig Kelsey moved onto the extra mattress we stored in there with my sheets, blankets, and floppy, case-less pillow. I was a lone ranger for less than a week until someone tattled on me and my parents shipped me back to the bunk above my sister. 

And then there was that one time when I was ten I asked for my own room for Christmas and my mom gifted me a coupon for the privilege of one night in next-door grandma's guest room. I slept in the middle of the bed with seven tasseled toss pillows stacked up behind, legs spread to either side, and watched I Love Lucy late into the night, to regret in the groggy morning. 

And every other night for over twenty one years it's been half the closet, permission for lights-out, and never a private doze or dream. 

My point is, I don't really have much experience with quiet rooms or homes. And with a family of eleven, and now with some nieces and in-laws that bring the total to fourteen here at the house, no one here really does for that matter. 

Whenever there are fewer than seven people here at home, "where is everyone" echoes through the house, not only because it's so empty, but because the silence is so weird that everyone who is at home has to bring up the phrase at least once. 

A few nights ago was one of those quiet nights. Just me, my husband, my brother, and his wife and two kids. My sister in law was kind enough to make dinner and bring it up from their basement apartment to share, and afterward my husband cleaned the five bowls, and I walked around the uncomfortably quiet room. 

The phone rang. 

There's a thing about our home phone. We never answer it. It rings and no one even flinches. I think I've touched it five times since I've been home and four of those times were because my niece had been playing with it so I had to pick it up to put back on the hook. By this point I think we've forgotten it's a phone and have started believing it's an ambient tune that happens at random times in the week. A complementary jingle the house provides to brighten our day. Or just annoy us. 

That night, for some reason I decided to answer it. 


Some telephone survey company. "Is Emilyn Gil available?" 

"Uh...yes, this is her." 

"Would you like to take a few minutes to do a brief survey?" 

I surrendered, for three reasons. One, I was caught by surprise because he used the name that has only legally been documented as mine for less than a month. Two, what are the chances that the one time I decide to pay attention to the notoriously ignored, almost non-existent house phone, it happens to be a call directed to me? (Some math geek, do your thing. I bet it's like, a really low number.) And three, because I used to work at a telephone survey company, and I thought, why not help a poor kid out. Up his PR a little. 

He starts the survey, and I'm already regretting my choice and starting to think of different ways to bail out. But then it's about my recent visit to the doctor's office, and I start to recognize the survey. Luckily, as I remember, this "brief" survey actually is one of the brief ones. 

"In your most recent visit, was the doctor understanding of your needs? Would you say definitely yes, somewhat, or no?"

I had asked these questions a hundred times. I wanted to recite the words with him as he said them, just to confuse the guy, but I didn't remember them well enough. I'll have to brush up for next time. 

I was an A+ survey-taker. I waited until he was completely finished with the questions and answers, clearly stated my desired answer exactly as he recited it to me, went through each question, left good comments for him to record, wished him a nice night at the end, and hung up. 

It's been, let's see...a little over two years since I was on the other side of the phone giving surveys. And since I finished the survey I've been pondering back on those survey times with fondness. Waking up in the late morning, dreading for when the hour hit two thirty and I'd have to go to work, sitting in my swivel chair bored out my mind, talking to rude and swearing people on the phone, having to stay till 11 sometimes to finish the surveys we needed, and what about this is fond again? 

I envy my past a lot. It's just so hard for me to leave it behind. When the present is hard I whine and pout at the door of my memories, wishing I could thrive again and again in the familiar moments. Even the hard ones. Because although in the moment it's confusing and terrible, looking back, I know just how to deal with it and would much rather take on that challenge again than the ones I'm dealing with today. 

But this time, looking back, it wasn't so much a sporadic, tiresome run down the up escalator, tripping and crying and trying to go back. It was more of the quiet page turn back in the photo album, curled up on the couch, in a fuzzy sweater, sipping hot chocolate through smiling lips.

So I learned something from this survey. It's okay to look back. Of course it is. Remember what it was like, ask some questions, let out some sighs. But when the survey is done, you hang up the phone. Get back to the present and give it your best. The hard things slip through the gaps with time, and you'll want to make sure there's enough good moments in your now to hang up in your gallery of life so there's something left to live for.