It took me much longer than I’d expected to find their number. Having never actually called before, it took me a while to figure out how to reach them. Liz, one of my friends who decided to resign all together said that they found her. “Oh yeah,” Liz said, “as soon as I took the exit, there they were at the stoplight. Waiting. Walked right up, smiled like we’d known each other forever. I’m thinking, easy-sneezy: this guy’s going to give me directions! Then he pokes my shoulder and says “You didn’t call this morning,” he said sounding serious, “Why is it, do you think, that people don’t call?” I said I just wanted to quit. Figured if I never showed up you’d get the message. Then we were nose-to-nose, “The only time I get a message is when people don’t call. Then I’ve got to waste my time to come out here and drag you back. . .” That’s when I became aware. . .aware of my failure. . .aware of all the facial. . .”
Liz never finishes that story; she always stops right before she describes her consequence, which is evident when you meet her, but of which she just can’t describe. The best she can do is, “I avoid mirrors.”
Because I couldn’t find the number and when I did, I was still on the fence about calling and just punching in, I greatly increased my chances that someone would answer. It’s Saturday I thought, maybe they’re off. Slowly I dialed the number; by the fifth ring I knew I was in the homestretch and could leave a mes. . . “Department of Human Services, Life speaking,” he said, and then repeated, “Human Services, Life speaking. Hello? Hello?” Uhm, yes. . .Life this is T.M. Mulligan, I said sheepishly. “Yes Mr. Mulligan, why do I have the pleasure of this call?” he asked. I told him I was ill and taking a sick day. “So you’re taking a day away from the human race, Mr. Mulligan?” His interrogation could be found on any page of a dime-store detective paperback. Yes, I replied, I’m just not up to the task today; not even the battalion of amphetamines could take command of depressions beachhead; everyone’s at a block party, my spouse made brownie’s, the dog’s been there twice already. I just can’t go.
“Can’t be part of the party? Rather be alone?” Life asked. Today, yes. Not every day. Just today, I answered. “How many people do you think call Time and tell her they’re taking off? And Birth, do you think those kids call Birth and threaten a sit in?” he asked. Well, I don’t think they have phones in there. . . “Or Death? Death never answers, and they don’t have voice mail; they’ve dumped their phone into a trash can and threw it in the closet. But Life? Life’s phone is always answered; even if I personally believe you could act as if you were having fun, you’ve had your share of suffering recently and, except for once in July, 2008 you’ve always managed to drag yourself out of abysmal despair and try to live life. I’ll mark you down as sick today, and we’ll see you tomorrow?” Yes, I stammered, yes I’ll definitely be in tomorrow. “Until tomorrow, then. By the way, I’ve sent you a little sunshine. Good-bye, Mr. Mulligan.”
The line went dead and then the doorbell rang. Cupped in the hands of a delivery person was the essence of Life: A bouquet of sunflowers.