“Last night I got really drunk and accidentally butt dialed my ex… with my thumb.”
That joke used to kill at parties. But ever since the invention of CellSync, or the “Intercerebral Telephonic System” if you’re a computer scientist or just really pretentious, it’s become obsolete. This new generation of kids have the luxury of never having to know what butt dialing is, or rather was. It’s hard to sit on a phone that’s implanted in your brain.
Like any new technology, there was a learning curve with CellSync. Us early adopters experienced the brunt of the kinks that were being worked out. What follows is, I’m sure, one of many similar stories. What makes it unique is that it’s my story and I’m the one telling it. And since I can no longer tell my butt-dialing joke, maybe you’ll get a kick out of this.
This story, like so many others, starts off with a girl…
She was the type of girl that was impossible not to think about. Adriana. Her crystal blue eyes like two perfect stars nestled into the expanse of her olive skin’s night sky. Jet-black hair that hung halfway down her back and the subtle outline of her spine coaxing my eyes downward to her statuesque legs. And then, her feet. Her big ass feet. I’m sure even Cleopatra had a flaw, and if you had to find one on her, it’d be these. But they were also what I liked most about her. Not because it made her seem more human or any bullshit like that. But because, despite her insecurities about them, I always thought they were perfect too. If you’d given me a quiz on my ideal woman I might have left size 11 shoes off the list. But on her, they were beautiful. It was part of the whole, and I wanted all of her.
Five years may not be a long time in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re twenty-five that’s a fifth of your life, and a very important fifth at that. We’d been together five years. That was five months ago. Now, instead of spending my days with her, I spent them trying to get over her. Some days I even thought I was. Then CellSync hit the market and I quickly realized that just because something’s buried doesn’t mean it’s gone.
The process was simple enough; a short thirty-minute procedure where a tiny chip is implanted in your right of left temple, depending on preference. And just like that, humans had cell phones they didn’t have to hold. “Didn’t have to” is how they sold it. “Couldn’t” would have been a more accurate description.
To call someone all you had to do was touch your temple and think about them. I should have realized then that my tendency to close my eyes and rub my temples when I was stressed might be a problem. But I, like everyone else, was too caught up in how this technology was going to change the world. In a few years we’d be able to close our eyes and see pictures of our families or watch a movie on the back of our eyelids that appeared to be on an IMAX-sized screen or have a line showing you exactly where you parked or add up your grocery bill simply by looking at the items in your cart or any number of incredible things that people could dream up.
For now, we were limited to making and receiving calls. Which was still pretty awesome.
The first time it happened I was driving home from the surgery. It was a typical LA afternoon – air filled with smog, streets lined with cars, horns honking, police sirens blaring, and the more than occasional jolt of driving over a pothole. Basically everything that makes living in Southern California so stressful.
My 2006 Honda Accord puttered up to the streetlight at Venice and Lincoln Boulevard. Some assholes were blocking the intersection when the light turned green so I decided to pull off into the Chevron for a small amount of gas and a large amount of candy bar, something to make the rest of the ride home bearable. The strip on my credit card was as cracked as an LA sidewalk. That didn’t make me any less annoyed when the swiper on the gas pump couldn’t read it.
I stomped inside the station where I soon discovered that all the Reese’s were completely gone. I decided to get a Snickers instead, but I wasn’t happy about it.
I tossed the Snickers on the counter and asked the cashier for “Ten dollars on pump… uh… whatever the one is with the white car in front of it.”
“Three,” he said
“Oh. Yeah, sure.”
The cashier rang up the total. “That’ll be… Oh, look at that. 11-22. That’s today.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess it is,” I said, as if I needed a reminder. I could remember exactly what I’d done on every 11-22 for the past five years: The aquarium, Disneyland, Mexico, skydiving, Palm Springs, and all the birthday cakes she was happy to let me eat. And now, a gas station, buying a king-sized Snickers for one and still trying to decide whether I should return the engagement ring or wait a little longer to see if she’d come around.
It’d been five months since we broke up. I was still coming to grips with it while she had already moved on. When I found out she’d moved in with her new boyfriend three months after we split I thought about calling the cops. If assault and battery is illegal, why not this? I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, could barely make myself move. I’d rather take a dozen punches to the face and groin than go through one day of that.
“11-22,” I shook my head and handed my credit card to the cashier. “The strip’s a little beat up so you might have to…” As he started punching in the numbers I took a step back, the pressure in my head building to a fever pitch. I pressed my fingers to my temples and tried massaging out the pain. 11-22, I thought. Adriana’s birthday. I should be the one celebrating with her.
Just then I heard a woman’s voice in my head. “Calling, Adriana.”
“What the-“ I said, opening my eyes and looking around. It was just me and the cashier in the station. Then the ringing started and I grasped what was happening, but in my frenzy couldn’t remember how to end the call.
“Shit. Fuck. Shit.”
“Is everything okay, sir?”
“Yeah, just…” I jammed my fingers into my temples hoping that would get it to stop.
“Shit. Think.” Why hadn’t I paid more attention when the lady at the front desk was explaining the functionality?
Please don’t pick up. Please don’t pick up. Please don’t pick up.
“Are you sure everything’s all right?”
“You’ve reached Adriana,” I heard her say. “Leave it after the…”
Fuck! Now I really can’t talk or she’ll know it’s me!
As the sweat beads built on my forehead, a wave of recognition swept across the face of the cashier. He leaned over the counter and brought his fingers up to my face. I nodded my consent. He tapped the side of my temple twice.
“Call ended,” said the voice in my head.
“CellSync?” he asked.
“How’d you know?”
“Takes some getting used to,” he said as he handed me my Snickers and receipt.
“Thanks for your help,” I said as I stumbled out the door.
As I filled up my car I began to laugh. Maybe I was loopy from the gas or just the overall absurdity that was my life. Either way, I longed to go back to the days of butt dialing. At least then you had an excuse. Now, she’d know I was thinking of her.
Before getting in my car I tossed the Snickers in the trash determined that today was the day I turned things around.
Then I dug it back out. It had to be better for me than an entire cake.
After that first unintended call I tried to make my temple touchings a little more deliberate. It wasn’t easy. One time I accidentally called my aunt when I was using my hand as a pillow in the corner booth at an IHOP at three in the morning. I was nearly asleep when I heard, “Calling, Aunt Shelley.” Luckily I’d gotten really good at hanging up quickly after that first mistake. It didn’t even get to the first ring.
I sat up and stared at the cold chicken fingers and vat of honey mustard in front of me and reasoned that the smell of Lemon Meringue Pie coming from the tray the waitress had just brought to the table next to me must have activated a childhood memory of Aunt Shelley in the kitchen at Christmas. She made the best desserts and always let me lick the beaters before tossing them in the dishwasher. But the thing I remembered most about her were these rugged man hands that she’d earned at her day job as a pastry chef. Cooking was hard work. I thought about the desserts and her hands and it made me smile. Then my mind began to wander the way drunk minds often do.
You’d be surprised – or maybe not – at how short a leap it was for me from Aunt Shelley’s man hands to Adriana’s massive feet. My uninhibited brain had a tendency to find a way to relate things back to her, and there aren’t many people less inhibited than the guy sitting in the corner booth of an IHOP at three in the morning all by himself.
And so, the second time I called her was a little less innocent.
I decided to use being drunk as an excuse. I should have known better. After all, being drunk only sounds like a good excuse to someone who’s drunk, which I most certainly was, and she most certainly wasn’t.
“Hello?” There was more than a hint of annoyance under the raspiness of her waking voice. Still, my heart sank down to my honey mustard chicken-filled stomach.
It was the first time I’d heard her voice since she moved out. In those five months my brain had done a terrific job of convincing itself that the past five years must have been a dream. Sure, I’d checked her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But all those things could be automated. For all I knew HAL 9000 was running them now. But that voice. That raspy voice that had been my secret for half a decade. That was undeniable. She was absolutely real.
“You exist,” I said, not sure what kind of response I was expecting. In truth I was just re-affirming it to myself.
“It’s three in the morning, Dre. What do you want?”
Dre. No one but her calls me Dre.
My real name is Andre, taken from my dad’s favorite film, My Dinner With Andre. Everyone else shortened it to Andy. I guess the kids in my high school found that name to be more befitting of a white kid from Anaheim than Dre. But not her. From the moment she saw my real name on my driver’s license I’d been “Dre.” Even HAL 9000 couldn’t have known that.
“Oh. Addy. Hey,” I said trying to muster up as much aloofness as I could. Somewhere deep down I believed that was the only way to win her back. Somewhere deeper down I was fed up with the bullshit notion that people should pretend to be disinterested if they want someone to like them. What’s wrong with telling someone how you truly feel? Why couldn’t I just say, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’d like to meet up and talk”? As uninhibited as I was, I still had my pride.
“Jesus, Dre. It’s late, and I’m with Garrett.”
“Your boyfriend’s name is Garrett?” I scoffed.
“God. You’re such an asshole,” she said before hanging up.
I looked at the cold, pathetic meal in front of me.
Then I ate it.
Then I ordered a piece of Lemon Meringue Pie.
Somewhere between paying the tab and the cab ride home I sobered up. As I fell asleep I replayed the conversation in my mind. It was the first time we’d spoken in five months and I’d managed to confirm that she was alive, pretend I didn’t care, and insult her new boyfriend. I couldn’t be certain, but was pretty sure I’d nailed the Ex-Boyfriend Trifecta.
After a few minutes of self-loathing, I passed out, making sure my arms were tucked safely at my sides.
The third time it happened was a new low, even for me. It’d been two months since the IHOP fiasco and I honestly believed I was over her. I was dating this cute, little redhead, Jenny. She was pretty and successful and smelled nice and rarely got on my nerves, and, even so, I knew she’d never be more than a placeholder. She was the asterisk at the bottom of the page. If no one else came along, she might even be a chapter. But never an entire book.
I wasn’t sure if Jenny was aware of her role in my life or not and I damn sure wasn’t gonna tell her. Maybe that made me an asshole. I like to think it made me human. Anyone who’s been in more than a few relationships knows what a placeholder is, and if they tell you they don’t, they’re either lying to you or themselves. Why else would they put off a longer commitment? What’s stopping them from proposing, or, at the very least, moving in together? The truth is, we like having placeholders around. We like it so much that we’ll go on letting them believe this could last forever, even though, deep down, we’ve always known that someday we’re gonna leave them. So call me a coward. Whatever. I wanted someone to see movies with. That was Jenny.
My bladder has the tendency to disagree with the running time of most films so I was happy when we found two aisle seats in the packed theater. After sitting down I asked Jenny if she wanted anything from the concession stand. She said, “A small popcorn would be great.” I knew her enough to know this really meant she wanted a large soft drink, some kind of chocolate, those sour straw things that cut the top of your mouth, and a large popcorn, extra butter.
I handed the attendant my card. $22.65 was a small price to pay for peace and quiet throughout the movie.
When I came back with the treats, Jenny smiled, then pulled me in for a kiss. I could tell she was falling in love with me and I felt terrible for the hurt I’d eventually cause her.
And then she said it. Clear as day, just as the trailers started to roll.
“I love you.”
I could barely believe my ears. It was so matter of fact, as if she’d said it to me a thousand times before. Luckily I’d already stuffed a handful of Reese’s Pieces in my mouth.
I wrestled with how to respond. I wasn’t ready to give up my placeholder yet. She grabbed a handful of popcorn, seemingly unconcerned with my response. I swallowed the peanut-buttery deliciousness, then watched as the words tumbled out of my mouth.
“I love you too.”
“Excuse me?” she said.
“I… uh… love you too.” It sounded like a question.
“Andy, what are you talking about?”
“You… I thought… I just heard…”
That’s when she started laughing. Just a giggle at first, but soon it erupted into a roar the way laughter tends to do when you try to suppress it.
“Shh!” someone called out from behind us.
“Mind your business,” I shot back.
“I gotta go,” Jenny said as she stepped over me and started down the stairs.
I followed her a few steps down before realizing I’d left the treats and we might not be coming back. I rushed back up the stairs and piled them into my arms, then ran to catch up with her. In the darkness of the theater I misjudged the distance between steps and proceeded to eat shit. The popcorn, sour straws, chocolate, and drink fell to the floor in front of me and I crashed down on top of them, banging my head against the hardened theater carpet. There was an audible gasp from the people around me. One guy even asked if I was all right. I shook my head yes. I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about this too.
I scampered out of the theater, leaving the treats as collateral damage for the attendant to clean up. Jenny was waiting for me outside the theater. She had her arms folded and a look of pity on her face. It reminded me of the look Pepper, my childhood dog gave me after I pretended to throw a ball for him to fetch. Only this time I could tell I was the one who’d been duped.
“You love me?” she said.
“I… I thought you said.”
“I was on the phone with my sister,” she said pointing to her temple. “You know how she likes to ramble on sometimes.”
The lump in my throat expanded as I tried to figure out how I could be so stupid. Of course she hadn’t been talking to me. If only I’d been paying attention. There was the tone with which she said it, the reality that we’d only been dating for a few weeks, and the fact that we had just settled in to watch Paranormal Activity 4. Maybe the first two things would have been cancelled out if we were watching The Notebook, but not this.
“Oh,” is all I could manage.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a napkin. “You’re bleeding,” she said, pressing the napkin against my temple.
“Calling, Jenny,” the voice in my head said. I let it ring. She smiled. I tapped my temple twice.
When I dropped her off at home she said she’d call me tomorrow. It sounded more like “goodbye.”
Once she was gone I started to feel the headache that’d been building since my fall. I gingerly touched my temple. It had already begun to swell.
I piled into my car and pulled away. As I was merging onto the highway, the voice in my head said, “Calling, Jenny,” only this time both of my hands were on the steering wheel.
“What the hell?” I hung up before it rang.
Then it happened again. “Calling, Jenny.”
After a couple more times of calling and hanging up, I came to the conclusion that the swelling must be tricking the chip into thinking I was pressing it.
This isn’t happening, I thought. My mind was already racing through all the people I had been avoiding talking to, and one by one I called them, each time hanging up before their phone rang.
I rushed home and tried to Google a solution to my problem. It took forever having to type with one hand, and, for the first time in the history of ever, Google had no answers.
CellSync’s 24-Hour Help Desk didn’t live up to its name either.
“I need to stop calling people,” I told the operator.
“Okay, sir. All you have to do is not touch your temple. Can I assist you with anything else?”
“No. I mean, yes. Look, I told you. I hit my head and it’s swollen and now it’s calling people whether I touch my temple or not!”
“Well… just stop thinking about people.”
There was a long pause.
“Then maybe you should call them,” the operator said.
Maybe he was right, but I wasn’t in the mood to listen.
I hung up. By now the constant taps on my temple had become excruciating. “Just stop thinking about them,” I scoffed. If only it were that easy. I tried to remember the last time my mind was still. And that’s when I saw her.
Those crystal blue eyes. That olive skin. Her laugh that somehow drowned out every other noise in existence. And her feet.
“Her perfect feet,” I laughed.
I don’t know if it was the pain or my current predicament or the realization of how rare it was for me to not have someone else on my mind, but something caused me to break down. As the first tear touched my cheek, the voice in my head spoke up.
I let the phone ring.