Sharing all but the tears
Through his five years at Reed, including a semester in Rome, Gavin talked by phone somewhat more frequently than I had with my parents three decades earlier. During my quarter century in Alaska the phone has become an essential tool for staying connected to family. Long distance calls no longer seem such a luxury nor an inconvenience. Every dorm room has its own phone now and, although we have not joined the technological wave, cell phones have added even more accessibility.
Yet we did not talk often. I had been there. I appreciate that typical Reed students keep odd hours. I shied away from calling Gavin, even during conventional hours, fearing to wake him from a much-needed nap, and I hesitated to intrude too much into his life. I saw it as his place to decide how to balance study, sleep, socializing, and parents. I mostly kept my hands off the phone and let him call when it suited him. The result, he recently confessed, was that we talked primarily when he had just finished a test or a paper, or otherwise felt well rested and on top of his workload. When he was grouchy or overwhelmed, he ignored me and concentrated on his work. His selective phoning probably gave me a skewed perspective on how harmonious a life he led.
A much more dramatic change in communication was the advent of email. Cyberspace kept us quite well connected. It enabled us to cross the barriers of time zones and sleep schedules. It let me come to work in the morning and type out a quick “hi, I’m thinking of you,” and allowed Gavin to respond that day or the next, as paper deadlines and sleep deficits allowed. Occasionally, we were both online and bored with other projects at the same time, so we traded a series of short messages quickly. More often, I’d come to work and find a reply logged into my inbox at 3 a.m. Portland time, when Gavin had found a minute to type a note after finishing his reading and before heading to bed. During his semester in Rome, virtually all our communications were by email, though he made a special point to find a phone on a busy street corner, calculate the time difference, and phone me on Mother’s Day. It was the only call he made in four months.