Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Big Gray Phone

If the title sounds silly to you, thank you. It's supposed to, to any normal person. But the Big Gray Phone has caused sooo much trouble between my Family Of Choice and my Narcissistic Father. It's a symbol of his quirks that he uses to put us down, control us, and criticize us, a symbol of his hoarding, and also a symbol of a boundary I finally successfully put in place.

I'll write about our apartment woes another time. When we finally got NF to let us live in the apartment we wanted to live in (he's renting the other one out, anyway), I specifically asked "Dad, tell me now: Is there ANYTHING in this apartment that's dear to you? Please take it now, because we WILL be renovating". His response, after looking around desperately over the decrepit old place which no one had redone in over 60 years, said "Well, this clock is valuable" (it's not, by the way; it's 60-year-old Soviet crap, made to appear somewhat antique). And that was it. I knew he wouldn't TAKE anything, which is why I phrased the question like that. He'd have wanted us to live in a museum/storehouse/dump yard, because neither his girlfriend nor his tenants would agree to.

So, having received his blessing in this way, we started redoing the old apartment. We tried to sell the old furniture, then tried to give it away, and finally threw most of the junk away.

Among the stuff that was there, there was a 20-year-old, but functioning Panasonic fixed phone, which got relocated to our summer house.

The first mention of the Big Gray Phone was when he once came over and started going through our closet. "What are you doing, Dad?" I asked. "I'm looking for the Big Gray Phone (hand gestures describing something gigantic and possibly ancient). I want to take the cord (cords can be bought cheaply and easily anywhere). I can't find it. Where is it?" he asked, mildly panicky. "I don't know what you mean (I didn't. I thought he was describing something we must have put into the Obvious Junk category immediately. It sounded that way.) If it's not there, then possibly it was thrown away." "YOU THREW AWAY THE BIG GRAY PHONE?!?" He makes hand gestures that would be more appropriate for "YOU SMOTHERED YOUR NEWBORN BABY?!?"

He kept nagging about that, every time we talked, as if we'd done something to hurt him on purpose and it was the most insane thing anyone's ever done.

Then, when we realized that he was referring to the old Panasonic phone, we told him we hadn't thrown it away, but instead put it in the summer house.

A neighbor told me, much later, that she talked to him about us and said "They're good kids and good neighbors" to which he said "Them? Good?!? They're horrible! Do you know what they did? They threw away the Big Gray Phone!"

I confronted him about this, saying I don't mind it when he badmouths me to others and he can gossip all he wants, but it's not nice to use lies for that purpose. And we didn't throw it away and he knows it. He went pale immediately, terrified of what he'd done. I'm sure this was because, for his mother, that would have been the ultimate offense - gossiping to the neighbors, that is. Not lying. Or proving that you actually dislike your closest relative that you otherwise pretend to love (i.e. me, his daughter, in this case).

We have another fixed phone in the home, a cordless one, and the battery was acting up for a while, so sometimes, not often, when it rang, it would die, then we'd put it on the base for a second, and it was fine. So, because he's one of the very few people who call us on our fixed phone, he had to call back a few times. And he'd let us have it every time! "You need another landline. You can't just have that one. It's not working. And you threw away the Big Gray Phone!" I kept explaining, politely, that we're still in the process of remodeling and that we don't know where another landline would be suitable and that we'll be capable of purchasing a fixed phone ourselves and won't starve because of the lack of the Big Gray Phone in our lives. It didn't work - he'd bring it up every time.

Until, one time, he called us. I wasn't at home and my husband was putting the baby to sleep, saw he was calling on Caller ID and chose not to pick up because, yes, he was putting the baby to sleep. My father called later and said "See, the battery died again, didn't it?" And my husband replied "No, it didn't. I didn't pick up because I was putting the baby to sleep."

What does my father do? He sends me an sms a few hours later: "Dear Pronoia, you really need another fixed phone. I called today and the battery died again, so (your husband) couldn't pick up."

What on Earth? See that there? The crazy mind game? The trying to cause a rift between us? The trying to manipulate me against my husband? The sheer insanity of supposing that we'd lie to each other? That my husband would lie to me? And OVER THIS?

So I replied "The battery didn't die. (My husband) was putting the baby to sleep, as he's already told you. If, when, and what kind of phone we put in our home, is our business alone, so don't you worry about that." It was my by far the most "impolite" communication to him.  

He replied nothing. There was no communication from him for a week. And then he acted as if nothing had happened.

And he never mentioned fixed phones again, of any size, color, or shape.

Epiogue: We brought the Big Gray Phone back here recently because we decided to cancel the landline in our summer house - we really don't need it there.

His reaction when he saw it? "See this phone, Granddaughter? Your parents had it at the summer house for a while!"


  1. Yes to "making us live in a museum". My childhood bedroom, with my own affection-seeking consent, was furnished with heavy old inherited furniture that took up a lot of space and had to be treated carefully. That room is still the only room in the house to be furnished with inherited antiques.

    In this and other ways, I think I was made into a container for old things and high-culture things that my mother believed she ought to appreciate but in fact found tiresome. It gave me a good old-fashioned education so in a way it's not cause for complaint. Interesting, though, to think of a narcissist making other people into physical as well as emotional repositories.


  2. omg he makes me want to smash the big gray phone into little pieces and throw it in his face. wtf is wrong with him.
    he doesn't actually care about the phone. its some stupid arbitrary thing about control.

  3. GKA, that's a brilliant observation! Used as repositories!

    Thanks for the insight!


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