I want to tell you about the time I had John Denver’s phone number. Or at least the possibility of having his number.
By the time I might have had it, though, he was gone, having tried once more to touch the sun.
It was in one of those pre-palm pilot organizers, long before smartphones.
It had been stuck in a drawer in attic apartment in a little Nashville neighborhood that’s all condos and restaurants now, set aside by a woman who introduced herself to me and offered her condolences when she heard me read a poem about my mother, who’d died just a few months before.
The batteries were dead when she gave it to me. She warned me to not call any of the numbers, to erase them all before I used it. She was moving and had forgotten she’d inherited it from her sister, a singer who had made it big, who had probably gotten a palm pilot. It was 2001, after all. She knew I wouldn’t, but she felt compelled to tell me not to bother John’s widow. It had only been four years, after all.
I told her that I wouldn’t dream of it, but I did dream of the treasures and surprises I’d find, better than digging at Megiddo, wondered at the availability. The accessibility. The celebrity. Was Johnny Cash in there? Dolly? One of the Judds (the mom, at least)? The ghost of Elvis? But even with new batteries, the damned thing wouldn’t work. There was nothing to bring back to life, after all.
It was her sister’s obituary–the singer, the original owner of the organizer, gone far too soon, far too young, that made me think of this night, when I helped pack milk crates full of clothes and knickknacks down the stairs from that stuffy attic apartment, and she willed this broken hand-me-down to me–part parting gift, part “meh, it’s easier than trekking out back to the garbage.” It ended up in the trash anyway.
17 years and some change later, I return to the same neighborhood every week. I still talk like a circa-1974 country song baptized by Paul Tillich, and I still want a machine with the phone numbers of all those who’ve gone before. For the possibility, if not the actuality, of a voice on the other side.