The Awkward Phone Calls & My Dysfunctional Family

3:27:00 PM


I just had the most awkward phone call of my entire life. In real life, especially if I don't know someone, I am quiet and a bit socially awkward. For example, I have a difficult time making "small talk" with strangers. I never know what to say to continue the conversation whether it's in person or over the phone. There is always the dreaded awkward silence as I over-analyze everything I could say or should say in the pause of the conversation.  As the silence continues, I worry that the stranger probably thinks that I'm weird, unintelligent, conceited, or unfriendly.  Then, I start downing myself and wishing that I knew how to socialize better as I try to give a grin/smile/smirk (which may actually turn into a grimace depending on how long the silence is) in response to whatever they just said because I don't know what else to say or do.  Couple all of this with a faster heartbeat, shallow breathing and a sudden onslaught of nervous sweat that comes from just standing still in this situation, and it's not pretty.  
I feel you, girl! :(
Anyway, I am always working on it, and I think I'm getting a bit better.  When I was younger, it was much worse.  I rarely smiled (I was always being told to smile more), my voice and inflection was monotoned, and I rarely showed any emotion.  But, I say all of this as a disclaimer to the below phone call transcripts because my responses may seem cold or callous to some.  I'm sure you would have handled this much, much better or known what to say.  But, my social awkwardness gets worse, especially if I'm unexpectedly placed in an uncomfortable situation.  Like, I will nervously giggle or chuckle for no reason. Ok, I'm stalling...let's just get into it.

It all started when I got a missed phone call recently.  The person left a message.

Person: "Hi.  I am trying to reach Daina (insert maiden name).  This is your uncle from Toronto.  My number is ...."

That was it.  The person had my correct maiden name.  I figured it's probably a family member from my father's side of family, since some of them live in Canada.  My family is quite dysfunctional on both sides.  My parents separated when I was born, and my father decided he would not be in our lives, but he wouldn't grant my mother a divorce.  My family is originally from Jamaica and pretty old-fashioned in some instances.  So, my mother didn't pursue a divorce or remarry since it would have been considered scandalous for her as a woman at that time, even though my father was doing him.  So, I did not have a relationship with my father.  I only saw him twice in person for a brief period of time (at ages 3 and 10) and talked to him once on the phone very briefly (at age 11 or so)  - all of which were very negative experiences.  He died a couple years later.  I don't remember exactly when, but I think I was maybe 12.

When he died, I got a phone call from his brother.   Let's call him..."Uncle Grim."

Uncle Grim: "Hello, this is Uncle Grim. With whom, am I speaking?"

Me: "This is Daina." *who the fuck is Uncle Grim?* (I had a bit of a potty mouth when I was younger - outside of the hearing of adults, of course.  This was a time when kids FEARED adults and we wanted to keep all of our teeth.)

Uncle Grim: "Oh, hello, Daina. I am your father's brother."

Me: "Ok."

Uncle Grim: "I am so sorry to tell you this, but your father died."

Me: "Ok."

Uncle Grim: "..."

Me: "..."

Uncle Grim: "Did you hear what I said?  Can you understand me?" (He has an accent so he's assuming that I didn't understand him.)

Me: "Yes.  I heard you."

Uncle Grim: "Oh, um, ok.  Is your mother there?  Can I speak with her please?"

Me: "Mommy is at work.  But, I will let her know that you called when she gets home."

Uncle Grim: "Ok, thank you."

Me: "You're welcome.  Goodbye."  (I didn't think to get his phone number or any other info concerning the funeral or the like.)

When my mother got home, I gave her the message in my monotoned emotionless voice.  But, my mother was used to my "quirk."  My Uncle Grim, on the other hand, strongly felt like something "deeper" was going on with me, even though he had never met me.  In other words, he thought I was a bit touched because my response, or lack thereof, to learning about my father's death had shocked him.  I'm not sure what he was expecting since he was well aware that I didn't know my father and that my father wasn't in my life at all.  So, telling me that my father died was similar to telling me that a stranger I had never met or knew died.  Uncle Grim suggested that my mom put me in some sort of counseling.  Lol!  Anyway, I later learned that there wasn't a funeral for my father and that his family decided to cremate him shortly after he died.

Now, let's fast forward to more than 2.5 DECADES later....

I let my mom listen to the message left from the "uncle from Toronto."  She recognizes his voice as Uncle Grim.  I decide to return the call because I'm curious as to why he could be calling.  Aside from my father's sister and her husband (let's call them Aunt Bond and Uncle German), no other person on my father's side of family had ever bothered to connect with me or my sister.  Aunt Bond died a few years ago though.

So, here it goes...the awkward phone call...

Me: "Hello, good morning.  My name is Daina (insert maiden name - hubby name).  I am calling because someone left a message for me from this number.  Unfortunately, they did not leave their name.  They said that they were an uncle calling from Toronto trying to reach me?" *Did that even make any sense?  Am I speaking correctly?  Gosh, that sounds sooo suspect.

Uncle Grim: "I didn't call anyone."

Me: "Oh, I'm sorry to bother you.  I must have dialed the wrong number." *quickly glances at number on phone, which is correct.*  

Uncle Grim:  "Who did you say was calling?"

Me: "Daina (insert maiden name - hubby name).  My maiden name is ..."

Uncle Grim: "Oh, yes, Daina.  Yes, I did call you.  This is your Uncle Grim.  I'm your father's brother."

Me: "Hi, Uncle Grim.  How are you?"  *Gosh, it's already starting out awkward.  I wonder what he wants.*

Uncle Grim: "Do you remember me?"

Me: "No." (I'm lying.  I remember that he was the one that called when my father died, but I don't want to bring up the subject of his brother's death.  It just doesn't seem right.)

Uncle Grim: "You don't remember me? I saw you once when you were a very little girl.  You were about 4 or 6.  You and your sister came to visit Canada. You don't remember!?!

Me: "No, I'm sorry.  But, that was ages ago.  *I'm so sleep-deprived that I can barely remember what happened two days ago.  Shit, I'm barely remembering my kids' names at this point.  (Side-note: It's always been a pet-peeve of mine when older folks ask if I remember them, especially when they haven't played any role in my life whatsoever. Like, do you remember when you were a fetus in your mother's womb.  I was one of the outside voices.  Like, wtf?)  

Uncle Grim: "Oh. You were staying with Aunt Bond and Uncle German. You came to my house, but it was only for a few minutes because they were taking you to sightsee.

Me: "O...K...I'm, uh, sorry that I don't remember."  *Why am I apologizing?  And why is he so shocked that I don't remember?

Uncle Grim: "..."

Me: "..."

Me: "So...um, how are you, Uncle Grim?"  *Didn't I already ask that?  I think I did.  Did he already answer that question?  Was I not listening?

Uncle Grim: "Well, I can't complain."

Me: "Oh, that's good."  *Maybe I should ask him why he's calling. But, I don't want to be rude and seem like I'm rushing him off the phone.  Maybe I should ask him about his life or what he does.  But, I don't want to appear nosey.

Uncle Grim: "Well, Daina, I was calling because I don't have good news."

Me: "Um, ok.  What is it?"

Uncle Grim: "I'm calling to tell you that your Uncle Random died."

Me: "Ok." *Who the fuck is Uncle Random?  Should I follow up with sorry for your loss?  Or is it my loss, since he said "uncle."  If I say "your loss," am I just pointing out that I don't know "you people."

Uncle Grim: "I don't think you ever met him.  He was living in Florida.  He had been sick for over a year.  He was also your father's brother."

Me: "Oh...ok. Um, what did he die from?"  *Should I have asked that?  Is that too personal? What if he's still grieving?

Uncle Grim: "He was old."

Me: "..."

Uncle Grim: "He died in August.  I flew down to Florida and we cremated him in the beginning of September."

Me: "..."

Uncle Grim: "Your Uncle Gherman died a couple of years ago in 2013."

Me: "Uncle German died!??! Oh my God, I didn't know.  (Insert cousin's name) didn't even call and tell me.  I have to give her a call.  *I'm truly shocked and saddened because Uncle German has kept in touch with us even though he's not even blood.  He was very nice to us.  His wife, my Aunt Bond, died in 2011 and when she died, her daughter - my cousin - called to let us know.

Uncle Grim: "No, German is still alive.  That was Aunt Bond's husband.  Did you know that Aunt Bond died in 2011?"

Me: "Yes, I know. (Insert cousin's name) called and told us."  *I'm relieved but so confused.

Uncle Grim: "Well, it's your Uncle Gherman that's dead.  That's Gherman with an H.  He was living in Jamaica. He was also your father's brother."

Me: "Oh, ok. (insert nervous chuckle)" *Did I say that like I was relieved and happy that it wasn't Uncle German.  And what was up with that chuckle?  Shit.  Why do Jamaican's hate the letter H so much?  I am not going to ask what he died from.  But, I'm curious if they cremated him too.

Uncle Grim: "He was old too.  We're. All. Old.  I'm 72 now."

Me: "..." *What's up with the dramatic pauses?  Is he dying too?  

Uncle Grim: "..."

Me: "..." *This is painful.  I'm literally in  pain.

Me: "That's not that old.  I'm sure you have..." *Shut.  Up.  Don't you dare finish that sentence!  What the heck is wrong with me?

Uncle Grim:  "..."

Me: "Well, I'll tell mommy that you called and let her know that Uncle Random and Uncle Gherman with an H died."

Uncle Grim: "Ok.  I tried calling you before, but I didn't get anyone.  I got your number from Aunt Bond's phone book when she died."

Me: "Really, did you leave a message?" *I don't remember ever receiving a phone call from him.

Uncle Grim: "No, I didn't leave a message, but my wife said I should this time if I expect someone to call me back."

Me: "..."

Uncle Grim: "..."

Uncle Grim: "I tried calling your mom and your sister too, but I didn't leave a message."

Me: "Yeah, if someone doesn't leave a message, we don't normally call random numbers back."

Uncle Grim: "Yeah, I guess"

Me: "..." *He sounds like he doesn't believe me.  How would I know it's him calling?  I'm not purposefully ignoring his calls.  He must know that.

Me: "Well, this is my cell phone number, which I also use as a business line. If your name isn't saved in my phone, it just shows up as a random number.  And it would be too much to call back every random number that calls me.  I figure if someone has business with me or wants to have me call them back, they will leave a message." *Was this explanation even needed? 

Uncle Grim: "Oh, I see."

Me: "..."

Uncle Grim: "..."

Me: "Well, how are you, Uncle Grim? *I have no clue why I just asked him that again.  But, I don't know what else to say.

Uncle Grim: "Well, I was only calling to inform you of the death of Uncle Random.  I won't keep you any longer.  Tell your mother to call me."

Me: "Ok, I will. Thanks for letting me know."

Uncle Grim: "Goodbye."

Me: "Bye."


What just happened here?  Did he really just call to let me know that these random uncles that I never met died?  And that was it?  He didn't want to know how I've been or anything about me.  He didn't want to connect and share anything about himself?  If the one uncle has been sick for a year, why did he wait until after he died and he was cremated to let me know?  Also, why didn't he call for the previous two deaths? Was he trying to connect and maybe didn't know what to say?   Is this where I get my social awkwardness from?  And why is it that he keeps calling when people die anyway?  And why am I always the one getting these phone calls? Plus, they had my entire life to try to get to know me.  Since, they knew of me, why wait until they're dead or dying to reach out?  From the tone of his voice, it definitely didn't seem like he was trying to reach out for purposes of connecting.  It was almost as if he wanted me to feel some type of way about them dying and my lack of a relationship with them.

My hubby asked me how many uncles do I have.  I, of course, don't know the answer to that question.  But, my hubby says: "if you find out that Uncle Grim is the last one and he calls again leaving a message to call him back, don't you dare call him back." LOL!



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