It was late on a Tuesday night. I was nestled into my couch pillows, playing solitaire on my phone and listening to another episode of Brooklyn 99. My eyelids were drooping, coaxing me to relent and doze off when Nathan’s name landed on the top of my now vibrating screen. This is not unusual. My older brother often calls just as I slip towards sleep. Sometimes I think about not answering and just closing my eyes, but family means you answer the phone, even when you don’t feel like talking.
This time he’s on his way back from a dinner meeting with someone who works in agricultural financing. He’s in an Uber on his way back to the apartment and I can hear classic rock in the background. He tells me about the dinner and I ask where he’s headed next—an airport hotel in Baltimore before an early flight to Colorado. We talk about his new skis and I can hear his shoes against the lobby floor as he steps into an elevator. I sit up a little straighter on the couch—I love talking about ski gear. I can hear him rustling through what sounds like his closet—probably packing while he waits for an Uber he’s already called. He says, almost absentmindedly, “I’m trying to make a train.”
The Uber cancels at the last minute and our conversation pauses while he tries to order another. I have time to play a round of solitaire while I wait. I tell him that talking to him while he travels stresses me out. It’s a little true, but honestly, it’s more amusing than anything, because he always figures it out and makes the train, or the flight, or the meeting. Like he says,”What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
I finish the round of solitaire and he asks me to remind him what we were just talking about. I tell him about my skis and how great they are on ice and how stable they feel while I’m running toboggans. This new Uber driver is playing music heavy on the marimba. He gets out of the car while I’m asking about his plans for the rest of the week. He’s got a conference and then a ski trip with his wife and friends from her graduate program. We talk about the benefits of the Ikon pass while he descends into the throng at the train station. He starts to break up, losing reception under the concrete. We squeeze in an “I love you” and the call drops.
This is a typical phone call with Nathan: frequently chaotic, often interrupted, and full of his trademark happy energy and distracted speech pattern. Nathan’s mind moves so fast that his words are sometimes a few minutes behind the thing he’s actually paying attention to. I used to get frustrated and feel like he wasn’t fully present with me, but as we’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see these mid-journey phone calls as the signature of our familiarity. When he calls me between Ubers, or in the middle of placing a food order, or from a rooftop in Cairo, he’s saying that he wants me with him, in the middle of his actual life.
We don’t get the gift of physical presence with each other very often. My siblings and I left the nest early and flew to different cities through college before settling apart. After spending our most formative years in magical proximity, we left home to do our best work in the world. I miss them every day. These calls with Nathan are an invitation into his life as it swirls around him, and I love entering his escapades. I don’t travel much—my job doesn’t require it and my body often won’t allow it, but I love listening to Nathan have his adventures, and I feel so loved when he lets me come along.
And when I need his full attention, or when he needs mine, we only need to say that and the world is easily pushed aside. The gift of our closeness is that not every conversation needs to be serious. We can step in and out of each other’s lives because long-lived love has built trust and closeness that even miles can’t erode. I hope he calls again while he’s about to order food—I love knowing what he’s eating for dinner. I hope my sister calls me five minutes before her dance class starts just to tell me about an episode of New Girl. I hope we keep calling, even between Uber rides to our next adventures.
Ansley Kelly (’16) makes her home in Buffalo, NY, where she delights in short, sweet summers spent sailing and long winters spent skiing at her favorite mountain. Between outdoor adventures, you can find her buying books more quickly than she can read them and indulging in mid-morning naps. She works for Wegmans Food Markets where she finds purpose and joy in feeding her community and the wider world.