NaBloPoMo #9: Checking on Dad

Prompt: What is the first thing you do every single day (I mean, after you hit the snooze button)? When did that step in your routine begin?

When I wake up in the morning, I generally feel one of two things: a soul-crushing fatigue that makes me curse the universe, or a sense of urgency and expectation often accompanied by a song I recently heard or planning for an event that’s going to happen that day. These two feelings have physical symptoms such as eye strain and fatigue, lethargy, heaviness in my limbs, and a fuzziness in my head, although the latter feeling experiences these symptoms to a lesser, occasionally nonexistent degree. Regardless of what I’m feeling, however, I always turn over, unlock my phone, and check my notifications – even when the bright, LED light makes my eyes burn.

For as long as I’ve had a cell phone, which is 10 years now, I’ve checked my messages and notifications first thing in the morning. I want to claim ignorance for why I do so because surely it’s a tic, right? Or an expression of my millennial feelings of entitlement and distancing? There doesn’t need to be some deep, trauma-related reason for everything I do, right? How I wish that that were true.

The first reason is that I’m a lonely person who used to be a lonely child. Until I was eight, I was a shy kid who found any sort of attention deeply, painfully embarrassing. I didn’t have solid, endurable friends until I was in third grade, and consequently I spent a great deal of time courting their approval. Family troubles and my own intellect and preferences would isolate me from others through high school, and it would not be until I went to college that I felt incrementally less isolated, weird, and alone. So I am always thrilled to receive a message, whether it be by text, phone, email, or social media. I crave affection and connection, even if I still occasionally shy from it, and find the smallest bit of interaction meaningful, whether it’s a simple “Like” or a multi-paragraph email from a close friend.

The second reason is that during my first year of having a cell phone, my dad used to call constantly during the night. My parents had divorced only about two months before I went off to school, and my brother, mother, sister, and I had all left home (or the state). My dad, who is not stable at the best of times, was not taking it very well and was undergoing psychological strain that should have been handled by a trained professional but was instead handled by me, his 18-year-old daughter. He would call at one or three in the morning, often waking me up and forcing me to abandon my room in the middle of the night so as not to disturb my roommate. Eventually, I turned my phone to silent so that I could sleep, but I would still check and listen to his voicemails and texts first thing in the morning. They were not always pleasant.

Now I’m more likely to check my phone out of wanting to know what I’d missed while I was unconscious. I am eager to resume my connection with the world and to make up for the hours I lost. How many hits did my blog get? Who responded to my Facebook post? Did my grad school accept me yet? I wake up, even in my most bleary and cranky states, needing and, better yet, wanting to reconnect with the world.

However, there is always a sense of obligation tinged with panic that compels me to unlock my phone. Did someone need me? Did I miss something? Have I done something wrong? And so I check, finding more often than not a Facebook or blog notification than anything really wrong. But rest assured, friends and family, if you need me, I’ll be right there as soon as I wake up – literally.

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