It was the kind of machine with tape of some sort inside it, not the kind you could access by phone from afar. It was the kind of machine that created a monster that would follow me for years to come.
Checking that answering machine became more than just an ingrained habit, it became a mode of operation. I’d walk in the door, set down my things, settle the children, and check the answering machine, sometimes not even in that order. If I wasn’t alone with the kids, I would walk straight from the foyer up the stairs to my bedroom (which is where we kept the answering machine – there was no room for it in the kitchen and no jack for it in the living room) without even taking off my coat or turning on the light in the room.
As I’d cross the bedroom to the far wall, where the answering machine sat underneath the phone, my eyes would immediately lock on the display on the small white plastic box. It showed a number on it, a number that glowed in bright red. A scarlet number, that at the time, I took to assign value.
This obsession would stay with me for years, five or six years at least, until cell phones became more commonly used. And it wasn’t a mindless, unfounded obsession, like the kind that compels you to check all the window locks twice before bed every night, even though the windows haven’t been opened in months.
It was, in fact, a very intentional obsession, as I sought the answer to one question, besides the basic inquiry of did she call. What I really wanted to know - what I really wanted that goddamn answering machine to tell me - was does she actually care about me?