He used to call me up, and we'd sit on the phone, not talking.
He called me up to not talk on the phone.
I didn't find out a whole bunch of things about him. He didn't ask me, once we were home, and on the phone, all that much about me. I was in Canada, he was in the United States of America, we sat mostly silent on the land line, phone receivers at our necks, breathing. We met in El Salvador during the guerilla war there. I was a radio journalist, he was a news cameraman.
Did we meet in the hotel where so many journalists covering that war stayed?--The Camino Real in San Salvador?--at the pool, where we relaxed (where I last saw my pal Richard, the Newsweek photographer, before he was blown up that year at the Nicaraguan border?), or did we meet on the road one day, maybe shooting photos or taping an interview with the general on the Panamericano, as he stood proud before his tank; or did we meet when were out with the teenagers, the teen guerillas, the teen and just post-teen soldiers on one of the fronts, the U.S. soldiers there to plump up the Salvadoreans....?
...You arrive, the February heat is tropical, the electricity is occasional, the explosions behind your sleeping curtains normal, the curtains slept in the hotel room; I did not. From time to time the red button on the room phone lit up with another death threat.
Where did I meet him?
He was a cameraman for one of the U.S. networks. He was a Vietnam Veteran covering the Salvadorean conflict. More photographers and cameramen covering wars were veterans of previous wars than I ever knew. So, there we were, any hour of the essentially always night. He was in New York City, I was in Toronto. Two countries, yet an easy one hour plane ride away.
He was a smoker, so I sat with the receiver held like an occupying object at my neck, and listened to him breathe and breathe in and exhale out. That was our thing. The less you talk, the more you have been through together, some times, some war zones.
So...Miss Susie-Q, what do you say, what's going on, anything on your mind, today?
Oh, I might say, You know, the usual. Nothing to speak of.
I'm just here, in my teeth, hearing the whistles of the empty spaces. Where the beats inhale, where the war notes do their die-down.
(Photo by Susan, El Salvador, February 1983)