She took a deep breath and looked in the mirror, sucking in her stomach and pushing out her chest as much as possible. Her parents had never left her home alone before and it was finally her chance to have Brad over without any interruptions. She sprayed herself with more perfume then, bounced down the stairs into the kitchen. She poured a bag of chips into a large bowl, then cracked open a soda. As she headed towards the freezer for some ice, she was interrupted by the phone ringing.
“Hello?” she said with a lilt of irritability, assuming it was Dad checking in for the 60th time.
“I like your pink sweater.”
“…Who is this?”
The only response was the crackling of a phone being clumsily set back on its base.
“Good one, Brad,” she sighed under her breath and went back the glass and the ice and the soda and the thoughts of alone time that left butterflies in her stomach.
As she poured the last drops of her soda into the glass, the phone rang again.
“You know how bad that stuff is for you?”
“Brad, just knock it off.”
“This isn’t Brad.”
“Then who is it?”
“I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Yeah, you’ve given me so many clues.”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
“Brad, just come inside already, you’re freaking me out.”
“I already told you, this isn’t Brad. And I don’t have to come inside.”
“I’m already here.
Phantom phone calls. Gross. Its that kind of skin-crawly feeling that forms instant sweat beads. Now, that could have something to do with the fact that I just hate phone calls in general, but I’m sure the fact that some sleazoid is usually dictating the every move of his unsuspecting victim, doesn’t help. I mean honestly, I imagine myself in that situation and I just…can’t…at all….function. What do you do? Do you pick up the phone? When do you stop picking up the phone? What do you say when you pick up the phone that could help your situation? If you stop picking up the phone does it make things worse? If you stop picking up the phone would they keep going with they’re weird plan? Why have we involved the phone in this murder? Why not just sneak in if you already can and do it? Why is this HAPPENING?!?!
So, there’s a lot out there about this trope and it definitely troped itself out in the nineties, but in the spirit of consistency, I’m dubbing this trope, “So Call Me, Maybe.” Eh? Eh? Get it? Cause it usually has to do with teenagers? And that’s a teeny-bopper song? And…teeny-bopper is not just a phrase people over 60 use….?
The first time I saw this tactic is probably similar to a lot of people my age: Scream. I watch Scream now and can see the humor and meta use of tropes and think “Hey, this isn’t bad for a slasher movie”. But friends…I’ve got to admit something to you that maybe I haven’t made clear yet. I am a straight up ‘fraidy-cat. I’ve evened out to a rational level of fear (most days) as an adult, but pre-25, you could basically scare me any second of the day if you wanted. Ask my cousin, who loved to jump out at me when I came into his house. Every. Time. SO, when I saw Scream the first time, I was a bit of a mess. And sure, the party, the garage door, the news van…scary. But I couldn’t get over that first Drew Barrymore scene. It looped in my head every night for a week. And I couldn’t tell my mom because she told me not to watch it. (Sorry, Mom.) So…what made it a fear obsession?
Well. While my dislike of the phone comes mostly from my ever-present but easily masked social anxiety, I think we can alllllll agree that a phone call like this isn’t on our bucket list or anything. I mean, I dunno…maybe you’re insane and like a good mental sanity challenge, but I think it’s safe to say most of us are like “No, thank you.” And I think it all has to do with friendship and intimacy. Think about it: Are you comfortable with the thought of someone knowing more about you than you regularly tell people AND simultaneously not even knowing the person’s name? Remove the killing aspect, and tell me it’s not weird when Jimbo McGee runs into you at the grocery store and starts asking specific details about your life and you’re in your head like “His name’s not even Jimbo McGee, that’s just what I always call him because I forgot his name the one time we were introduced WHY DOES HE KNOW ALL OF THIS?”
Why DO the Jimbo McGee’s of this world know ‘all of this’? Well, us humans, we made an easily accessible, ever-expanding, forever-storing, mythical being called The Internet. And then we got on it to have a platform. A soapbox. A megaphone. A mirror. Whatever. Now we’re all hanging out on the internet with our opinions, and our dinners, and our vacations lay bare for all to see. Which I’m totally into! I love the internet! I’m writing a form of essay that only exists because of the internet! But, it’s left us pretty vulnerable to creepy phone callers gathering ammo for their next creepy phone calls. It’s over-exposed us in a way that didn’t exist when this trope first showed its face. But now it’s all mixed into one giant thought for me.
And I guess…that’s what is so weird about this trope. We’re so easily scared by the idea of someone seeing into our lives when we can’t see them, and yet that’s become a pretty normal occurrence, at least in a digital sense, within my lifetime for most humans. And trust me, I’m not trying to get preachy about the dangers of the interwebs or anything. But, it is an interesting change that’s casually occurred since the first time I was scared by an over-familiar phone call on screen.
The point is, internet or no internet, someone being overly familiar, overly personal, overly intimate, causes fear because we guard ourselves against strangers. We know the rules. Someone knows about you when you decide you want them to. Or your Mom does. But, what happens when they know about you when you and Ma didn’t give them that permission to? As far as I can gather, it’s like a bulldozer through our intimacy wall. And when we feel exposed, we feel afraid.
Yep. It all comes back to instinct. Remember the beginning of Bambi? It gives me similar feelings of anxiety and fear as the beginning Scream. Because it’s all about over-exposure. And when we’re over-exposed we are vulnerable to whatever elements fit the occasion. And when we’re vulnerable, we’re more likely to not survive.
Now, it gets more complicated when you apply that to our inner-emotional workings, but the thought process remains the same. Because, like I’ve said in previous ‘topsies, we just want the rest of the world to look at us and say ‘they’ve got their shit together.’ But if you called me right now and said, ‘nice wrinkly, over-sized, dingey t-shirt, by the way, where are your pants and do you even own a hairbrush?’ I wouldn’t ONLY be afraid because wherever you are you can obviously see me. I’d also be afraid because you knew what I did alone on my couch. You snuck into a private moment I didn’t expect anyone to see. I never wanted anyone to see. You saw me with my walls down when it wasn’t my choice to lower them. But you have remained a phantom.
And that…is fearsome.
Notable ‘So Call Me, Maybe’ Moments:
When A Stranger Calls
One Missed Call
Fear Factor Scale:
Please Hang Up and Never Try Again.