Ah, telephones, those wondrous tools of communication. They have been an important part of this modern world for many years, and for good reason. Before the internet and computers took over, they were the only way for people to actually speak with loved ones many miles away. Their ring could be a sign of important news, either good or bad. There might have been a baby born across the country, or a family member whose life had drawn to a close. And a telephone ringing in the middle of the night has always made the receiver of the call nervous. If our phone goes off at two a.m., our mind races in the few seconds it takes us to fully awaken and answer the call. Has someone been arrested, died, had an accident? Is a friend sick or suicidal? We always expect the worst. After all, most of us don't make calls at that time of night just for idle chit-chat.
And then there's the wrong-number calls. Wrong number calls can run the gamut from irritating to hilarious to heartbreaking. Years ago, I had an extended series of wrong-number calls from the same person. They started one day when I was at work at my retail job. I must have been working the closing shift, getting home after ten p.m. I checked my voice mails to find a message from someone who was definitely what my Gram would have called three sheets to the wind. AKA tiddly, drunk, or blotto. The message went something like this, "Hi, Lorraine, it's me. I'm gonna be a little bit longer. I'll talk to you later. Bye." Not so bad, right? Except that he left me about three messages the same night. Or, rather, he left Lorraine three messages that night. I'll bet she was really mad when he claimed to have called her and that she didn't answer the phone. This went on and on for many days. I actually went so far as to change the message on my voice mail. "Hello. This is not Lorraine. This is not Lorraine's phone. If you are calling for Lorraine, do not leave a message for Lorraine because she will not receive your message as this is not Lorraine's phone. If you are not calling for Lorraine, please leave a message after the tone."
The only person who left any messages for me when I had this greeting was Mister ThisIsMe, each one as blotto as the one before. Either the pay phone in his local bar was broken, or he was the world's worst drunk-dialer. One night my phone rang at about two a.m. I reached for it groggily, because, hey, something might have happened. What a mistake. It was the wrong number man. I was not coherent, and instead of saying, "I am not Lorraine," it came out as, "I am not Katrina." I mentally cursed myself out for that slip. "Oh, your name is Katrina?" he slurred. "Listen! I am not Lorraine! I don't want to talk to you! Don't ever call me again!" I yelled, and hung up the phone. And it worked! Whoo-hoo!
The calls that make me very sad often have two things in common. The number doesn't show on our caller ID, and they are calls of love or sadness or remorse. Someone calls and says, "Hi, Joe, it's your Uncle Fred. I just wanted to call you on Christmas and tell you how much we love and miss you. We'll set an extra plate for dinner, and we really hope you will come over this year. I know it's been a long time. Please come have dinner with us. We'll be eating at two, but come any time you want. We miss you so much. I love you, buddy." You can hear the sadness, love, and desperation in these heartfelt messages. Those are the calls that can make me cry. A family or friendship or some other kind of human connection has suffered some damage, and someone is reaching out to a person they love, a person who will never get the message. And yes, I have been known, if the caller leaves a number, to return their call. At least then they will know that their message was only misdirected, and not ignored.
What brought this all to mind was a message that I received a few days ago. I had heard the phone ring, but the number wasn't even remotely familiar, so I didn't answer it. But the caller left a voicemail, so I prepared to hear a recording attempting to sell a product, or maybe telling me that a prescription had been mailed by my pharmacy. Instead, I got a message for a mother. Debbie at Memorial School (in New Hampshire, no less!) was calling Mrs. Q to let her know that her son had bumped his head getting on the school bus that morning. Since the school nurse wasn't in that day, they had put an ice pack on his head. He had no cuts or scratches, but they wanted her to know what was going on.
This, to me, is an interesting occurrence directly related to cell phones. When we move, our numbers stay the same. So someone who once lived in Colorado, and now lives in New Hampshire, was not receiving the call. Yes, of course I called the school. And loved the recording, which said if you knew your pahty's extension, dial it now. If you wanted to look someone up by their lahst name, press such-and-such number. I reached the office and spoke with Debbie. She gave me the first few digits of the phone number on record, and I gave her the rest of my number. Only one digit off. Debbie was able to call Mrs. Q again, and my conscience was clear. If Mrs. Q's son got a bad headache later, she would have enough information to get him to a doctor. My good deed was done, and I felt relieved that I had been able to do my small part to help. Another happy ending!