Home > Girl on the Line(4)

Girl on the Line(4)
Author: Faith Gardner

After our two weeks together, I come back on a Tuesday night and it’s time for me to answer my first calls. It happened so fast. It was such a whirlwind, and now I don’t know if I’m truly prepared. But Davina sits next to me and smiles, sliding on her headset.

“Nobody feels ready,” she says. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. I’m right here.”

In the background, a couple other folks are in the middle of hotline calls.

“Busy night,” she says. “But that’s Lydia, JD, and Beatriz. They’ll be your shift buddies.”

One of them, don’t know who, a hippieish woman in a long skirt, waves at us and turns back to her call.

The first call I get is not a suicidal person, an abused person, or a teen suffering from online bullying. She’s not a person in financial distress or a homeless person or anything else there is a clean-cut section for in the binder. She’s just . . . exhausted.

“I’m a goddamn mess,” she says, crying. “I work too much. I hate how irritable I am, how tired I am, how little my own kids want to be around me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I say, looking at Davina, who is listening in.

Tell me about your support network, Davina writes on a pad of paper for me.

“Tell me about your support network,” I recite.

Davina nods, like I’ve done so well, when all I did was read off her paper.

The woman tells me about her sister, who’s been incredibly kind to her but who lives on the East Coast and has her own life. She weeps loudly and I feel for her. I feel Fremdschämen for her, vicarious embarrassment, because she’s in such an unraveled state. Spontaneously, I ask her about other social connections she has outside of work and family. That’s the first time the woman stops crying for a moment and sniffs, thinking.

“There is this woman Noelle in my Zumba class,” she says. “We’ve exchanged numbers. She has kids my age, too.”

“I wonder if you might try to schedule a time to have coffee with her, just to connect with another person who might understand what you’re going through?” I ask.

I look up at Davina, who’s giving me two thumbs up and a big grin. This is such a roller coaster. Even a few minutes into the call, I go from complete imposter syndrome panic to I am amazing at this confidence.

Davina writes down a question about calling her doctor. I talk to the woman about what she’s happy about in her life right now and she tells me about her Chihuahua, her job as a flower shop owner, how lucky she feels to be alive sometimes.

There’s a long pause where I hear nothing, no sniffing, and I wonder if I lost her.

“Hello?” I ask.

“Oh, sorry,” she says. “My husband just came home. Anyway, thank you. I do feel better, just talking about it.”

A little dog barks in the background and we say goodbye, hang up. Davina high-fives me.

“Look at you!” she says. “A natural.”

“That was . . . something.”

“Very good first call.”

“I didn’t feel like there were answers.”

“Exactly,” says Davina, smiling.

I’m still high from that call when another comes in. This woman simply whispers to me that her boyfriend is going to kill her and then hangs up. Immediately, my emotions get torn in the total opposite direction. Maybe this woman is abused. Now she’s unreachable and I did nothing to help her. Davina takes me into her closet-sized office upstairs, walled with tapestries, filled with tiny cacti thriving under artificial lights. We sit on beanbag chairs and discuss.

“I hate that I couldn’t help her,” I say.

Davina nods. “Yes. Tell me more.”

“Like, I should have said something. I should have told her to stay on the line, asked if she was safe—that’s the first thing I’m supposed to ask.”

“She didn’t give you a chance to ask,” Davina reminds me.

“I could have done something.”

“Sometimes, everything goes wrong, and we still did everything right,” Davina says. “You’re here to support, not to steer. You get that? You’re here to offer a kind, compassionate place for people when they are ready. She was not ready.”

I thank Davina, give her a hug. She says I’m going to do great when my real shift starts next week, but I’m not so sure after tonight.

Maybe it’s me who’s not ready.

 

 

Past


The summer before last I fell stupid in love with my best friend, a boy named Jonah who lived around the corner from me since fourth grade. At first I thought falling stupid in love with my best friend was the worst idea ever. But it actually turned out to be the opposite. At first.

Dear past self, you can be so dumb, you can be so smart.

See, when you crush on someone and haven’t shared history, you have this whole gap of knowledge to fill with the fluff of fantasy. We’re all so many versions of ourselves, but the only version you know of your recent crush is the right-now one. You don’t know who they were a year ago, what debatable fashion choices they used to rock, what the insides of their house and room look like. But with Jonah, I knew all his versions: the sandy-haired boy with the slight stutter and the video game collection who showed me his tree house and let me swim in his pool; the boy who was bullied by kids in elementary school, and then bloomed suddenly into this effusive, magnetic chatterbox in junior high, the one who ran for student body president, and then in high school became too cool for politics and learned guitar. Who grew his hair longer than his chin and wore band shirts and a lopsided smile. Carried a skateboard around with one hand, held mine with the other. The first time he kissed me under the same oak tree where later I’d try to die, I already knew what brand of ChapStick he wore, exactly what he’d have eaten for breakfast, and how he would pet my short hair as we made out. The only thing I didn’t know was what a great kisser he’d be, but that part I guessed at and guessed right. I’d seen him smooch enough girls over the years, the way his freshman girlfriend Carla’s fingers curled when he kissed her goodbye in front of English class.

I was afraid to fall in love with my best friend, afraid that I would lose him; but I was more afraid of missing the opportunity to love him back when at the end of sophomore year, he confessed he’d always loved me, always would. By the time the choice to be his friend or his girlfriend presented itself, my mind had made itself up already.

So ours was an extraordinary love, the kind with roots, the kind with hindsight, the kind you walk into with your eyes wide open. He used to love my wildness, my unpredictability. Then, after my parents broke up, my highs got higher, my lows got lower, and I became “a lot for him.” He let me know that. Often.

“Babe,” he’d say. “Maybe dial it down a notch?”

Or, “It’s not Armageddon, you know?”

Or, my favorite of all, asked in the gentlest of tones, “Is this a period thing?”

Oh, the rage that question would evoke, even if it happened to be true.

Once the car accident happened this summer, I fell off the deep end.

It was a few weeks after the car accident that my mom took me to see Dr. Shaw. Dr. Shaw’s office was tiny, brown, ill lit; it made therapy feel like it was occurring inside a hole. His desk was a city of haphazard paperwork towers, his wall a chaos of neon Post-its. He sported a beard that looked either too long or too short and he did not meet my gaze ever, just sort of glazed over it as if he were simply scanning part of the room. I saw him only once. It was my first time ever seeing a psychiatrist, someone my parents found through our insurance network. Let’s just say I had been having a lot of big feelings—crying for no reason, wondering what the point of everything was, not caring about the future, even when I had the best boyfriend and life I could ask for. It came out of nowhere, bit me like a snake once senior year started. It was September. It was supposed to be the month of new beginnings.

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