This afternoon, just as I was getting ready to take Charlotte up for her nap, the phone rang. Nothing unusual about that. But if I'm putting the girls to bed or reading a story or supervising bath time, I don't answer it. That's what voice mail is for. This time, I answered.
The voice on the other end wasn't clear. Low and indistinct. Mumbled. Thinking it must be a wrong number, I went to hang up when I heard a woman's voice, "I'm an awful mess," followed by mumbling that began to sound more like moaning. I thought it must be a prank call but still something made me stay on the line.
"Ma'am? Ma'am? Are you alright? Where are you?"
As I strained to hear, only two of the next words were audible: "heart attack."
"Where are you? What street are you on? Ma'am?!"
The moaning tapered off and the line went dead.
Shaking, more aware than ever of my own pounding heart, I hung up and scrolled the caller ID. Two incoming. Which one? Which one? There was a name I didn't recognize. I wrote it down, trying to stay calm as the call log kept rolling from the number to the name to "out of area" and back again.
I gave the 911 operator the phone number and name, all the while vaguely worried that she would think I was a prank caller. The operator said they had the address and were sending help. They also have my name and number and now, two hours later, I keep hoping they'll use it to call and tell me she's OK. That it wasn't a heart attack or stroke. Or even that it was a prank, after all.
But I sit here wondering what would have happened if the girls and I hadn't cut short our errands and come home early? What if I hadn't answered the phone, going instead to change a stinky diaper and put my sweet Charlotte to bed? Would the woman have been able to dial another number? Did I wait too long trying to get her to tell me where she was? But most importantly, is she alright?
I need to know these things, not to satisfy my own curiosity or because I'm looking for recognition, but because in that one moment when she picked up the phone, she somehow got me. She asked for help and I tried my best to give it. It would have been so easy, after the first few mumblings, to just hang up and go on with my day. Instead, that one ephemeral contact plucked and made tangible a strand of the web that holds us all together, and now I'm left pacing and worried like family waiting for the doctor to emerge from the operating room.