Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Please call collect.

The phone rang last night as M and I were eating dinner. We looked at each other with matching expressions: Ugh, telemarketers!

“Let the machine get it,” I urged.

We returned to our meal as the machine picked up.


The voice was thin and wavery; uncertain. An elderly woman.

“Hello. My name is Fran. You might not know me. Or perhaps you do. I’m looking for a man who has the same name as you."

I glanced at M. He shrugged.

"He was a doctor at the Veterans Administration hospital in Salem. I've been trying to find him. If you are the same man who worked at the Veterans Administration hospital, can you please call me back? Or even if you're not him. Please... please call collect. My phone number is—“

M leapt out of his chair to grab the phone.

“Hello? Yes, hello."

He listened intently.

"Yes ma’am, that’s my name, but I’m not a doctor and I never worked at a VA hospital… oh? Oh no, I’m so sorry. No, I’m not a doctor. I’m a social worker. Yes… well, my brother is a doctor, but he never worked in Salem...."

He disappeared into the living room.

Five long minutes passed.

Then he returned, still talking. "I'm sorry to hear that. Uh-huh… yes, I know. Of course. I’m very sorry for your loss. I wish I could help. Yes. Okay, you take care. Goodbye.”

He placed the phone back in its cradle.

“Who was that?”

M sighed. “Her husband just died of cancer a couple days ago. Apparently one of his doctors had the same name as me.”

“And she’s trying to find him?”

M nodded. “She’s been going through every possible listing in the country, practically. I guess he's no longer with the Veterans hospital.”

“Why does she want to find him?”

“They had an appointment with him last year. As they were leaving, he squeezed her arm and told her that her husband would probably die soon, that she should prepare herself. She wanted to call and tell him that he was right.”


“I don’t know. She just kept saying, ‘Fifty-six years. Fifty-six years we were married.’ I really think she just needed someone to talk to.”

We were silent.

My mind sketched a picture of this woman. I tried to imagine being so grief-stricken that I would call strangers from a phone book.

Dinner was getting cold, but the lump in my throat wouldn't let me eat it.


Blogger kj said...

liz, this is so powerful. i am feeling it viscerally as i write this.

your narration is really top-notch, liz. this story should be published. it simply touches the heart.

thank you for sharing it.


8:59 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

You're very kind, kj. Thanks.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Oh, poor lady.

I hope she found the doctor she was looking for.

9:21 PM  
Blogger MsCellania said...

Wow, the ol tears are scooting down my cheeks and I'm no easy mark, you know? I can't imagine feeling like that, but the longer I'm married, the more I understand. I swear I feel more tender about my husband now than I ever have in our 16 (YIPES!) years. And he's balder, chunkier, working longer hours and completely distracted with his very ill papa.

This is SO well written, Liz; I'm glad I popped in again.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Roxanne said...

I, too, got a lump in my throat. I'm glad M picked up the phone and gave that poor woman a kind soul to connect with.

9:41 PM  
Blogger bdogg_mcgee said...

M will have a star in his crown for that, as my grandmother would say.

Thanks for sharing...

11:12 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Beautifully expressed. What a terrible loss for her.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Frema said...

I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a person you've been with for the majority of your life. The idea of being a widow is horrible. Your husband handled that phone call very well.

On a lighter note, I don't think I realized your husband was a social worker. Is that how the two of you met?

5:46 PM  
Blogger Elsa said...

That's tough. How very, very sad for that woman. I can only imagine losing your best friend/lover after 56 years - the tremendous loss.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an elderly neighbor from my childhood home who writes every once in a while. Her husband died last year and she said that although they'd been 55 years it was just far too short.

I, too, hope your caller found what she was looking for.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Congrats on your mention in D.C. Blogs today:


10:01 AM  
Blogger kj said...

on s different note, my parents were married for 56 years. when my father died, my mother surprised me by doing the things he didn't like: going to movies, playing cards, letting dinner slide.

she said she missed him alot but she had to keep living.....

5:04 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

Thanks for the nice comments, all. And thanks for recommending this post to DC Blogs, WC.

Frema, I met M when he was in college. He figured that my love must be true if I was willing to date a social worker-to-be. ;)

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your husband sounds like a really nice person.

6:11 PM  

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