Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Freaks I Have Known

I am working on a post which requires actual thinking since it's about a topic we mothers really care about: keeping our children safe. However, I feel the need to post so that y'all don't get disgusted with me for not posting and abandon me. (Needy much, Alison?) Also, I love these stories and not many people read them the first time when I originally published this on October 25, 2007.

Have I ever told you about my experience answering calls at a suicide hotline?

Well, when I was in college I thought I wanted to be a counselor. This unpaid internship at the crisis hotline was one of the reasons why I decided not to pursue that career.

Not that I would have spent my days as a counselor fielding obscene phone calls, which I did a lot at the suicide hotline. We had a bulletin board with index cards containing the favorite fantasy scenarios of repeat callers. Usually they would try to rope you in with a long, drawn-out story of a sexual nature, and if you recognized the story, you could call them on it. One caller said she was a very attractive blonde with an older boyfriend who got jealous when she talked to or danced with other men, which she wanted to discuss in detail.

I didn’t even need to look at the cards to know this was a fake story. Clue #1: It wasn’t a woman’s voice, but a man talking in falsetto. Clue #2: No woman I’ve ever known describes herself the way “she” did, listing her height, weight, body type, etc. as if for a personal ad, plus “she” just happened to have the measurements of a Playboy bunny. And Clue #3: I’d talked to this person the week before, when “she” had given the same story, only she called the jealous guy her husband instead of her boyfriend. A week ago he was your husband, and now he’s been demoted?

When I informed the caller that we’d already spoken before, I got a dial tone. Ha. I foiled that one.

Another guy was known to the volunteers as “Oedipus.” As his nickname suggests, his problem was that he was having sex with his mother (or sister). No, he did not want to go to counseling. He just wanted to talk about it. A lot. Don’t be surprised if you hear him breathing heavy. (I don’t think I ever actually spoke to Oedipus, thank goodness.)

Once I answered the phone to hear an effeminate male voice say, “I’m wearing a skirt!”

I hung up, but I wish I’d been quick enough to say, “Well, does it match your shoes?”

At least he got right to the point so I could tell him I was hanging up right away instead of wasting my time.

Of course there were calls from genuinely desperate people. I had to call the police a few times when someone seemed on the verge of committing suicide. Other times, I spent hours on the phone with people who weren’t necessarily suicidal, just very depressed and beaten down by life. I hope I helped some of them, by listening, clarifying, offering hope and counseling referrals. I will always remember a Hispanic woman, old enough to be my mother, who was trying to get up the nerve to leave her abusive husband. I think she did get some clarity when I pointed out that she wouldn’t want a man to treat her daughter the way she was being treated.

Other people were just clueless. Once I talked to a young guy, probably a few years older than I, who had just found out he’d given his girlfriend herpes. I felt a little sorry for him because he seemed so remorseful. Then after we had talked for about an hour about what he should do, his tone changed as he complimented me on how sweet I was. “Oh Nicole, if we had met in real life, like in a club or something, I think we could have really hit it off. You’re exactly the type of girl I’m looking for.”

I shook my head in disbelief. First of all, Nicole is not my real name, but the pseudonym I used—all the volunteers had them as a safety measure used to protect us from stalkers. He didn't even know me at all. Second… dude! You just told me you have herpes (not to mention a girlfriend)! Do you honestly think I’d be interested? At least it became clear how he got infected. “I don’t think I can help you any further,” I told him.

Human nature will never cease to amaze me. Not least because of its capacity for self-deception. But after that I decided I wasn't cut out to be a counselor.


  1. Wow- that is incredible! What an experience!


  2. I remember this post, don't I? I think so. I would not cut it as a counsellor. I'd never know when to draw the line.

  3. Amazing, people. Sounds like you did a fine job with a difficult crowd...I couldn't have handled it so well.

  4. You've just confirmed for me why I don't want any job that involves talking on the phone. Or in person.

  5. I'd wager that experinece has made you a very patient mom and a great listener.

  6. I agree with Antique Mommy! LOL! - Leann

  7. The stories you must have....