|saving lives across phone lines
||[Apr. 18th, 2010|06:56 pm]
O4/17/2010 (its a work in progress, but its something) |
"Because I save lives Will, that’s why I love lifesavers candy.”
There is essentially only one thing you will be trained on to work at the
Suicide prevention call center. “Identify the person as a threat to themselves or others.”
Beyond identification, there is no other training.
I get curious, because I view this job as like a low level doctor, saving lives across phone lines. I asked, once we verify that a person is a threat to themselves, what do we do?
"You transfer them to a trained self harm counselor".
You have to ask questions; have to get them to talk about themselves.
Identify the threat is our motto. Baskins always wears all white. White car, white pants, white everything, except for his teeth.
"I guess you didn’t hear", enthusiasm in his voice makes me feel sick; "I pulled three people this morning from the grips of death. I am Jesus.” He laughs and points at the bulletin board. Next to his name were three happy face stickers. Far beneath his name was mine, with empty space and a few sad face stickers, because I’m not very good at this job.
"Will, you got to step it up out there, you’re on the line, a few more bad calls and it’s to the teen runaway hot line with you. The junior leagues mang.”
I can’t think about teen runaways in this part of town. South 5th street is the only place you can even kick that thought around. The lights in here just aren’t right for that line of thinking.
The boss man with the beard stops me on my way out.
"Where are you going will?"
Mustaches are the most invasive body feature around.
"Its only 11, I hope its somewhere close by.”
"South 5th street."
"Why the hell are you going there?”
Driving down Oltorf Drive, I see the same homeless couple at the same corner every day. People in their cars pretend to be reaching for something at the foot of their car as they pass.
A different sign this time.
"Need money to buy fuel for leer jet”, written in permanent marker. The sign of vagrancy is always permanent.
Not bad. The car in front is pretending to be looking at a map instead of making eye contact with them. It’s in the face of tragedy that everyone is the busiest. This part of town is always a tumble of fragments. A lawn worker is on a phone near a gas station and as I pass I hear him say, "…and I respect that. I respect that.”
The radio is blaring about the music festival going on right now.You can’t really think about transferring to the teen runaway department unless you’re on Fifth Street. There is an angle of the hilly streets that really lets you ponder downward mobility. The timing of the lights really clears your mind of the fact that you will be counseling angry rich spoiled brats who are thinking of hijacking their parents SUVS to go sleep in the woods until they allow them to have a cell phone.
There’s a part of this town for every line of thinking. Don’t end up in the wrong part of town with the wrong dilemma on your mind. A few weeks ago I was at Zilker Park when the office forwarded a voice mail to my phone. It was the call who offed herself on my message machine, slicing an artery in her leg.
I listened to her go, she spoke about a garden she had when she was a kid and the color of the flowers. You can’t run death through your head at a park. I started to get the most painful headache imaginable. I felt as though I was the one bleeding to death. The only place to really get that through is Lamar and Manchaca. I park at the CVS and just start walking toward Congress Blvd. A girl passes, then another one. They remind me of Mary.
One has the same face, the faded lines of years running in stream with eroded grey eyes. A dame across the street through the glass of a clothing store has her stance. It’s a hybrid stance, half person, half cheetah. The posture says "I am interested in fabrics and fashion," but the tensing in leg muscles says "I am interested in speed and slaughter".
Some things are harder to notice than others. Other things are just ruinous by nature.
I notice things. The more people I see, I see a fragment of every girl I’ve ever known, in the face of every girl I see. A reflection of sunlight on a dress here, a tone of voice there, it’s always something. But this is the wrong part of town, to remember old girlfriends. You need lush quiet, opulent green and capacious meadows. It will take me at least forty minutes to get to a park from here, but then, I run the risk of getting another forwarded death mail on my phone from there. My brain is just going to hurt no matter where I go. In the face of dilemma, sometimes you just have to stand still. The chances of your geography matching with your gambit are pretty slim.
Before I can even begin to mobilize, my phone rings. I stare at the screen. It’s the office, the ringtone sounds like prerecorded death.
"Will," mustached words, still as annoying, "there’s a verifiable shit storm down here. Get back, the lines are flooded.”
Impossible, I haven’t any time to think about anything except for where to go to think.
"Ok people lets group it up, remember, its life and death out there let’s take those calls in a timely fashion. Let’s stick to the script, because after all, it is a proven way to prevent suicide."
My phone lights up orange on the line display, I transfer the call in and go into the script.
It’s a girl, and she’s rather upset. She tells me that she loves alcohol so much that she is actually pouring it into her vagina right now. A habit of liters a day and no job, her life is in several pieces of disarray. She says she is not choosing death, but that her lifestyle will become death. A person in turmoil will usually have the best way of stating their predicament
"So if you will forgive me for a second, I want to know, how are you pouring liquid up? I mean do you have a pump or some kind of MC Escher painting going on there. How are you defying gravity; what are you working with?
A clank of bottles comes through the receiver, she takes a breath and says, "I’m standing on my head and catching an arc of vodka spraying up from a super soaker". I can hear Lou Reeds "Perfect Day" playing in the background.
"It's a rainbow of alcohol flowing into me. It’s like a fountain at a fancy hotel" she adds.
I look at the mission statement poster on my cubicle wall.
"Identify the threat" it says in bold blue letters. Well, I can't really decide if this contortionist display of water works is a threat or not. It is certainly a feat of physics, more impressive really than threatening. When you decide a person is not a threat, you have to move on, in the nicest way possible.
Another call is waiting; I can see the orange light blinking on the base of the phone, another suicide waiting to talk. But this girl won’t let me leave. For obvious reasons, you can’t hang up on them, which would look very confusing on a coroners report.
CAUSE OF DEATH: DIAL TONE.
Still, when you see a blinking light on your phone, you start to wonder how the hold music is affecting the potential suicide. Sometimes, they hang up; the light blinks off, the line disconnected. Then you really start to examine your life.
I need something to keep; Angela was her name, Arc Angela busy.
"See if you can get it sideways. Then you can call back and we can talk some more." She hung up and I switched over to the fresh save.
The line was dead, just a dial tone, and my own fatigue from so much death in the wrong part of town. I don’t even know what I would do if someone called in who was serious about going through with it; I might even get a little job satisfaction. I wonder if waiters feel this way when people come in to eat. At least they actually eat the food that they arrived for. Here, they just want someone to talk to. They are mostly interested in explaining the holes in their lives. There is more to say when someone is talking about a lack of something, there’s more in a void than in a beautiful life. A hole is fuller than a landfill.
You have to fill out an affidavit to work here; you have to promise never to call in yourself. There are just not enough workers to respond to their own employees. I called in myself once, but I just got routed to my own empty desk.
I left a message.
June thinks she is a heroine out of a Dostoevsky novel. She speaks as though a soap opera soundtrack is playing in her mind. She told me last night when I took her to dinner that she dreams she is dressed in Victorian gowns, standing in a room of diplomats, and that she is setting fire to bags of money.
I never tell her where I am working, I worry too much that she would call me there and my streak of sad face stickers would be interrupted. So I just tell her I work in customer relations, which is true in some sense.
June has short yellow hair, sticking to the sides of her face in flapper folds. Grey heavily washed jeans and a blue non-descript shirt wears her like a skin. I think her eyes are blue, but I’m colorblind, they could be anything. I think I prefer to know less.
All my dates with her feel sterile, as though we're courting in a morgue. But you have to talk to women sometimes, even if at it all tastes like porcelain and stainless steel. Kissing June is like kissing the door of a refrigerator, but a kiss still.
It’s ok to go over this in my head here, because I am in north Austin.
You need to be far north to think about women. If you get wrapped in the recourses of estrogen anywhere south of 51st street, you might as well just give up. You'll be so engrossed in highway and sirens that you’ll end up thinking killing yourself is a better alternative to thinking about June. But don’t call me at work, you'll just get voicemail.
All the while I am pondering this June is still talking about her dream. I tune in at the anti climax of her story, "... and they can tell I mean business, I mean... just look at this dress, and the fire, THE MONEY ON FIRE! They’ve never seen such presence in their 18th century lives.”