What is this about?

Disconnect

There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line. Not a sound.

“Talk to me . . . ” he said slowly, and waited.

Not a word. Not even a breath.

Cabot sighed. “Look, I know you’re scared. I can feel it. It’s okay to be scared. But there’s nothing I can do for you unless you want me to… and I want to.”

He spoke fast, afraid of the silence. Afraid she might hang up. He hated it when he couldn’t break through — when they just hung up. And this one, whoever she was, had already hung up three times tonight. But she’s called back four, Cab thought, and stayed on the line for more than five minutes each time. She wants help. He wouldn’t let her hang up again, at least not without talking first.

“Look,” Cabot started, groping for the right words, “what we’ve got going here, between you and me, it’s like a partnership. I’m here for you and vice versa — nobody else. Nobody’s gonna bother us, nobody’s gonna hurt you. Nobody’s gonna know. But you’ve got to talk to me. I can’t help you if you don’t let me.”

He took a deep breath and held it. And held it some more. And then some more.

Zero.

He turned, looking through the glass door into the outer office and made eye contact with Patty, the shift supervisor. He shrugged his shoulders and mouthed, “gone again?” Patty was listening on the speaker phone, a worried look on her face. She shrugged in return and rolled her eyes. She mouthed back, “I don’t know.”

Cab exhaled deeply and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes hard against the glare of the flourescents that pulsed above him. His eyes burned and watered, the same as they do when you watch television too long in a dark room — or a movie.

The burning subsided and he opened his eyes, blinking away the tears, but not before one ran down his cheek. He wiped it away and looked back at Patty, shaking his head. She smiled at him.

“Was he crying?” she asked herself, and scribbled a note on the steno pad in front of her.


The first call from the mystery woman, this Jane Doe, occurred shortly after Cab came on for his weekly shift at the Crisis Intervention Center. Located in the first floor rear of a weather-worn and sprawling old Victorian south of Olympic near downtown, the CIC shared space with a methadone clinic/halfway house located on the second floor. Word was the house was once owned by silent film star Mary Pickford on a piece of property that ran from Vermont Avenue east to Alvarado and from Olympic Boulevard south to Pico. She was said to have stabled horses here.

Often Cab would try to picture such an untouched expanse of land, now engulfed in the expanding Koreatown section of the city brimming with boxy apartment buildings, strip malls and crime. He would imagine the Pickford horses running free over the gentle rises now paved and jammed with more people—mostly immigrants legal and otherwise—per square mile than most any other place in the world.

He heard a sniff from the other end of the line and sat straight up.

“Glad to see you’re still with me. Look, I’m not gonna pressure you to talk. If you don’t want to say a word, that’s fine with me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just gonna shut up now and you and me will have some quiet time together until you feel comfortable enough to speak. Okay?”

The silence answered him.

He shook his head, tapped a Marlboro out of the pack in front of him, lighted it with the Zippo lighter he’d had since high school and stared at the multitude of volunteers’ scribbles that covered the partition separating his cubicle from the next. The grafitti of frustration, he thought, and he hunched over the phone. He could feel Patty’s eyes on the back of his head. The center’s policy was to move through the calls as rapidly as possible. Counselors weren’t supposed to “wham-bam” the calls that came in, but at the same time they were strongly advised not to waste time either. This call—and Cab’s handling of it—were prime examples of what not to do, according to the center’s manual.

But there was something Cab felt with this call. This lady wasn’t just thinking about killing herself. There was a greater fear in the silence. It was more than suicide. This lady was afraid for her life. He took a deep drag of the cigarette and blew the smoke up into the flourescents. He tried to blow a smoke ring and failed. A smoker for 13 years and he never could master that art. He tapped the ashes into a styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee.

To Cab, there was a broad variety of caller types who rang up the CIC. On the first level you have those callers who are serious about killing themselves and those who are not serious. You get that out in the open right away: “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Yes, no, maybe.

That’s not to say that all who get through to the center are treated differently. It’s just that there’s a big difference between someone on the line who’s spinning the loaded cylinder of a .38 next to his head, and someone who’s just broken up with a boyfriend and is depressed about not having a date to the prom.

To Cab’s surprise—and relief—there hadn’t been a whole lot of .38s spinning in his ear. There had been some callers who had pills at their disposal, and some who had knives or razor blades and were thinking about cutting themselves, but for the most part he spoke with people who were depressed over some sort of loss, be it job, relationship or things along those lines and just needed someone to talk to. Cab’s job was to listen, ask questions, discover and offer a solution—usually in the form of a phone number to their nearest pay-what-you-can counseling center found in the color-coded rolodex in each cubicle.

On another level, there were the “regs” as they were called. Callers who were almost all under direct and regular psychiatric care for manic-depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, and a variety of other mental disorders, and were allowed by the center and their doctors to call on a regular basis, either once or twice a week. Some of these calls got pretty outrageous. Lydia was Cab’s favorite. Like clockwork, she would call once a week on Cab’s shift, usually before 8 p.m. She liked Cab, liked his voice. And inevitably every call would turn into phone sex, at which point Cab would ask her to stop and she would tell him that she was masturbating to the sound of his voice and beg him to keep talking. He would then give her one final warning, “Stop now or I’ll hang up Lydia,” and she would calm down, they would talk for a few more minutes and then hang up. A couple times, she wouldn’t stop masturbating. She’d get so loud Cab would just laugh and then make good on his warning and hang up.

A tap on the glass came and Cab turned even though he already knew what he’d see: Patty tapping at an imaginery watch on her wrist. Speaking of hanging up, he thought. He looked up at the wall clock to see the second hand sweeping past the three. He pitched the remains of his cigarette into the coffee where it drowned.

“Look, I don’t want to do this, but please know that if this monologue doesn’t become a dialogue in about 30 seconds I’m going to have to hang up.”

The second hand moved past the four and five to the six. Nothing. It graced the seven and desperately Cab said “You’ve gotta give me something!”

At the eight Cab had his finger poised above the disconnect button, gritted out a “Dammit!” as the second hand hit nine and just as he started pushing down, an anguished cry and it startled him enough that he jumped a little and finished the downward motion.

“Fuck!” he yelled, ripping his hand from the phone as if he’d just stuck it in a fire then jiggling the button trying to bring the line back from the dead.

Nothing.