Small acts of terrorism

blockedThree days ago I was getting my hair cut when my phone buzzed. The screen flashed “Blocked Caller.”

The day before this call came in, I’d run into a former colleague at the dentist. She offered her sympathies regarding my friend’s recent passing and shared that a man we both used to work with (who had also known the friend who had passed) was struggling with the loss.

I phoned the man the next day on my way to get my hair cut. He’s currently employed at a large bank and wasn’t available, so I left a message inviting him to go along with me to our friend’s celebration of life event scheduled for the following week. I asked him to call me back, recited my cell number, and hung up.

When I arrived at the hair salon, my phone was nearly out of juice. I’d forgotten to plug it in the night before. I still had errands to run and my daughter’s end-of-season volleyball party that night, so I asked the stylist if I could charge my phone.

“Sure,” she said, and cleared a spot on her little counter directly above a wall plug.

Half-way through the cut, the stylist nudged me (I get REALLY relaxed during a haircut) and said, “Your phone’s buzzing.”

Normally, I wouldn’t answer. But this time, I was worried about missing my friend’s attempt to reach out and accept my invitation to attend the memorial. The caller’s number was blocked. Could be because he’s calling from work, I reasoned. It was Friday afternoon–4:54 p.m. Maybe this was the last call he would make before heading home for the weekend. I answered.

“This is Meagan!” Chipper and upbeat, like I used to do at work. He would recognize that.

“You’re a bitch,” said an unfamiliar female voice, flat and unaffected. Click.

I stopped breathing. I could feel my heart skittering in the center of my chest, spreading adrenaline out to my arms and legs.

I stared at myself reflected in the stylist’s mirror as if I had just switched places with that wet-haired girl. Maybe she was the mean Me or her world was more sinister than mine. Or maybe this was still me, but I had done something terrible. Made another person very angry.

Who was that woman on the phone? Did she know me? Maybe it was a mistake.

“That was weird. That was weird.” I said it twice.

The twenty-something stylist hadn’t noticed anything.

I lay the phone back on the counter and sat, stunned, while the stylist dried my hair. The phone buzzed again, flashing “blocked caller.”

This time, I let it go. Nobody left a voicemail.

As I was getting up to leave, the phone buzzed a third time. I answered.

“Hello?”

Nothing. I held the phone out to see if the line was connected. Yes. Seconds clicked past and I held the phone back to my ear.

“…itch.” Click.

Now I was truly rattled. I left the salon and sat for a while in my car, staring at the phone like it was an explosive. I called my wireless provider and asked if I could find out who was calling me. No, but for $5 every month I could block blocked calls. I didn’t want to block anyone. I wanted to understand why a person would anonymously terrorize me.

Had I done something? Did this person hate me? Would they hurt me? My family? Maybe it was random. A wrong number? Phishing?

I skipped the errands and went early to the party. I wanted desperately to see my daughter, make sure she was okay.

The girls were laughing and full of energy when they arrived. I hugged my girl and chatted with the other moms.

I told one woman about the threatening calls, and she couldn’t believe it. “Once when I was a kid,” she said, “A guy got hold of the school phone list and started calling my house, threatening to do things to me. I don’t know what, for sure, because he never talked to me, just my parents. They drove me to school and picked me up for a long time after.”

I felt sick and remembered how when I was in high school there was a man–a maintenance person with access to student records–who called young girls posing as a doctor, asking them to self-examine. He humiliated and messed up several girls. He did call my house, and we started talking. He asked me to touch myself and describe. I hung  up, but still, I remember the incident with fear and shame.

Why do people terrorize? That’s what this is. Faceless people without the courage to name themselves threatening the safety and well-being of others. Why? Is it about power? Control? Inciting fear?

That night at 11:10 p.m. the Blocked Caller tried again, but I was asleep.

On Saturday morning, I stayed in bed feeling sad. My husband made breakfast and when I came out to the kitchen, he admitted that Blocked Caller had tried again at 10:03 a.m.

“I answered,” he said. “Hello!” He made his voice loud and aggressive.

I couldn’t believe the person was still calling. Should I involve the police?

At exactly noon Blocked Caller buzzed again. I was alone in my office.

“Hello?” [Who are you? I am afraid. Do you know me?]

She said nothing…there were noises…maybe a door shutting.

“Hello?” [Are you in your car? In your home? Do you have children?]

…more noises…wind, maybe, street noises…

“Hello.” [Is this the sound of you moving around in your life? Are you safe?]

…quiet, but still her breathing…

“Hello.” 

I held the last ‘o’ sound as if it was the final note in a song. With my voice, I reached out to her. I said “I love you” with hello. I said I’m sorry. I imagined embracing her, holding the unknown. What do you need? Whatever it is, I want you to have it.

I hung up.

She hasn’t called again.

25 thoughts on “Small acts of terrorism

  1. Seriously anxiety provoking M. This would definitely freak me out! Well written, a possible (very good) short story… ! Had my mind spinning.

    BTW: for some reason, each time I come on your blog, I have to login all over again, and today it wouldn’t let me “like” this post… over and over. Feh. I like it. I love your writing. Just in case you were wondering… ;-)

    • I’m still sorta reeling. Crossing my finger that she won’t call again.

      That’s weird that you have to log in multiple times to see my blog. Maybe because I leave multiple windows open? Ugh. I’m sorry. Maybe I should restart and log in again myself. I hate that it’s work for you to comment, especially because I LOVE your comments. Thank you for persevering :-)

      If you have any ideas how I can fix the login lameness, please suggest!

      Thanks for the love. I totally need it this week! Hugs back to you!
      Meagan

  2. I used to be terrorized in my teens by lots of enemies from school. That feeling never went away when I would get a blocked number on my caller id. I still get that kind of anxiety when the father of my kids call because he used to rip into me with a lot of his insults. I know how you feel. This post gave me that feeling of anxiety all over again. I’m glad they haven’t called since. :) Stay safe.

    • Thank you, Theena. Unfortunately, they have started to call again. I think it’s time I involve the police. Bummer. Sorry you have had a similar experience. It is terrible.

      • You’re welcome. I’m sorry that it started again. That’s terrible. I remember that feeling of anxiety to get a blocked number or just a certain person calling. I hope it stops. Good luck to you.

    • Thanks. Yeah, I started getting calls again Friday. But I found a way to unblock the number, which turns out is an unfamiliar Seattle number. I think I’ll find out who the number belongs to and report the whole thing to the police on Monday. Lame.

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  4. I read this a few days back and then let it sit open in my browser because I really wanted to write a comment but had no words. Now I see from the others’ comments that it’s not actually over. I’m so sorry to hear this, it sounds really frightening and confusing and I think the title of your post is very apt. I’m sending good vibes. Stay strong.

        • I did take it personal at first. But I found a service that unblocked the number, and it was a totally unfamiliar number. I don’t think the person even knows me. I truly believe this was a random thing. In fact, I have a theory that perhaps the perpetrator is affiliated with the call unblocking service, but that may just be my creative paranoia.

  5. Brilliant Megan, and thought provoking. Reminds me of when I had the same thing happen to me some years ago. Turned out to be the woman my ex husband was having an affair with. She became much more vocal tho, and it was a horrible experience. She finally stopped when she found out we had a death in the family or maybe it was my ex, telling her to back off. I think it is about the power which drives a person to do that to another. I would report it. Don’t let her win and try to empower yourself by being your amazingly creative self!

    • What an awful thing to have happened, Caz! I am so sorry. How could a person make the situation so much worse–as if having an affair with your husband isn’t cruel enough. Wow. Again, very sorry you had to endure such hatefulness. I did try to report ny caller, but since no threats had been made and I can’t identify the caller, there’s not much they can do. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience. XOXO, Meagan

  6. Wow. That sounds seriously scary, but I am SO taken with the way you handled it in the end! Here is what I have to say about it —–>WOW. What an amazing ending to that debacle. I love it! :)

    • Thanks, Amy. The end actually came a week later, since the caller started up again the following weekend. After a series of investigative attempts by yours truly, I finally just had the wireless provider block all incoming calls from blocked or restricted numbers. Stinks that I have to pay $5 a month for that service, though.

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