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Telephone Terror
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My mother was named Lucy Lawrence. My sister was named after her, Lucy also, but we called her Sissy. I was 7 years old and we lived in Naval Housing in Hartford. My sister got sick (spinal meningitis, no cure at that time) and she was taken to the hospital, so I was home alone. My mother had gone to work and I was old enough to take care of myself and not let strangers in the door.

It was late in the day (I had come home from school) and the telephone rang. I summoned my most grown-up voice and said, “Hello.”

The voice on the other end of the line said, “I regret to inform you that Lucy Lawrence died this morning about 8 o’clock.” They said good-bye and hung up.

I said nothing, just hung up the phone and sat there in the darkening gloom, all alone, not knowing if my mother was dead or my sister was dead, conflating both, and wondering if anybody was ever going to come and find me. I didn’t cry; I just sat, frozen.

My mother came home. I started to cry and cry, so hard I couldn’t talk. She kept asking me what was wrong and then she got very still. She went over to the phone and called. She listened. Then she started to scream and scream and scream and scream….

The neighbors came and there was much hustle and bustle as they took my mother somewhere, patting her and comforting her.

She had a nervous breakdown, a complete psychotic break, and was under psychiatric care for fear of suicide.

No one paid much attention to me except to make sure I was washed and dressed and off to school each day.

To this day I am terrified of telephones. Which is why it’s such an ordeal for me to answer the phone.

I’ve really got to get over this. It’s much too long ago for it to still bother me so much.

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