by Gary Bacon

Randy called today. He wanted someone to talk to and the phone was his only outlet. His mother must have shown him that, when you are in despair, you call out to someone, anyone, who will listen or help.

I had never talked to Randy before. He just picked up the phone and dialed random numbers and I picked up my phone and answered. It's a curious thing how every few months I get calls from children that I don't know. I don't know why. Maybe it's just a coincidence, maybe it's synchronicity. Perhaps it's because the digits of my phone number are clustered and little hands like to play finger leap-frog around the keypad.

I greeted my caller with a standard "hello".

Randy jumped at my greeting. "Who's this?" he asked.

I recognized the voice on the other side of the call as a small child, so I raised the pitch of my voice and quickly threw in an extra playful greeting: "Hi, what's your name?" I asked.

"I'm Randy," the little voice replied.

I tried to engage him, "And what are you doing today?"

"I'm all alone. My daddy got mad. He pulled my mommy's hair. She got real sad and left the house."

His raw words cut through me like a cold wind. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. Randy sounded so innocent, so vulnerable; yet, he obviously knew what was happening. Maybe this was just another chapter in a life that he knew all too well, one more sad event in a childhood full of painful, lonely events.

"Who's this?" he repeated.

I realized that I had not identified myself. At the same time I realized that a little boy had just stumbled into my life, and that now I might have some stake in the outcome. My past conversations with these little random callers usually ended after some playful chatter and my final inquiry of: "Where's your mom?" Often moms are in the next room and, upon discovering that their child might have inadvertently dialed someone on the other side of the world, end the call with an apology or, more often, without ceremony. But this one was different.

"I'm Gary, err... ah..., Uncle Gary," I said, trying to be more familiar..

"Jerry!" the small voice said excitedly. "Daddy, it's you."

Sometimes we hear what we want to hear and Randy's mind transformed my name into one with which he was familiar, his father's name. "Oh! Oh! Now he thinks that I am his dad," I thought, "this time I've got to be delicate,"

"Daddy, why did you hurt mommy?" the little boy asked.

Oh boy, what should I do? I could tell him that I am not his daddy. My thoughts whirled in my head, but the depth of his pain cut deep into my feelings.

"I'm, I'm sorry," is all I could get out of my mouth. My mind raced as my heart went out to this lonely, painful voice. What could I do? What could I say to this little boy? But before I could take the conversation anywhere, he grabbed my last response.

"Are you sorry, daddy?" His affect shifted as he spoke, "I'll tell mommy that you are sorry when she comes back."

The kid was hungry for understanding, he wanted his mommy home and he wanted her to be happy. I had given him hope, false hope, I'm afraid. "No, no," I said, "Just tell your mommy that you love her when she gets home. Just hug your mommy and tell her that you love her."
"OK," the little voice said, "I will." Then we both said good bye, and hung up.

I sat there and thought of all the things that I could have said to him. I could have asked him where he was or the name of a near-by relative, but I didn't. I could have said, "Randy, I love you." I thought of the little boy, alone in his house, waiting for his mommy to return. "God, I hope he is OK," I said aloud.

Then, I just sat there thinking of all the little Randys whose worlds are torn apart, no one to talk to, all alone. I felt alternately heavy and hollow inside. I stared off into space and sat for minutes, helpless and sad. Sad for the echoes of painful childhoods that kids carry with them. Kids who must shoulder their own burdens, and try to make some kind of sense out of this lonely life.

And when the pain is too great for them to carry alone, they, too, will call out for someone who will listen. And who will be there to take the call?

© Gary Bacon 2005