James bumped right into Patsy’s head, who had been helping him with decorations, when the phone rang. He dropped the Happy New Year banner, so that it swung precariously from one taped edge.
“Patsy, it’s the phone.” He tripped over a blue balloon, caught his hand on the corner of his desk, and landed in the chair, which sent him spinning into the corner. The phone rang again.
“James, the phone!” Patsy rubbed her head where it had collided with James, and paced back and forth, her poodle skirt making quiet swishing noises with every move. Patsy refused to update her wardrobe to the 21st century.
James pulled his chair back toward his desk. The phone rang a third time. He sharpened his pencil and pulled a book open to a fresh, clean page, flattening it with his hand. The phone rang a fourth time. He wrote the date.
James punched the blinking line, the only blinking line on the phone, and picked up the receiver.
“You Matter Crisis Hotline. Can you hold please?” Before waiting for an answer, he put the caller on hold.
James returned to the book. He wrote the day next to the date, looked at his watch and noted the time, and also wrote that down. Then he returned to his call.
“Thank you for holding, and Happy New Year. This is the hotline where you always matter. How may I help you?”
“My girlfriend left me on New Year’s Eve. Said she was reassessing her life and I wasn’t in it. Oh, and my dog died. I don’t see any reason to go on.”
“Can I please have your name, so I know what to call you?” James adjusted his paisley tie and wrote down in his book the phrases “girlfriend left” and “dog died.”
“Fred. My name is Fred. And – And I feel so alone. Everything is meaningless. There’s no point in anything.”
“Well, Fred, things’ll look better in the morning, after a good night’s sleep. That’s what I always say.”
“I’m an insomniac.” Fred’s monotone voice did not deter James from his mission.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn, Fred.”
“What does that even mean?” came the reply over the phone, which now sounded a bit more annoyed than depressed.
“Well, I think it means things are never as bad as they seem, and we should always keep our chin up, buttercup.” James wrote in the book “insomniac, aggressive.”
“She took all my Bruce Springsteen records.” Fred sobbed.
“You were too too good for her, Fred. And there are plenty of other fish in the sea.”
“If I was so great she would have stuck with me. And I don’t want a fish, I want a girlfriend. Do you actually get crisis training?” Fred shouted.
“Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes we just have to look for the reason.” James flipped through the allowed response book and desperately searched for something more to say. He wrote down “girlfriend took Springsteen records.”
“I had the best dog in the world. Snickers. A yellow lab. He used to be able to get bottles of soda for me from the fridge. Do you know how amazing that is?” Fred’s sobs were bordering on hysteria.
“Fred, Fred, you know-you know can always get another dog, just like you can always get more Springsteen records.”
“Oh, oh, dogs are so replaceable, aren’t they?”
“You know, God never gives us more than we can handle, Fred.”
“What?! What the heck does that mean?”
The phone rang.
“Fred, I’m going to have to put you on hold. Your call is very important to us.”
James punched the next line. “You Matter Crisis Line. Can you hold please?”
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