The Crisis a 911 Operator Couldn’t Stop
She’d dared him to shoot her for years, calling the guy who everybody needed in an emergency. Then she found someone else at the end of the line.
The last we heard of Judd he was strapped into a headset in a stuffy, windowless cubicle answering emergency 911 calls from citizens in desperate trouble. An elderly woman had reported a body reeking in her backyard—at least it smelled like a reeking body to her—and her walker had gotten stuck in the mud when she’d gone out into the yard to investigate.
Judd missed the part about the body at first. It was a bad phone connection and he asked the old dear if she didn’t have a neighbor who could help her pull out her walker. The woman had not thought of that. She called a neighbor, who came over directly and rescued it. Then she called back to thank Judd, but also to remind him that she was still pretty sure that there was a body to deal with.
Body? His first thought is a gas leak.
Had anyone else in the neighborhood noticed the odor?
She didn’t know about that, but the gentleman who’d come over said he’d seen a corpse out behind her shed and, from what the neighbor saw, it had been there two or three days. From the sound of the call, he thought she was smoking—he could hear the kissing sound of her lips when she inhaled.
The woman’s two calls came half an hour apart, and between them, Judd was on the line pretty much full-time. It was a Saturday night, pouring rain—always a recipe for 911 emergencies. Crime, drunks, fire, car wrecks, suicides to talk down, domestic confrontations. As it happened, not a few of the confrontations and suicide threats came from Judd’s own wife. After a 15-year marriage or so, she and Judd were no longer an item. That is to say, Judd had moved out of the house they owned together and into a tiny apartment, where he began a new life with a cat. Locked the doors, blocked her phone calls, and for the first time since Clinton was in the White House was not always jumpier than the callers on 911. Not exactly calm—it had been a long time and he wasn’t sure what the feeling was—but something.
And in this way Judd slid into early middle age, Judd and his cat. Unlike Gretchen Judd (not her real name), the cat never screamed, never called 911 threatening to kill itself. It did not get crazy drunk when it drank, it did not take drugs. As far as he could see, the cat only had one personality and it was a cat.
She—his wife, not the cat—still called him at work, and in the morning while he slept—Judd was working mostly late shifts, when lonely people do lonely things and drunks drive and brawlers brawl, and, when the phone rings at 2 a.m. it is never good news—Gretchen would call or text to tell him she was on the way over to her parents’ house. This was a kind of code. Her parents had two houses, one in Kansas, one in Oklahoma. Mostly, they stayed in Oklahoma.
In any case, the point of going to the house was her father’s pistol, which he kept in a bedroom closet, and often she would have the gun out by the time he arrived, threatening to shoot herself.
And he always talked her out of it. Screaming, crying, fights, sometimes she would point the gun at her own head—in the end, though, she never pulled the trigger. And the way these episodes went, she would be sobbing at the end and he would be holding the pistol. Her family knew there was trouble—in one way or another it seemed like she’d been threatening to kill herself all her life. She’d been committed once, gone through all kinds of therapy—but it is one thing to hear stories about your own children, another thing to believe they are true.
Often during the arguments she dared Judd to shoot her. She was what she was, and it was always the same. An infuriating, 40-year-old child.
And four months ago, it stopped. She quit showing up at his apartment. Weeks went by without texts. No threats, no screaming arguments. She’d found somebody new, and moved him into the house that she and Judd still owned, and suddenly Judd had his life back to himself. All except that he and Gretchen were still married, because the couple were unable to afford to pay the court fees for a divorce.
Yet, he knew that she was not through with him yet, and when he heard what she had done this time, he knew—without being told—how it had happened. The 41-year-old man who killed her had been living with Judd’s wife a handful of months. According to the police report, he told officers that after a night of drinking and arguing she had asked him to shoot her, and he put the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
How many times had she done the same thing with Judd?
He knew without asking the spot in the house where it happened—she’d been in that same place when she dared him. He knew a stair-like drop where the blood would have spilled out over the floor.
According to police, after the shooting the man got out his phone and took pictures of the body, then a picture of the gun. He sent a text to his 20-year-old son. It read something like: It was about time someone shut that (expletive)’s (expletive) mouth… but I did love her though.
In two seconds, an idiot had gotten rid of Judd’s 15-year misery.
Judd waited a day and called her parents. Her mother seemed dazed—they had been cleaning up blood all day. Judd had known them nearly half his life, and he could hear in her voice who was to blame for this, in their eyes. He had caused this by leaving.
Judd himself didn’t know about that, he didn’t know how to feel at all, just empty.
A friend calls to ask, why aren’t you throwing a party?
Do not think he hasn’t wished, not for this, but something like this, for a long time, but now that it’s happened he’s empty. Now that it’s happened he is diminished by how much of his own life he has thrown away.