Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Early Morning Madness

Sharon Wildwind

Remembering the phone call still makes me cringe.

It was four A.M. on a Monday morning in the dead of winter with snow falling and a wind-chill of close to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit). A friend of mine, on her way to teach a workshop, had run her car off the road. She and her boyfriend were in a service station half an hour from her destination. If she didn’t get to the workshop on time, she would be fired. Could I pick them up and deliver them to the workshop site?

It was doable. I had experience driving in bad weather. Half an hour to dress and sweep the snow from my car. An hour to the service station, another half-hour taking them to their destination, an hour-and-a-half drive back, grab an egg sandwich and cup of tea from a fast food joint, and I could roll into work not more than 20 or 30 minutes late.

I was snuggled in a warm bed with two cats at my feet. I asked her if they were actually inside the station or at an outside pay phone. They were inside. Where was her car now? Still in the ditch. It would be towed later in the morning after the snow stopped. I said that I was sorry she was in this predicament, that I was glad she was safe and warm, that I hoped she wouldn’t be fired, but I wasn’t coming to pick her up. After I hung up, I turned over and went back to sleep until my alarm rang.

What bothers me to this day is that even if she had said that they were outside at a pay phone, I wouldn’t have gone. I would have called the R.C.M.P. and told them there were two people who needed help, even though I knew that in those weather conditions the Constables were already over-their-heads busy.

As a child, my mother’s taught me that if I ever found myself in trouble in a strange city, I should find the nearest Catholic Church because the priest would help me. So, I would likely have asked the operator if there was a church in the town where my friend was—any denomination would do—and woken up the minister. If worst came to worst, I would have found out where the closest rural hospital was and phoned them because there was bound to be a nurse awake in the emergency room. Two nurses’ heads would be better than one for problem-solving. I would have done those things, not out of friendship because I would have done the same thing for total strangers, but out of an appreciation for how deadly being outside in -30 weather is.

I was ticked off that she’d called me in the first place. What kind of a friend did that make me? A sensible one, I hope.

My friend didn’t make it to her workshop on time. She wasn’t fired. The workshop was rescheduled. But a few weeks later, she stopped being my friend and I never heard from her again. Maybe this has something to do with why I still cringe at the memory of that phone call.

Writers need friends, especially friends who
— happen to be up at 2 AM to exchange e-mail or chat to bemoan that both of us feel that we have written to the ends of our creative talents and aren’t sure how much longer we can continue to fool the world into thinking we are writers.
— realize that it’s important to take turns celebrating. They not only come to your book launch, but have the grace to wait until a week after the launch to mention that they just landed a contract that far exceeds the one you got.
— set up small expectations for us to meet and make sure that we meet them. They say to us things like, “Spend half an hour writing out possible motives for all of your suspects, and then call me back when you’ve finished.”
— make sure we know where they blog, but don’t send e-mail announcing every blog that they write.
— feed us occasionally, especially if they know we are on a deadline and likely surviving on peanut crackers and over-brewed coffee.
— suggest that a short play break might be more helpful to us than around-the-clock work to meet that deadline.
— know when to prod and when to hug.
— rate a place on our 4 A.M. call list, even if the answer to that call might be “not right now.”

If you don’t have a 4 A.M. call list, make one. You might need it some snowy morning.
Quote for the week:
When friends stop being frank and useful to each other, the whole world loses some of its radiance.
~ Anatole Broyard, 1920 – 1990, American writer, literary critic and editor for The New York Times


Sheila Connolly said...

I think you point out well, if indirectly, that a friendship must be balanced in what is given and what is asked. I would respond to a 4am call from (a) a family member, or (b) someone in a life-threatening situation. I might go under less dire circumstances if it was a very good friend and I didn't have equally valid commitments of my own (such as getting to a job myself). Otherwise I would apply to that friend the same standards I would apply to myself. No blood, no fire? You have a companion, credit cards or cash? Don't expect to be rescued--rescue yourself!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

It's a tough call. Maybe it's the shrink in me, but I'd need to know more about the friendship. Is it give and take--maybe next time it'll be me needing support--or a friend who continually makes demands to which I want to say no but who'll get angry if I don't say yes?