About 18 years ago, I was living on my own in my beautiful pink apartment in suburban New York. I'd split with the first husband and was enjoying, for the most part, my independence.
But there can be a price for independence, such as having only two cats to talk to all weekend. Or buying a six-pack and sharing it with -- myself. And, for women, there's a safety issue too. I lost my job, though not employment, the same week my marriage went belly-up and went from having my own office, editing a Sunday magazine, to a broken drawer in a metal desk working on the copy desk till about 2 a.m. Still, I had my pink apartment. And the cats.
I used to call my answering machine several times a night from work, convinced the ex was going to beg me to come back. One night the phone was busy. Hmmm, strange. Are the cats calling sex lines while I'm out. I called again an hour later. Still busy. And still busy a few hours after that. Maybe something was wrong with the line?
I got home about 2:30 a.m. I had to park a few blocks away and struggled back with my drycleaning, which I'd picked up before going into work. I put the key in the flimsy lock on my front door. One cat was there to greet me, but where was the other one? I walked into my beautiful blue bedroom... and there he was trussed up with telephone line. He'd been like that for ages and had wet himself. I extricated him from the line and thought about how this had happened. I had two playful cats who would chase each other all over the apartment. Could one have knocked the phone off and the other one in play have gotten himself tied up? I chose to believe this line of thinking.
Until.... the phone calls started. They were brief, a bit of heavy breathing, then hanging up. They were infrequent too for a time. Then they started coming more often and at all hours. Once, having been awakened about 3 a.m. (I had moved on from the copy desk by this point), I called the ex's number. No answer. He must have been at his girlfriend's. I started to rack my brain for who could be making these calls if not the ex. People at work? The cable guy? I didn't want to think of the most obvious suspect.
When I moved in, I met my neighbours -- a middle-aged couple and their two grown sons. The husband was a dentist, the wife was an alcoholic as near as I could tell. The sons did nothing but wander round all day plugged into their Walkmans and not making any eye contact with anyone. One of them got into the habit of stealing my New York Times till I cancelled my subscription.
A few months after I moved in, I happened to meet the previous tenants who were friends of people I worked with. They told me of the fights they would hear from next door, the sons calling their parents all sorts of names, the furniture being thrown around. I heard them too, sometimes turning the TV up to drown them out.
The phone calls persisted, even after I met hubby and he answered the phone a few times. Why didn't I have the phone company trace the calls? I think I was afraid of the truth. I was afraid of having my suspicions of my neighbours confirmed. The only time I heard the person's voice was once when I let my answering machine pick up. "If you're there, pick up the phone. If you're there, pick up the phone," he said over and over till I unplugged the phone and the answering machine.
I moved not long after that. No more phone calls. Except once in the middle of the night. I froze, wondering how the person had found me. But it wasn't a person. It was BT testing the line. Safe at last.