A Reel-Life Disaster Film

Three hundred miles away, I can only imagine chaos unfolding.
Three hundred miles away, I can only imagine chaos unfolding.

By Judy Berman

Sheila hasn’t called in a while, and that usually means trouble.

Movie script writers would salivate to be able to tell her story. But it often is one she doesn’t want to share because she doesn’t want to “trouble” any one. Sheila’s golden silence, however, automatically triggers the exact response she wishes to avoid.

“Hey, Sheila,” my calls always begin in an upbeat fashion. “What’s happening? I checked the obits, and you weren’t listed.”

“Everything’s OK … (a very pregnant pause) … now. Oh! (almost as an afterthought). When you talk to Jan (a mutual friend), tell her I wrote a letter, but it burnt in the fire.”Burning match

“What fire?” I ask. (I shake my head as I wonder: “how come my calls are never like the ones in the commercials? ring. ring.)

“Nothing serious,” Sheila says soothingly. “I lit a match to look under the mattress, and it caught on fire. Damaged my bedroom!”

“Got a pen handy?” she inquires casually. “I’ll give you my new address.”

“You moved?” I’m 300 miles away and am powerless to do more than just voice my concern.

“Yeah, had to after the fire. Didn’t need that expense on top of the parking tickets.”

Common sense dictates that, if I ever want another full night’s sleep, this is the point where I should hang up and get an unlisted number. But, a morbid fascination keeps me hanging on.

“Parking ticket problem?” I mumble, knowing the answer won’t be a simple one.

“Yeah, my neighbor had been moving it for me every day – alternate parking here. But when he went in the hospital, the car just sat there accumulating tickets. Sometimes as many as three or four tickets a day.”Parking meter

“What with the other problems I’d been having,” she continues unmercifully, “I sort of put it on the low side of my priorities. Up until I got the notice threatening to garnish my wages if I didn’t pay up, that is.”

Now, Sheila’s been relatively unruffled during this whole story. I, on the other hand, have not exhaled once.

I take another breath, pause and ask, “How much do you owe?

“Twelve hundred dollars!”

I inhale incredulously and then, mercifully, exhale. Despite that kind of money not being within her reach, she’s been calm. Almost Zen-like.

Still Sheila’s closing remark nearly unglues me.

“When you talk to Jan about me, try not to worry her.”

“No problem,” I assure her. “I know exactly how to handle this. Trust me”

As I hang up the phone, I’m thinking: “I’ll just tell Jan that they’re making your life story into a disaster film. And it’ll be bigger than “Titanic,” “Towering Inferno” and “Airport” all rolled into one.”

* Is your favorite disaster movie on the list below?  What are your candidates?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original

  1. I had a friend like this….once. You have to take it in stride…they do. While it seems mean to say, often when happens is a result of their poor decisions.

  2. “…I mumble, knowing the answer won’t be a simple one.”

    Sometimes we can feel ourselves being pulled deeper and deeper into a conversation that could go on forever. I’m not sure if this post is factual or a piece of short fiction, but either way the writing is excellent.

    1. Charles, it’s factual. I did feel drawn deeper into the drama until I eventually realized that it was healthier for me to distance myself from the drama. Not easier, just healthier.

      Thank you for the compliment on my writing.

  3. I’ve watched a few disaster movies in my time, but none of them were as disturbing as your phone conversation. I’m nominating you for an Oscar for Best Recreation Of A Scary Exchange With A Passive-Aggressive Nutcase. Physical and emotional distance, don’t fail me now!! : )

    1. You had me laughing out loud for real, Mark. Don’t know if you’re old enough to remember “feet don’t fail me now,” but that line never fails to crack me up.

      I humbly accept your Oscar nomination. It’s an honor to be recognized.

    1. Right. With a movie, you pay for the ticket, sit down with your popcorn and be entertained. Then you walk out, saying thank heaven that wasn’t real. But, like you said, it’s worse when you know it is … and you just can’t walk away.

Comments are closed.