A few days ago, I was listening to the Jim Croce song, “Operator.” For those of you too young to immediately recognize the song, it’s about a man standing at a phone booth speaking with the operator trying to connect with an old girlfriend who left him for his best, old, ex-friend Ray. The operator, who we never hear from, is this unseen mitigator who has the ability to breach the void between this man’s former life and the life he’s living now.
Dean Koontz, the famous author, had an interesting experience with phones breaching the void. In a Psychology Today article by Katherine Ramsland Ph.D., he shared his story:
He was at work that day in his office when the phone rang. He picked it up and heard a female voice that sounded far away. She spoke with a sense of great urgency. “Please, be careful!” she said.
A bit startled, Dean asked, “Who is this?”
He received no response. The woman repeated the warning three more times, and each time she said it, her voice became more distant.
When the line fell silent, Dean sat there listening for a while, uncertain what to make of it. The voice had sounded eerily like his mother’s, but she had been dead for nearly two decades. “A voice is much harder to remember than a face,” he said, “so I thought I was being melodramatic.”
His number was unlisted, so it could not have been a prank call aimed at him. Perhaps it had been a number simply misdialed. He mentioned the incident to his wife, but told no one else.
“It was such a strange call,” says Dean. “I don’t claim that it was a ghost. I don’t know what I believe. It certainly was odd. People report these kinds of events all the time, and it’s always struck me as interesting that everyone seems to have had an experience or two of the uncanny. Sometimes I believe that call was from my mother and sometimes that it was a very strange, serendipitous wrong number. I think you always have to keep some skepticism about things like this, but it’s comforting to think that there may be a realm where the personality survives.”
Two days after this call, Dean went to visit his father at the facility where he lived. The staff was dealing with Ray’s behavioral problems, and they had asked Dean to come and talk with him. Ray had punched another resident, a man on a walker, and the nurses were worried.
Dean was unaware that Ray had used some of his small allowance to go buy a yellow-handled fishing knife and had honed it to razor sharpness and oiled the hinge to make it open like a switchblade.
When Dean came into the room, Ray moved fast. He grabbed the knife from a drawer, and Dean had to try to wrestle it away from him. He just managed to avoid being slashed.
There were many witnesses to this altercation, and one of them called the police. Finally, Dean got the knife without incident and carried it out into the hall—just as the police arrived.
They drew their guns and ordered him, “Drop the knife!”
Dean was startled. “It’s not me you want,” he insisted. “It’s him in there.” He pointed into his father’s room.
“Drop the knife!” they repeated, still training their weapons on him.
Dean froze. “All of a sudden,” he recalls, “I realized that they were going to shoot me if I didn’t drop the knife. They thought I was the perpetrator. So I dropped it and obeyed them. That was one of the worst moments of my life. My own stupidity almost got me killed.”
Eventually the police realized that Ray was the dangerous party. They took him to a psychiatric ward where he could be kept for observation.
But Dean thought again about the mysterious phone call. It had made him more vigilant, and as a result, had possibly saved his life. He never again received another such call (although in another novel he did provide a separate phone line for ghosts).
Another person, a middle-aged woman, shared with me a similar, albeit less dramatic, phone conversation. She and her mother had become best friends. They both lived in the same small town, both enjoyed many of the same hobbies and every day they would talk on the phone for hours. Not a day went by when she hadn’t shared a conversation with her mother.
Unfortunately, her mother passed away too soon. This woman admitted that the loss of her mother sent her spiraling into a deep depression. She couldn’t eat, didn’t want to go out and spent most of her time in bed, crying over her loss. Her friends and family members were worried about her. It was as if she had died along with her mother.
One night, when she was sound asleep, the phone rang. (This was in the day before cell phones, so it was a landline on her nightstand.) She reached over and pulled the receiver to her ear, still groggy with sleep. “Hello?” she asked.
The voice on the other end was that of her mother. She has no doubt. Her mother told her that she was fine and she was happy, and that, although they missed each other, it was time for her to get on with her life. Her mother explained that she needed her daughter to enjoy life to its fullest. She told her that there were things her daughter still needed to accomplish and she wasn’t going to get them done lying in bed and crying.
The next morning, when she awoke, she immediately remembered the conversation but decided that it must have been a dream. Then she turned and saw the phone’s receiver still laying next to her on her pillow.
The last few lines from Jim Croce’s song are fairly appropriate, I think:
I only wish my words
Could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real,
But that’s not the way it feels.