by Karen Frazier, Managing Editor
For several years in my early to mid twenties, I was a volunteer on the crisis line. There are calls that I took during those years that continue to haunt me to this day. Well – one in particular.
One afternoon, I got a call from a teen-aged girl whose stepfather was abusing her. She was desperate, and desperately wanted help. By this time, I had a few years on the line under my belt. What that means is that I’d had the training, and I had experience. A few nights a week I talked with people who genuinely needed help, people who really just wanted to hear a friendly voice, and the mentally ill. I had a list of places to refer callers to. I had access to a mental health professional (MHP), who was usually in the clinic. And I had empathy for the callers.
On this particular afternoon, I was alone in the clinic. The MHP was nowhere to be found, which happened occasionally when they headed out on a call. The phone rang, and I assumed it was one of our regulars calling in, as they so often did. We had a file of regular callers, some who called more than ten times a day, so it wasn’t unusual that on a shift, those would be the only calls we got. Especially on a Saturday afternoon when the rest of the world was going about their business.
I was surprised, then, to hear a shaky girl’s voice. Not caught off guard – just surprised. The truth is, you never knew what kind of call could come through at any time.
While I don’t remember the exact details of the conversation, I remember the gist of it. She was a teenager – between 14 and 16, I’d say. She lived with her mother and stepfather. Her stepfather was abusive in every way that he could be. Currently, he had her locked in her bedroom awaiting punishment for some transgression – imagined or real.
She’d had enough. She needed to either find a way out, or she was going to kill herself. She had a specific plan for doing just that. One of the things we learned in our training was that suicidal ideation, combined with a plan was a very dangerous situation. When we found ourselves in that situation, we were to find a way to get the call traced and involve an MHP immediately.
Unfortunately, I was alone in the clinic. The MHP had ventured out to parts unknown. There was a single phone in the clinic with multiple lines. My only hope was to get the girl to hold so that I could call to activate the trace. When I suggested that I had another call coming in and needed her to hold for a moment, she indicated that if she was put on hold she wouldn’t be there when I came back.
It was just the two of us. All I could do was pray that the MHP came in during the call. In the meantime, I stayed on the phone and listened.
I talked to the girl for about 45 minutes with no sign of the MHP. I was over my head, but doing the best I could with my training and experience on the crisis line. To this day, I don’t think it was enough. No – I know it wasn’t enough. We talked about action that she could take – immediately – to help herself. Could she climb out a window and go to a friend’s house? Could she escape somehow and find an adult to talk with. None of these seemed a possibility. She was desperately alone and desperately frightened.
In the final moments of the call, I was certain I had her. Looking out her window, she realized that she could make it to ledge on the roof and then to a tree. And then it happened.
“He’s coming,” she said.
There was a click followed by a silence that I can feel to this day in the pit of my stomach. The girl was gone, and I hadn’t been able to help her at all.
“Sometimes,” my supervisor told me as we reviewed the call later, “the dragon wins.”
When my shift was over, I stayed at the clinic, desperately hoping that this young girl would call back. She never did. I knew in my heart that I had failed her. Because ultimately, while I had all of the desire in the world to help, I couldn’t. I was an inexperienced 23 year old playing at something that I was ill-equipped to deal with. I was there to help. I couldn’t help. I feel that failure as viscerally today as I did 20 years ago.
Sometimes the dragon wins. In spite of our best intentions. In spite of our desire to change the world, sometimes we fail.
What does this have to do with the paranormal?
I had a little boy follow me home from a paranormal investigation. At least I think it was a little boy. I saw him. I heard him say, “Hi.” I heard his voice on a video captured by another investigative group calling out, “Mama.”
Did he attach himself to me because he needed help and thought I could help him?
Suddenly, I am a 23-year-old again working on the crisis line. I want to help, but do I really know how? Do any of us know how?
When a spirit comes to us, how do we help? I wish I knew. Because when I think of a 3-year-old boy wandering around looking for his mama – surely that is not where he is supposed to be. Surely if I can find him, if I can see him in my mind’s eye, and if I can hear him not only with my equipment, but also with my ears, then I have a responsibility to help him.
We go into an investigation to learn things. Or to experience things. We want to experience a ghost. We want to prove – or disprove – that ghosts exist and hauntings are real. That is our agenda. But what do we do when we learn that ghosts do exist? How do we help?
Our focus, it seems, is on the living. And certainly they need help understanding what it is that they are experiencing. At the same time, if, as I have come to believe, ghosts do exist, how do we help them? What do they need from us?
We have a responsibility that is just as important as the responsibility I had as a young crisis clinic volunteer. We can’t be there just for us, or just to satisfy our own curiosity. When someone, living or dead, asks for our help, how do we respond? And are we equipped to respond?
These are the things that I have been thinking about as I head out to visit more ghosts. I don’t know the answers, and I pray that they will come to me. Because I don’t want to be the one who allows it to slip through my fingers once again. I don’t want to be the one who lets the dragon win.