Julie L Scharf
High school, freshman year, new school, new girl. New haircut, fresh new eyeliner, the ´80s. I walk down an orange and black hallway, one level, to my new locker, and she’s there. Burning red hair, bright green eyes, one part of her bangs hangs over one of her eyes and she’s staring right at me. I feel awkward, walking toward her, but I realize as I count down from the other lockers I am nearing my own. 1234, 1236, 1238, 1240…I count silently, my vision skipping from one to the next, her gaze never leaving me. Slowing to a stop, almost right where she stands, is when she first acknowledges my presence.
“Which one are you looking for?” She doesn’t take her eye off me, she doesn’t smile.
“1244,” I say to her, seeing where it is before she responds. It is right next to hers.
“I’m Tiffany,” she says, “but my friends call me Tiff. What class are you in next?” She’s now smiling, but it’s a hardened smile. Not the kind of girl you’d mess with. I like her already.
“Come on. I’m going down that hallway.”
We walk away from the lockers, and I realize I never even tried my combination on mine. I next see her after my third hour class, when she hands me a note – Call me tonight. 555-8746. I called her that night, met her by my locker the next morning, and in no time we were talking. Weeks go by, even months, and we’re calling one another, sharing our stories about boys, virginity, tight jeans, swapping tank tops.
It’s now November, my birthday month, and I’ll be fourteen. I invite her, and a few other of her friends to my sleepover birthday party at my father´s house: Dawn, Tiff, Tina. We go down to my basement, have a sleepover, a German chocolate cake, sleeping bags, ghost stories. Tiff seems more interested in talking about sex and boys. Tina and Tiff are best friends I discover, with Dawn coming in a close second.
The next day after the party, all of them invite me to my first teen dance club. Hours before, the girls saying we should all wear short skirts. For me, black and white striped skirt. I didn´t have the money to buy a new skirt with stripes, so I’d torn an old one I’d had when I was a few years younger to make it into a skirt. I tried my best to fit in; I wanted the other girls to accept me. My first kiss, and his name was Bill, inside a phone booth, the girls daring me. Not being able to dance but shaking it anyway.
However, my efforts were in vain, as it seemed Dawn and Tina, especially, did not prefer me to hang out in their gang. Day after day, they would exclude me in some way at the lunch table by saying they were finished eating as I would sit. Or, they would find a way to meet at another place after we all agreed to meet outside at the benches, just so I would go searching for them and not be able to find them until later, when they would give me a sad, "Sorry for not seeing you," as in, sorry for ditching you, we didn´t want to hang out with you.
But yet I persisted.
At last the girls made it final. They made it clear to me I wasn’t popular enough, good enough, for their clique. The phone call — three-way — one at Tina’s house with Tiff leading the conversation, one with Dawn on the other end, her calling me from the other.
"Julie?" Tiff said on the other end. "We are calling you because…(giggling of other girls on the other end)…because…we don´t want to be your friend anymore. You´re just not…you´re kind of…"
And just like that, I was dumped
School was awkward after that. I’d see Tiffany at her locker and she’d just glare at me, slam her locker and walk away, laughing.
One day, a few weeks after, I wrote her a letter. I passed it to her when she was leaving her locker one day, casually, hand to hand. She took it and walked away. It simply said:
What did I do so wrong for you guys to not want to be friends with me anymore?
Later, she found me at my locker again and handed me a response. She wrote back:
Because you’re not cool.
So I thought it was over: the friendship, hanging out, dance clubs, new boys.
It should have been over then, but it wasn’t.
Days later and my phone rang off the hook. When I answer it, there is muffled laughing on the other end. “Hello?” I say. I can hear two girls laughing.
I put the phone back on the receiver. I knew it was a prank.
But the phone continued to ring again. And again. And again.
In fact, for three days straight into the weekend, my phone did not stop ringing from 9:00 a.m. until midnight. Each phone call was usually the same: muffled laughter, a small child at times, or a voice of one, would echo my saying “hello?” if I ever said it. Sometimes I would answer the phone and not say anything, and the laughter would begin regardless of my silence. Hours of taking the phone off the hook, only to hang it back up and it would ring within minutes. My father answering the phone and promptly yelling that he was going to trace the number and call the police (there was no caller ID back then) only to have them laugh harder and call right back within seconds after he’d hang up.
Two girls laughing, sometimes three. A three-way prank call.
My father called the police, but they told him he needed to file a motion with the county court, and that the police alone could not do anything in their power to make the phone calls cease. He tried to use *67, a feature where the last call is spoken back to you in an automated recording, and called the given phone number a few times. He even spoke to a woman who claimed to be Dawn´s grandmother once or twice about the persistent phone calls, but no matter how many times he would, the phone would only keep ringing and ringing.
My father said, "Julie, you need to stand up to those kids."
My father began working the night shift a few days later and so I was alone to answer the phone. When it would ring, I wouldn´t check who it was; I would pick it up and hang it back up, and then I would take it off the hook for the rest of the night.
Monday at school: I walk right up to Tiffany at her locker, I walk straight to her. She’s glaring at me again, but it doesn’t stop me from confronting her right then and there. “Are you and your friends calling my house and hanging up?”
She seemed to give it some thought. “I don’t think so.”
I continued. “Look. It’s one thing if you don’t want to be friends and hang out, but please stop calling my house.”
Innocently, “I’ll ask the girls and get back to you after lunch.”
Walking up to me as I am closing my locker, she passes me a note after lunch.
Dawn and Tina said they called a few times, but that’s it. I asked them to not call again.
After school that Monday, a half hour later, and the phone rings. It’s them. Hang up. They call again. I take the phone off the hook for the rest of the night. And the next night after school. And the next. My father isn´t home. I began to lose sleep, to stop eating. And all throughout that next weekend, the phone won’t stop ringing. My father is home then, and, knowing that *67 costs a dollar and fifty cents to use each time, he refuses to do so.
We both know who is calling. Who it is. And they won´t stop.
Each day. Every hour. Every minute, in fact.
All week. And the next. My father calls the number a few more times, asks to speak to someone, anyone, who is an adult. This time, someone who identifies herself as Dawn´s mother picks up the phone. My father threatens that he does not want to take action by having to go all the way down to the courthouse to file a motion to make this stop, but he will - even though he has already made it clear to me he will not, and that he wants me to stand up to them all. He shouldn´t waste his time spending money and hours off work at the risk of losing his job to make this stop, and I don´t blame him.
After that, the phone is silent for the rest of the evening, but it doesn´t last. It begins that next evening, when my father is working the night shift again, and I am home alone, again.
And then I see them each day during school, snickering when I walk by, laughing. Even Tiffany, whose tough demeanor is there, cracks a smile when she’s with her friends. I am their entertainment, their good time, their bully victim, they want to beat me up by calling, by abusing me over the phone.
And it doesn’t stop after two weeks. It keeps on, they keep on. The child’s voice, the laughter, ring upon ring upon ringing of the phone until finally, one day, three weeks after on a Thursday night, after the phone doesn’t stop ringing and my father isn´t home to say "make it stop, Julie," I finally decide to do it.
It’s two a.m. on a Friday night, a Saturday morning, and my father is gone on his night shift before the weekend. I know that the girls are likely hanging out together spending the night at Tina’s or Tiffany’s. I know this, because I know that at some point throughout the weeks I’ve figured out that Dawn’s mom doesn’t like it when she has friends spend the night. Tiffany lives with her dad who works all night so they have the house to themselves, because her mom left her a long time ago. Tina lives with a single mom who works late, and the mom likes it when the girls are home. So the least likely house they will spend the night will be Dawn’s house.
I’ve also figured out mid-week that all the phone calls are coming from Dawn’s house. My father did in fact call the phone company and the police department and put a trace on the phone call to make it official. When we called the number to tell them we had the actual trace and we could take them to court, and the person who identified themselves as Dawn´s grandmother said she would talk to her and ask her to stop if she were doing so. But Dawn insisted that she was not calling.
They still didn’t stop calling, and making the phone ring, and we didn’t stop taking the phone off the hook, or picking up and hanging up, or telling them to stop calling.
Again and again, the police insisted in order for the phone calls to discontinue, my father would have to file a motion in the court. And my father didn´t want to. He wanted me to stand up to them. He just wanted it to stop. And so did I.
I got dressed: jeans, tennis shoes, baseball cap, ponytail, jacket. Backpack. It was December, but it was still cool outside.
I walked out of the house, quietly, and down the street. I decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a donut and coffee. Disinterested, the woman working the counter didn’t ask where I was going, or why I was out so late into Friday night with a backpack, looking like a runaway. I paid her, thanked her, and was on my way.
The air was cool and the weather nice. Suburbia. Peaceful for a Friday night, and of course it was. Nice neighborhoods, quiet neighbors - typical for this area. Exactly the thing you would expect at this time of the morning before people begin waking for their Saturday morning coffee and reading their morning newspapers, the kids sleeping a bit later, mom in the kitchen making a nicer kind of breakfast than a fast Monday morning one, perhaps, if the kids were in a hurry going to school, dad off to the office and to work. The kind of morning teenagers slept in until noon.
Finally, I arrived at my destination. The house was dim, the lights off. The street lights were far enough away where I could slip right into the darkness. I had to wait for a few moments for my eyes to adjust in order to see exactly what I was searching for.
Thank goodness I knew what one looked like, as I´d asked my father a few days prior. Oddly, he didn´t ask why.
Finally, I spotted it. My heart pounding in my chest, I approached the side of the house, laid down my backpack on the ground, and took out what I had brought with me.
Feeling the phone line with my fingers against the house, a large, black wire, I did a quick snip! And, placing the tool back into my backpack, I walked quickly away from the house, looking back frequently to see if anyone had noticed me. I felt the nervous sweat turn to coolness on my face as I walked further and further away from the house, back down the street, letting the cool December air move me, push me along.
It took me all of the rest of the walk home and reaching my front door to convince myself I wouldn´t get caught. It was still dark when I arrived back home, and my father was still at work. Crawling into bed, my heart was still pounding.
But I knew that this time, I would be the one to have the last laugh.
It was around three in the afternoon the next day when my phone rang. “Hello?” I answered, not faltering, composed. I wasn´t sure if it would be them, but I was prepared, and I knew exactly what I would say if it was. In my mind, I noted it has been several hours later than the usual morning wake-up prank call.
Laughter, muffled. A child’s imitated voice on the other end, mimicking me. Only one voice this time, with another voice in the background. Interesting. They must be calling from another phone line.
"Hello," a childlike voice answers, repeating my salutation.
I don’t skip a beat. “Dawn? Is this you?"
"Did you notice something wrong with your phone line today?"
I wait. Death comes through the receiver. I wait for several more seconds, waiting for a response—a noise of any kind. The only thing I hear, for the first time since this all began, is the sweet sound of the other person hanging up the phone.
Shaking, but smiling, I put the phone, gently, down in the receiver, waiting, anticipating, for the phone to ring again. Perhaps even waiting for her grandmother to call me, trying to get me to admit to it. Something.
But silence. Silence that day, that night, and the next day. Silence for the rest of the week. In the hallways, the girls look at me, not smirking, not laughing, but silent — sideways this time, wary, knowing that I had had my revenge for being dumped. For being dumped on. For being their bully victim. When they realized what I had done to Dawn´s phone line, they knew they had to cover for it, because they had carried on a lie with her grandmother that they weren´t calling. An eye for an eye. How could they turn me in?
I never told my dad I did that until years later. I expected him to be mad, but I would say he was more shocked at first. Then after several minutes he laughed and said they had it coming to them. And the girls never told their parents, because no one ever said a thing afterward.
And I never had a prank phone call since from those girls, nor did I ever allow them to bully me again - or anyone else, for that matter.