Phone Calls in the Middle of the Night

The phone rang last night at about 3:40, and I’m pretty sure Paul and I looked like synchronized swimmers:

Phone: *ring!*
Paul and me: *up on elbows*
Paul and me: *swiveling in confusion toward the alarm clock on Paul’s side table*
Phone: *ring!*
Paul and me: *swiveling now toward the phone on Swistle’s side table*

I’m so glad we got this new phone with multiple handsets. Not only has it relieved some of my Burglar Anxiety (I can now imagine calling 911 right away, instead of having to imagine the horrible “How do I get to the phone without the burglar seeing/stopping me?” and “Do I try to get to the phone or do I try to get to the kids?” parts of that scenario), but also, for a middle-of-the-night call I can answer it in two rings. Once, I missed a middle-of-the-night call because it took me one ring to wake up, one ring to realize what was happening, and two rings to get out of bed and run through the dark house to the kitchen. I then lay awake for probably an hour, wondering if I’d missed a Call of Distress or whatever. “If only you’d answered on the second ring, none of this would have happened. It’s a terrible, terrible shame.”

I reached for it with that Middle-of-the-Night Call feeling and the accompanying thoughts: “Am I about to take a call that will be PIVOTAL?” and “It’s not going to be GOOD news at this time of night.” But on the other hand, even Very Bad news can wait until morning if you’re not in the Very Innermost Circle. So when the phone rings at 3:40, I’m making a fast mental Very Innermost Circle list: I’d get a call if it were my mom or dad, or if it were my brother. Would there be a call in the middle of the night if it were my sister-in-law? my niece? my nephew? It would depend. Better include them in the anxiety. What else could it be? …Too late, out of fret time, already answering the phone. I said “Hello,” but it was just a dial tone.

I lay there for awhile experiencing the aftereffects. “We’re at that time of life now,” I told myself pointlessly. “And imagine in a few more years, when the phone rings in the middle of the night and I have to add the KIDS to my anxiety list.” Then I wondered if it had been a distress call, someone’s cell phone running out of batteries in the middle of it. But the list of people who would call us in the middle of the night for help is even shorter than the Very Innermost Circle list: my brother and sister-in-law would call someone more local; my parents are on a road trip. Man, what if something Very Bad happened to my parents on a road trip? I suppose they’d be hospitalized THERE, and we’d need to rush to their sides. Well, let’s not think about it now. A hospital would not have run out of cell phone batteries mid-call.

I made a Let’s Be Sensible Now list:

Most likely:
1. Wrong number
2. Phone company thing
3. Butt dial
4. Someone up with a baby in the middle of the night, child hit call button
5. Penelope

And then I did manage to go to sleep. It’s not that I thought the call REALLY WAS something, it’s that the call reminded me that it COULD BE something. That LOTS of people get calls in the middle of the night that ARE pivotal. It happens ALL THE TIME. It’s not a sleepy kind of thought.

In the morning I said with fake casualness to Paul, “I wonder what that call was?” Without even time for the question to have performed a turn-around in his brain, he said with equal fake casualness “Wrongnumber.” This told me several things:

1. He probably lay awake for awhile thinking, “Great, now she’s going to lie awake, and for the next few days she’s going to be all ‘LOTS of people get calls in the middle of the night that ARE pivotal’.”

2. He thought more about it in the shower. He thought to himself, “As soon as she wakes up, the very first thing she’ll want to talk about is that phone call. It was a WRONG NUMBER, that’s all.”

25 thoughts on “Phone Calls in the Middle of the Night

  1. Amanda

    I’m rarely phased by middle-of-the-night phone calls anymore. My husband’s whole family is on the west coast and are all super night owls and a few times a year someone just forgets about the time difference and calls to yap about…nothing. MY mother who lives on this coast is a martyr and would never ever even upon deathbed or emergency surgery call me in the middle of the night “I was fine. There was no sense in calling” So all calls in the middle of the night are for reasons that are unimportant to me and will therefore mostly go unanswered. But, MOST calls go unanswered for me so if it’s a true emergency family knows to call at least twice.

    Growing up my brother was a bit of a deviant. The phone call in the middle of the night was ALWAYS the police and it was never good. So I DO understand.

    Reply
  2. Amanda

    Also, I follow Temerity Jane on Twitter and I always tell myself to find her blog and I have never put forth the great effort of “clicking thru” and so I’m thrilled that you linked her here.

    Reply
  3. Shelly

    I hate laying in bed after a Middle of the Night Call, heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, and little hope of going back to sleep. I’ve recently discovered that my husband is worthless in the middle of the night when woken up unexpectedly, which does not bode well if there were true danger. Super.

    Reply
  4. cakeburnette

    Don’t laugh at me, but I’m feeling very “cool kid”-ish today. I knew who and what you meant by “Penelope” without clicking the link. I love you and TJ (I was going to type her real name, but I can’t remember if it ends with a “i” or “y” and I’m too lazy to go find the answer)!!

    Reply
  5. Nicole

    I am laughing so hard at the thought of it being Penelope.

    I got a phone call last night that woke me up juuuust as I was falling asleep. It was my mom, who is in Hawaii. She was at a magic show and they wanted a participant on the phone. I honestly don’t think she remembered that time zones exist when she called. They made me pick a card over the phone, I chose the eight of clubs, he (apparently, I obviously couldn’t see) drew my card out of the stack, then I got to go back to bed. Except it took me forever to fall back asleep. It was, quite possibly, the strangest “middle”-of-the-night call I have ever received.

    I have half a mind to call her this morning around 4 her time and ask for her participation in my breakfast. She owes me.

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  6. Lawyerish

    I am grateful for caller ID, because it can help diffuse the middle-of-the-night call panic; although we don’t keep the ringer turned on for the handset that’s in our bedroom, so most likely if there’s a MOTHNC, we’re going to miss it anyway. The horrible news will have to wait til morning. However, when my husband is away, I sleep with my cell phone next to the bed, for the burglar scenarios you present.

    Love the Penelope reference! It was totally Penelope.

    Reply
  7. MomQueenBee

    Oh, man. I’m there with you. Middle-of-the-night calls are the most heart-pounding of awakenings, even more than being awakened by a child whose face is ONE INCH from your face and saying “Mom? Are you awake?” Do you have caller ID? That helps narrow the field of possibilities. I usually try to tell myself it was Dialing for Dollars and all I missed was money.

    Reply
  8. Gina

    I had a period of several moths where I got calls in the middle of the night – sometimes multiple calls, and almost every night. Our town had two local exchanges: 483 and 489. My phone number was 483-xxxx, and these people were calling 489-xxxx. And here’s the “fun” part: the woman who owned 489-xxxx was named GINA! So the conversations were always like this:
    Hello?
    Who is this?
    Gina.
    Hey baby.
    Huh? Who is THIS?
    Bob (or Mark or Pete or Tom – this Gina was a slut).
    Who are you calling?
    Gina.
    This is Gina, but I don’t know Bob (or Mark or Pete or Tom).
    This isn’t Gina!
    WHAT IS GOING ON???

    It didn’t take me long to figure it out, but knowing what was going on didn’T stop it from happening, and I was afraid to turn off my phone at night, because OMG what if there were a REAL emergency and I MISSED IT?!?!?

    Reply
  9. Lisa

    When my grandfather died, it was a MOTNC. I’m a very hard sleeper, so when my brother said, “We lost Granddaddy,” I was all, “What? Where did he go? Did you call the police?!” And then he had to say, “NO. LISA. He’s dead.” You can’t break shit delicately to me at 3:00 am is what I’m saying.

    Reply
  10. shin ae

    Over the course of a couple years, we repeatedly received middle-of-the-night calls from someone in the local prison. Collect calls. It was really weird. Also sad, because someone gave him a fake number. Well, I mean, it was our number, so not fake, really, but not their number…you know what I mean.

    I love the idea of Penelope calling you in the middle of the night. In my imagination, it was so you could settle a dispute.

    Reply
  11. meanliving

    When I was very near the end (past due date) of my first pregnancy, my mom, who lives in a different state from me, started taking the phone with her to bed every night, hoping for a good news call. After about three nights of nothing, she got a MOTNC and all she could here was a female voice wailing “HE’S DEAD!” It turned out to be my crazy and bereaved aunt whose husband had just been in a motorcycle accident and was calling for my grandma, who lives with my mom. So THAT was horrifying for her. And just generally terrible all around.

    Reply
  12. M.Amanda

    A while back I regularly got middle of the night calls. Thankfully, either “Jessica” learned her phone number or began using a different fake number to give random guys she met in clubs. I haven’t gotten one of her booty calls in six months. So glad. It was kind of creepy.

    But now I don’t freak out when the phone rings in the middle of the night. I just assume it’s a wrong number. Thanks, Jessica!

    Reply
  13. Becky

    I woke up Monday morning to discover I’d actually slept through a phone call I received at 3:15 a.m. And the phone was right next to me! The number shoed up, but I have no idea who it is. I should call them back in the middle of the night for revenge some time.

    Reply
  14. Amelia

    I was staying with a friend of mine this fall and we were awaken SEVERAL TIMES by the phone, but it was always just the dial tone or that annoying BEEP-BEEP-BEEP busy signal. Groggily, we had several mimosas with brunch the next morning to make up for the interrupted sleep. Later, she called me and told me that the phone company had determined that SQUIRRELS were chewing on the phone lines and that each time they did, the lines would automatically call people in the neighborhood! So, add rodents to your list of worries.

    Reply
  15. lynn342

    Oh, poor thing! Get caller ID. Really, it’s so worth it. You can ignore robocalls without answering them, you can immediately see who called you if you didn’t answer in time, you can look up people who called you recently by looking at the caller ID history so you can call them without having to track down their number. Young people today will wonder why you bother with a landline at all, and of course cellphones always tell you the caller, but for those of us with landlines still, caller ID is mighty useful.

    Besides, apart from the even less likely scenario of their battery dying or the killer grabbing them – wouldn’t anyone in your circle calling you for an emergency leave a message on the answering machine? So if they didn’t bother to leave a message, it’s can’t be such an emergency, and was much more likely just a wrong number.

    But get the caller ID and you’ll feel better. I think ours comes included with our FIOS package of phone, TV, and internet. (And if they block their ID, then it’s their fault for not leaving a message, but they’re probably a telemarketer).

    Reply
  16. Liz

    I sleep with my cell next to my bed (we don’t have a landline), but its on silent, so I’m not sure what good that would do if someone needed to reach me? I could call out if there was a burglar?

    I missed a MOTNC from Delta Airlines letting me know that my 7:30 a.m. flight had been cancelled. I was pretty pissed when I got to the airport and found out, after getting up very, very, very early.

    Reply
  17. Stimey

    Those calls are the worst. Our upstairs phone doesn’t work, so we probably wouldn’t even hear the middle of the night call. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the burglars will kill me before I get to the phone. Shoot. I have to go buy a new phone.

    Reply
  18. DB

    I don’t have a land line anymore and so I sleep with my cell phone on the night stand. I keep it on vibrate and figure that I’ll maybe hear it. My husband keeps his on loud so if here is an emergency they can wake him up.

    But my panicy middle of the night calls came a few years back. After my grandmother passed away my grandfather had a terrible habit of falling asleep, full clothed in his day clothes, sleeping for hours with the tv blaring and all the lights on. So he’d fall asleep at say 4 p.m. and sleep until maybe 1 a.m. When he’d wake up it would be dark outside and and he would panic. He would quick give me a call and ask why everything was so dark. He would say it’s only 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Oh my. The first few times I was in total panic thinking something was serioudly wrong and I’d have to drive over in the middle of the night and help him. Then I learned that I just had to explain that it was 1 in the MORNING and that he should probably get his pj’s on and go back to bed. Poor fella.

    Reply
  19. Gigi

    I am SO screwed if we get a MOTNC – either on our landline or cell because I sleep like the dead and I won’t hear it ring.

    Reply
  20. Alexicographer

    Oof. Add me to the list recommending caller ID. And not that you asked for advice, but concerning the KIDS/anxiety list problem, allow me to offer the following: once your kids are out and about on their own please advise them that were anything to happen that you would find, you know, troubling and for which they might require assistance that they MUST UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES call you first and not, say, their friends (I suppose the ONE exception might be if the first call should be 911, but let’s not even go there, eh?). It wasn’t a MOTNC but this rule (or a little common sense) would have avoided (disclaimer: no teenagers were seriously injured in the making of this story, nor was anyone else, though that was really sheer luck, and not a little of it) the circumstance where one of my stepson’s friends called our house to say he had heard our stepson had been in a car accident (true) when in fact, we had heard nothing of this yet (the kids, stranded on the side of a rural road after being t-boned, were busy calling their friends but not, at least in our case, their parents — in fairness, I don’t think my stepson even had his own cell phone at that point, this having happened back in the dark ages. But such things did exist, and some of the kids had and were using them, but not to call us). So, yeah.

    Reply
  21. Lippy

    Oh, I hate those, our bedroom phone is next to my husband, who sleeps like the dead, and is mostly blind. So the phone rings, he tries to grab it, I have to get out of bed run to his side and try to read the caller ID. Once it was a call from his Grandma, she got confused about the time zones, and wanted to make sure she got us before we went to work. It was 4 am so she was successful, we didn’t have the heart to tell her that. So we should move the phone to my side of the bed, since I can see.

    Reply
  22. velocibadgergirl

    My very favorite thing about this post is “5. Penelope.”

    I got a 3 am call once, on a weeknight. I staggered through my dark apartment trying not to flip out that my parents were dead. It turned out to be a drunk guy who called the wrong number and then tried to hit on me. Fail, dudebro.

    Reply

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