There used to be a house on Old Glenrose, just across the train tracks from the big field behind Woodbine Baptist Church. If you have seen this field in the summer, it’s hard to forget it, since there seems to be often fifty sweaty men playing soccer in it at any given time. Men who are stripping off shirts with pin-prick holes where their name tags go. Other men who are switching from dress shoes to sneakers as fast as they can in their cars. Other men who sometimes reach unconsciously to cover tattoos they’re not sure they want the other men to see.
Where else can you see such a wide mix of men all enjoying the day?
You used to be able to sit on the porch of the house on Old Glenrose and watch them. When Laura was first born, before her mother had to go back to work, her mother would stand on the porch, a towel over her shoulder and then Laura draped over the towel and her mother would pat her back and watch the men. Her mother had this fantasy, which she told no one, of one day going over there, in her sneakers and shorts, and she imagined how all of the men would laugh and tell her to go home or frown and tell her that this was no place for a woman, but then she would somehow get the ball.
And just like they could be on that field and it didn’t matter if they were lawyers or gang members or dishwashers or what, it wouldn’t matter who she was, when she was on the field, she would be a player.
Laura grew up in the little house on Old Glenrose, until she was four, when it burnt down.
The fire spread quickly and Laura’s mother and father nearly died. Laura did die.
The firefighter who carried her out said only one thing about it, ever, to anyone. One day, when he was sitting on his riding lawnmower, not moving, his wife came out to check on him, and he turned to her, and said, “She should have had a whole life.”
Her parents were still at Vanderbilt when the first 911 call came.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“Hay un fuego.”
“Darlene, I’ve got a little kid speaking Spanish. Can you take it?”
Darlene got on the line while the other operator worked frantically to try to figure out where the little girl was calling from.
“Ola. ¿Qué usted dijo?”
“Mi mama está dormida.”
And then nothing. The line went dead.
“What did she say to you?”
“En fuego? That’s fire, right.”
“What’s that address? Did we get the address? Dispatch, we’ve got to get trucks to the 700 block of Old Glenrose Avenue. 712 Old Glenrose Avenue.”
There is nothing worse, you can imagine, than getting a 911 call from a child who is obviously in trouble, whether she knows it or not. And so the 911 operators sat for the nexttweny minutes, checking the clock and waiting to hear something, anything from 712 Old Glenrose Avenue.
After about a half an hour, their supervisor came in.
“We’re going to need the tape of that Old Glenrose Avenue call.”
“Oh god, did someone die?”
“Yeah, two weeks ago. That house is burnt to the ground. Don’t worry. Probably just some asshole kids gave that address just because.”
“No, that’s the address the system gave us. That’s the house that call came from.”
“Well, it must be a glitch in the system, then, because there’s no house there anymore.”
Of course, they checked for glitches. Even sent an AT&T crew out there, but nothing.
And still, the calls come. Not very often, but often enough that every operator is warned about them. And folks have quit after taking them.
“Here’s what you’ve got to understand,” Darlene said to me. “This isn’t an easy job as it is. You’re hearing people at some of the absolute worst moments of their lives, either because it’s happening to them or because they’re seeing something terrible happen to someone else, but you know you’re sending help. You know you can send someone to help. No, it don’t always work out, but at least there’s something you can do.
“Who can you send to that poor little girl?”