The number was (614)281-8211. You could call it and get the time and the temperature. As the years went by and I aged out of cheerful childhood into awkward adolescence, the anonymous agency that ran the number began to insert advertising ahead of the time and temperature. The ads were always read by the same man. I imagined him to be old but not old. His voice was fundamentally baritone but it had a treble crinkle to it, like Howard Stern’s, the telltale that he had learned to speak that way. If you put a pistol in his face or called him to tell him that his child had died, you’d get his true voice. But still, he had a reserved dignity in his cadence, which never varied whether he was telling you about deals on new Toyotas or something exciting at the Shriner Center.
Then, some time around my fifteenth birthday, he started asking me a question every time I called him.
It was twenty-seven years ago but I can close my eyes and hear his voice.
“Do you,” he inquired, in that same steady cadence, that nearly emotionless drone, “have a wound that won’t heal? Perhaps you’ve tried treating it yourself, but it hasn’t gotten better.” He would then direct you to our local hospital’s Wound Care Center and provide the number. There would be a pause, and he would read the time and temperature. I had long since figured out that he had recorded all one thousand, four hundred and forty possible times. When it came to the temperatures, I wasn’t as sure. I never called and found him unable to relate the temperature. Not when it dipped below zero, not when it climbed past a hundred.
The months dragged on, but the recording didn’t change. “Do you have a wound that won’t heal? Perhaps you’ve tried treating it yourself, but it hasn’t gotten better.” And because I am the person I am, I started to think that the message was targeted at a particular group. At a particular individual, even. That there was someone out there who had a wound and was refusing to do the correct thing. That the people who made the ad had someone in mind. But this was a ridiculous idea, and I discarded it.
I called the number many days. For the temperature, not the time. It seemed important in my youth to be appropriately dressed for whatever lay ahead. Now I know that I don’t really get cold unless the mercury dips well below freezing and I wear whatever comes to mind. A T-shirt in the winter, a baby alpaca sweater in the summer, it doesn’t matter.
The recording didn’t change. Every day, the man who made it reached out to people who had wounds that wouldn’t heal. It seemed odd. I tried to imagine the person to whom it might apply. I started to hear emotions in the voice that almost certainly did not exist.
Do you have a wound that won’t heal? Perhaps you’ve tried treating it yourself, but it hasn’t gotten better.
I thought of someone like my grandmother, only completely alone, and perhaps desperately poor. I thought of her sitting in an upright chair, thick fabric with paisley or vine sewn patterns, like what I’d seen in the old peoples’ homes when I volunteered there during school. In my mind she was sitting there, looking at her wound. It had been a while since she’d fallen and cut herself. She was still bleeding. Swollen and red around the cut that had widened to become an open mouth. Her clothes stained with the blood, every day. Nobody to help. And she was of my grandmother’s generation, so she was self-sufficient. She didn’t call (614)281-8211 to find out what time it was, because she had a clock. She had a thermometer, mounted to her window. But she didn’t go out so it didn’t matter. Not since the wound.
If she would call, she would find out about the Wound Care Center. But she wouldn’t. She’d tried treating it, the wound, herself. But it hadn’t gotten better.
I went off to school. My own grandmother died, while I was gone. I graduated. I came home. I woke up and wanted to know what the temperature was. I called the number. It was shut down. And the years passed.
In those years I fell in love, and out of love, and in love again, and out, and so on. But it isn’t always that easy, forgetting, letting go. It’s not always a quick cut that stitches clean and heals easy. Not always a scab that drops away and leaves the pink skin beneath. In my seventeenth year I was hurt pretty badly in a bike accident and a lot of my right knee was ground away to the bone. It took a while to come back, thick ropes of blackened tissue growing in a rose pattern over the yellow-white surface. I’d wake up sometimes with it, the sharp and the dull pains, nobody to ask for help, really. It went on for close to a year, and then one day I had just the clean scar tissue and the memory.
When you’re awake at night, time passes slowly. You think about your mistakes and the chances you failed to take. What you’ve lost and what you’ve left. In the past couple years, there’s a meme of sorts that’s spread across the Internet, and it’s this, it’s a simple question:
You are now thinking of her. What is her name?
And every time I read that, I think back to being a child again, on the phone, listening to the question. Do you have a wound that won’t heal? Perhaps you’ve tried treating it yourself, but it hasn’t gotten better. And again, he asks:
Do you have a wound that won’t heal?