I’m not sure if other people had the 911 talk with their parents when they were kids. Nor am I sure that my talk went anything like the following. In fact, I’m pretty sure it didn’t. But this is the impression it made on me:
Dad: Jamey, your mom and I need to talk to you about how to use the phone in an emergency.
Jamey (looks up from Lego masterpiece): Okay Dad.
Mom (holding rotary phone): If anything bad ever happens at home and Mom and Dad can’t make it to the phone, you need to call 9-1-1.
Jamey: 9-1-1. Got it.
Dad: It might be a fire or tornado or those silent, bloodthirsty horses you sometimes have nightmares about. If any of those things happen, just call 9-1-1 and stay on the line as long as possible.
Mom: 9-1-1 is a very serious number to dial, Jamey. It is not a joke or a game. If you dial 9-1-1 and there is no emergency, you’ll be in big, big trouble.
Dad: Just so you know how to do this, dial 9-1-1 on this phone. But just pretend for the last 1 so you don’t accidentally dial the number.
Dad: Good job!
Mom: Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod.
Jamey: It’s okay! I hung up! It’s okay!
Mom (wild-eyed): It’s too late. They’ll be here any minute. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
Dad: You know the drill. We’ve done this hundreds of times. I’ll get the wigs and passports. You get the crossbows. Jamey, go get your toothbrush and Koala.
Jamey: But I–
Dad (shakes me by the shoulders): Now! There’s no time!
Mom: We’ll never make it. Maybe we can just explain that it was a mistake?
Dad (throws a chair through the nearest window): A mistake? 9-1-1 doesn’t care about mistakes. They’ll hunt us like animals!
Mom (applying warpaint): I know, I know.
Jamey (returns with Koala, toothbrush, and his Cabbage Patch doll): Are we having a sleepover?
Dad (grabs the Cabbage Patch doll): This was not in the inventory! We’re dead if we don’t travel light!
Jamey: Sorry, I just thought she’d be lonely.
Dad (gets glazed over look in eyes): Lonely? Son, you don’t know loneliness until you’ve slept among the wolves. You don’t know loneliness until the last man in your unit dies in your arms, his last wish fading into the morning dew. You will soon know loneliness, boy. And it will be your only company.
Jamey: I’ll always have Koala!
Dad (rips Koala open from the back seam): Inside of Koala we’ve stashed everything you need to survive–a hatchet, vitamin pills, a slingshot, and three Star Wars MicroMachines.
Mom (holding a rope ladder): Jamey, come. Out the window. You must run as far and fast as you can. You must live in the foothills of Virginia. If you make it that far. Your dad and I–we…we’ll fend them off as long as we can. And maybe, just maybe we’ll escape. We’ll assume new identities, move to Marrakesh.
Dad: When we know we’re safe, we’ll contact you.
Jamey: How will you know how to find me?
Mom: We’re your parents. We’ll know. Now go, before it’s too late!
Or something like that.
The point is, I sometimes almost dial 911. Maybe I’m dialing long distance at work, and I hit 9 instead of 8, and then 1, and then…what happens if my finger slips and I press the other 1? What if I forget that my cell phone keyboard is the opposite of my computer keyboard, and I mix up the numbers and dial 9-1-1? What then?
Good thing I still have Koala.