I wasn’t feeling myself this morning, so I called 911.
The operator said, “911, what’s the address of the emergency?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. “I don’t know,” I said, “I guess everywhere.”
“Everywhere?” the operator asked.
“Well, everywhere I go,” I replied.
“What’s the problem?” the operator asked.
“I’m not feeling myself today. I mean, I don’t feel connected to myself,” I said. “That is, I know who I’m supposed to be, I know my name, my past, my history, my friends and loved ones, but I don’t feel like that person.”
“Oh,” she replied, “you’re having an identity crisis.”
“I guess you could call it that,” I said.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” I said. “I mean, I know my name’s Peter Cherches, but I don’t feel like Peter Cherches. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to feel like Peter Cherches.”
“Who do you feel like?” she asked.
Who did I feel like? That was an interesting question. Who did I feel like? I certainly didn’t feel like the person I was supposed to be, Peter Cherches. That is, I didn’t feel like the memories were mine. If anything, I felt like someone who didn’t know who he felt like.
“I’d like to find out who I feel like,” I told the operator.
“Well, Mr. Cherches,” she said, and it felt so weird being referred to as Mr. Cherches. “Well, Mr. Cherches, I think the best thing I can do for you is connect you with the identity crisis hotline.”
There’s an identity crisis hotline? Who knew?
“Would that be all right with you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I suppose that would be OK.”
“You just hold on a minute, all right?”
I waited for my call to transfer. Then I heard the operator’s voice again. “Hello, I’m an operator from 911 in Brooklyn, New York. I have a caller I’d like to refer to you. Would that be all right?”
“Yes,” the hotline guy replied, “that will be all right.”
“All right, Mr. Cherches,” the 911 operator said, “is there anything else I can do for you before I leave this call?”
“No,” I said. “Thank you for your help.” I heard a change in the aural ambience, signaling that the 911 operator had left the conversation.
“Mr. Cherches?” the identity crisis counselor said. “Thank you for reaching out. My name is Rick. How can I help you?”
I told Rick about my problem, about how I wasn’t feeling myself. He was very patient and caring. He let me speak and he would only break in to ask pointed questions when I seemed to be rambling, but even then he gave me some leeway. I don’t know how long the call lasted, at least a half hour. I told him all about the life of Peter Cherches and how I didn’t feel connected to it any more. He was very understanding, in no way judgmental. The kind of person I would like to be. “Maybe it’s just a phase you’re going through,” he said. “Maybe if you just give yourself some time things will straighten themselves out.”
“Maybe,” I replied.
“Do you think you’ll be OK on your own now? We’ll always be here for you if you need us.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’ll be OK. Thanks for your help.” And I hung up.
Maybe one day this nightmare will come to an end. Maybe one day I’ll feel like Peter Cherches again. But for the time being, can you please call me Rick?
Now how can I help you?
Peter Cherches is the author of Autobiography Without Words and three previous volumes of short prose, Lift Your Right Arm, Condensed Book and Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee. His work has appeared in the anthologies Poetry 180 and Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974–1992. He co-led the avant-vaudeville music/performance group Sonorexia with Elliott Sharp, and, with pianist Lee Feldman, recorded the album Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, with some lyrics of his own.
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Image: [House with Telephone Pole], April 1940, by Walker Evans. Pencil on paper. © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
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