Do you believe in coincidences? I don't, but I believe in magic. And there is magic in cell phone numbers. I hope you'll read through the end to find out what I mean
It's true that numbers can be and have been used as a way to dehumanize people, demean them, erase their identity, sometimes in the cruelest of ways. There’s even the expression, “You’re just a number,” where being a number means being insignificant.
A cell phone number is different. When your phone rings and the incoming call is from a person in your list of contacts, the person’s name appears on the screen and you can decide, based on how you feel about that person, whether you’re going to pick up the call or let it go to voice mail. If that number belongs to someone you love and if that someone has died, the idea of seeing it attached to someone else feels like the ultimate betrayal.
I wrote a book about the 19 firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire in 2013, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Arizona. To report it, I talked to all of the firefighters’ families, though there was one widow I couldn't reach: Krista Carter, wife of Travis Carter. After my book came out, Krista friended me on Facebook. In August, we met in person for the first time. While our kids played, we talked and one of the things we talked about was budgeting. We'd both cancelled our husband's cell phone plans, but, I told her, I've been paying $5 a month to keep Mike's number so that my daughter can have it once she’s old enough to have a cell phone.
“I didn’t know that was possible,” Krista told me. Turns out her son, who is 12, had been asking for a phone and said he wished his would match his father’s number.
One early morning several weeks later, Krista texted Travis’s old number:
Hi! My name is Krista Carter Eckel. This phone number once belonged to my late husband who was on the Granite Mountain Hotshots (Travis Carter). After his death I struggled with whether or not to get rid of the phone and number. At the time, I decided it was best to not have that extra payment, so I let it go. I was completely unaware that a person could save a number for future use at no cost. Now, 5 years later, mine and Travis’ son is wanting a phone. He asked if he could have his dad’s number. I know this is kind of out in left field...but would you (whoever you are) be willing to give up this number so that Travis’ son could have it? If not...I completely understand. I just thought I would try for my son’s sake. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Travis's number belonged to Debbie Mazzella, whose first husband had died 15 earlier in a car crash. Debbie had since remarried; her current husband is a firefighter. Debbie wrote a long reply to Krista that ended this way:
Perhaps it will be meaningful to your son to know that his dad's number was given to another firefighter's wife all this time and to someone who has prayed for God to mend and heal your broken hearts over these years. I would gladly give up my number - would you allow me a little time to make the arrangements with my carrier?
Debbie, Krista and I believed that this was a story that had to be told because of what it means.
It means that through our grief, we have forged a connection. And that through this connection, we have offered one another hope and support. And that on this support, we are building a beautiful friendship.
Click here and then on "Listen Now" to hear our story, wonderfully told by Stina Sieg for KJZZ, the NPR station in Phoenix.
WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
Follow along with Fernanda and get occasional stories.