“We wish you a merry Christmas,” were the last words sung in the choral recital before the car crashed through the church’s doors, through the vestibule and into the sanctuary. It was an ’80s era Pontiac Firebird, bright red with the hood embellished with the black and gold graphic of a phoenix (known as the ‘Screaming Chicken’). Luckily, no one was sitting in the back of the church, as the collision knocked over the last two rows of pews. For a moment there was complete silence. Then, the church’s ten-foot noble fir Christmas tree slowly toppled over the roof of the car, the crowning porcelain angel shattering on the floor, leaving the tree’s blinking lights reflecting brightly in the Firebird’s polished chrome wheels.
The car door creaked open. The driver staggered out, with so much blood streaming down from his mangled face it looked as he was wearing a red mask. He fell to his knees and he must have seen the mass of shocked faces turned towards him. He opened his mouth widely, let out a deep groan and toppled sideways.
According to the records of the emergency response center, three people in the audience called 911 from their cell phones. The first caller to get through was Wanda Sims, and it could be said her phone call would define the rest of her life.
Twenty minutes into the performance she realized she had forgotten to turn off her cell phone. But as her phone played an annoying short tune when it was being shut down she left the phone on with the hope that no one would call as she enjoyed the concert. And thus not needing to turn on her cell phone, Wanda’s call to 911 was the first answered, and the recording of the call played on was released surreptitiously to the internet by someone at the 911 call center.
While growing up in the 1970’s Wanda had a pronounced stutter. Years of speech therapy only helped slightly. And although she actually had an extroverted personality as a child, she became shy and withdrawn in order to avoid having to struggle through her stutter to speak to others. When she was sixteen, Tommy Doyle, a boy sitting behind her in chemistry class unexpectedly tapped her shoulder, leaned forward and hurriedly said, “Would you like to go to the dance this Friday?” She had never noticed him much before beyond his pale and freckled face, and at first thought he was mocking her. But the sincere look in his face told otherwise. She found it unexpectedly endearing and wondered for a brief moment if she was capable of falling in love with him. She smiled at him and said, “Yes, I’d love to,” surprising herself when it came out without a stutter.
For the next six months while she and Tommy were a couple, she was in love and stutter-free. Everyone remarked how changed and happy she’d become when they were together. She broke up with him because he refused to have sex with her. He said it wasn’t right to do before marriage. Her stutter returned the next day.
A week later, after school when he pleaded with her to get back together, she held his hand and said, “T- T- Tommy, I’m s- s- sorry it didn’t w- w- w- work out. You’re j- j- just not the g- g- guy for me.”
But he kept on trying .The fourth time, she had had enough and she blew up at him, screaming, “It’s too late Tommy! You had your chance!” and walked away. Immediately, she realized her outburst was stutter-free. This was the first time she came to the realization that it was both love and anger that could cure her, at least temporarily, of her stutter.
A month after breaking up with Tommy she was dating someone else. He had no hesitation in taking her virginity. After twenty-five years she could remember his face, thin and pale, and beneath a nose that slightly turned to the left, and a teenager’s pathetic attempt of a mustache, and although she recalled his first name was John, she could no longer remember his last name (It was King. For the rest of his life, when he heard a woman stutter it would bring back memories of laying beside Wanda in the back of his family’s Ford station wagon). Her stutter vanished when they were together, but after six weeks he broke up with her, saying, “It was fun, but it just wasn’t meant to be.” She was devastated, and her stutter returned with a vengeance.
Twenty-five years later she ran into Tommy Doyle at a supermarket. Their shopping carts were nearly touching head-on as she searched for corn in the canned vegetables section. His face was still pale and freckled, and she found him recognizable despite his receding and graying hair. He hadn’t seen her and she called out his name. “T- T- Tommy Doyle.”
Tommy looked up and stared straight at her without an immediate hint of recognizing Wanda. He squinted and tilted his head back and forth a few times. Then his head popped straight up with his eyes and mouth opened wide in surprise. “Wanda Sims!”
Just then a redheaded man with a beard walked up to Tommy’s shopping cart and dropped in a loaf of bread. Tommy excitedly touched the redhead’s arm. “I can’t believe this! This is Wanda. We dated each other in high school.”
The redhead gave Tommy a funny look. Tommy said while laughing, “Jesus, Eddie. I was sixteen years old.”
Eddie smiled and reached out with his right hand to Wanda. As they shook hands he said, “Pleased to meet you, I’m Eddie. Tom’s husband.”
“Well, that e- e- explains a lot,” said Wanda.
Tom and Eddie invited Wanda over to their place for dinner the next week. Over the new few years their friendship grew. Through them she met Eddie’s brother George, first her boss, and then her eleventh lover (she had kept a diary since the age of ten and had kept a running count of lovers), followed by her twelfth lover, Pete, a co-worker of Tom’s. She and Pete had met when they both responded to Tom and Eddie’s emailed offer of a pair symphony tickets they couldn’t use. She and Pete lasted all of a month, and she broke up with him mostly because her stutter didn’t vanish during their time together, as well as the fact that Pete was twenty-five, nineteen years younger than Wanda, and she found the generation gap painfully large. Pete didn’t take the breakup well, calling Wanda, “The only woman he could see spending the rest of his life with.”
A month later, the weekend before Christmas, she accepted Tom and Eddie’s invitation to their church for a choral concert. This was the night the Firebird violated the sanctuary and Wanda made her call to 911.
The phone rang once and a female operator said, “This is the 911 operator. What is your emergency?”
“Th- th- th-” The strength of her stutter surprised Wanda. She kept trying and couldn’t get beyond the initial “th” of “there.” The operator said, “I’m sorry but I can’t understand. Please try to calm down.” This only caused Wanda to get more frustrated and anxious, and she thought at least the operator didn’t say, “Just spit it out!” as if being told “Just spit it out!” was all that was needed to finish the stuttered word (in her diary, not only did she keep track of the count of her lovers, but also the count of the times that someone had said, “Just spit it out!” to her. She knew the current count was ninety-nine).
Then the operator said, “Just spit it out!”
And on that hundredth “Just spit it out!” Wanda’s anxiety turned to seething anger.
“Just spit it out!” she screamed at the operator. “Just spit it out! Don’t you think I would do that if I could, you fucking idiot! What the fuck is wrong with you? Is insulting callers part of your fucking training!”
The operator responded in a haughty voice, “Ma’am that language is unnecessary. Please calm down.”
“Of course, it’s fucking called for! I’m trying to be helpful and report a serious accident and the first thing you do is insult me. You know, some people stutter, and you say the most useless thing possible. Well, fuck you! Fuck everyone else who ever said ‘Just spit it out!’ to me. Fuck everyone in the entire history of humanity who ever said ‘Just spit it out!’ to anyone who stutters.. And, especially, fuck you again!”
There was silence on the phone. Wanda felt exhilarated but immediately knew she’d likely soon feel a sense of mortification in response to her tirade, and before she could have any more regrets said, “Listen carefully, a car crashed into St. Andrews Church on 80th Street and the driver’s seriously hurt. Send an ambulance. Oh, and one last thing; fuck you again!”
She clicked her phone shut. The sanctuary was silent and she soon realized that everyone was no longer staring at the accident, but at her, the crowd as frozen as statues, half with the mouths agape. Her exhilaration vanished, and all that she could think of was to escape. She hurried down the aisle between pews towards the exit. She tried not to look down as she stepped around the fallen and bloody driver. As she passed him, he reached out, grabbing her skirt, and let out a barely audible, “Wanda.”
She knew the voice behind the unrecognizable mangled face. It was Pete. He hadn’t driven a Firebird when they dated (Pete’s purchase of the Firebird was symbolic; Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite was the first piece played during the symphony concert where he and Wanda had met). She looked down, and her panic vanished. She dropped to one knee and touched his face gently. “Oh, Pete. Look what you’ve done.” He gurgled something that sounded like, “I miss you.” She replied, “I’m so sorry. It was fun for awhile, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I really meant it when I said we couldn’t see each other again. You need to move on.” She wiped the blood off her fingers on a still-white sleeve of his T-shirt and stood up. “I called 911 and they’ll be here to help you soon. I wish you the best, ”
Pete found the energy to prop himself on his elbow and yell out, “Wanda! Don’t leave me. I can’t live without you.” (He was correct; an hour later he died from blood loss on the way to the hospital.)
She didn’t look back as she left the church, walking over the heavy wooden doors the Firebird had knocked down and as she went outside in the brisk night air, where she heard sirens approaching in the distance.
As she drove home she realized not only didn’t she stutter when yelling at the 911 operator, but she hadn’t stuttered when she spoke to Pete. And so she added pity on to love and anger as things that could stop her stuttering.
A week after the release of the 911 recording she saw three people wearing T-shirts with her proclamation, “Fuck everyone in the entire history of humanity!’ written on it. On the forums on stutterer’s support web sites, debates raged whether or not she should be celebrated as a hero for standing up for all the insensitive treatment they had suffered. The general consensus was “yes”, and those who disagreed were called prudes by the others, resulting in a arguments on the forums that lasted for weeks.
Wanda discovered shortly after the incident she was pregnant with Pete’s child. Tom and Eddie convinced her that she might as well cash in on her fame while it lasted to help with the baby. She set up the web site fuckeveryoneintheentirehistoryofthumanity.com where one could buy not only T-shirts, but a plethora of other items including coffee mugs, mouse pads, posters, baseball caps, underwear, and bibs. She fought with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to get a trademark for the phrase, but was refused (with the ruling based from the “Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure § 1203.01 Immoral or Scandalous Matter”)
Since there were competitors, for marketing purposes she endured seven media interviews (stuttering through all of them, not intentionally at first, until she realized it likely increased sales), and made sure each page of the web site announced, “The original and only real store for your ‘Fuck Everyone in the Entire History of Humanity’ needs!” and “That all items are partially tax deductible!” (as she donated ten percent of all gross sales to the Stuttering Foundation of America).
She made more than $10,000 the first month, $20,000 the second month, and then accepted a generous offer of $200,000 for the web site from TheLatestSensation.com (“Where all the latest internet sensations can be found!”) . A month after the sale, unexpectedly, the original refusal of the trademark was reversed by an examiner at the Patent and Trademark office (the examiner himself being a stutterer and a supporter of Wanda’s tirade, and as he was retiring the following week, he didn’t worry about any consequences). Since she now owned the trademark TheLatestSensation.com had no choice but to negotiate for a license from her, allowing her to live comfortably, although frugally, the rest of her life.
Tom and Eddie stood beside her as she gave birth to her son at the age of forty-four. She surprised everyone when she named her son Peter, but figured the least she could leave to a fatherless boy was his father’s name.
The rest of her life the intensity of her stuttering would vary with all the expected ebbs and flows of motherly love, as well as with the anger an often uncooperative teenager could bring.
Seventeen years later on her death bed at home, Tom and Eddie again stood beside her, this time with Peter. Weak and in incredible pain from the breast cancer spread throughout her body, and angry that she would never get to see Peter as a fully grown man, she tried to speak, but her words were too feeble to hear. Tom bent down, his ear close to her mouth and heard her whisper, “Fuck everyone in the entire history of humanity.” Tom lifted his head and said, “She says she loves us all very much.”
Douglas Rudoff lives in Seattle with his wife Margaret and his 12-year-old son Liam. In his long career as a software engineer, you may have unwittingly used his work if you ever analyzed Soviet intelligence, requested a taxi online in Paris, had your cell phone account suspended, had your power restored after Hurricane Katrina, or just wasted time on the internet. His story “Who Weeps for Cthulhu?” was recently published on Literally Stories. He occasionally blogs at http://pinpointuncertainty.blogspot.com/
If you enjoyed Love, Anger, and Pity; or Fuck Everyone in the Entire History of Humanity, leave a comment and let Douglas know.
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