Had my first call that actually gave me chills; thought I’d have to refer a patron to our local domestic violence center.

“Thank you for calling [us], this is CommandanteAlighieri, how may I help you?”

“Hi, I’m calling about an online order I just submitted but I realized there was a mistake with it. I’d like to make an exchange.”

A normal, easy procedure. Something weird goes on in our system so I have to put her on hold briefly to check in with my supervisor. Totally fine on her end. She’s pleasant and agreeable.

Since she’s not one of our higher-level members (for whom fees are waived), I inform her that there will be a small exchange fee. She goes, “Oh, nooooooo, argh!” with a different type of frustration or expectation than I was expecting. It’s not a “what the fuck, how dare you?!” kind of frustration; it’s more like the frustration that comes with realizing you left your phone at home, or your windows down in the rain or something like that — where you know you’re in a difficult/desperate situation and there’s nothing you can do about it but deal.

One of my coworkers earlier today had two separate calls trying to fleece her out of paying our fees (and this coworker somehow seems to be the person who attracts those kinds in general), so at first I was expecting that maybe she’d suddenly turn argumentative.

But then she gets really quiet all of a sudden. I try to match her level as a matter of respect/sympathy. I figure she might be one of those “I don’t want any of your coworkers to hear my card numbers” types, which is fine. She reads the card numbers very quickly without stopping and I try to keep up and repeat them when I can, but she seems impatient to get through everything.

Turns out I misheard her about at least one number and my card reader displays an ‘INVALID NUMBER’ warning. I have her repeat the numbers; she’s still quiet and seems impatient to get through everything, but I ask her to go one segment at a time. I try again. INVALID comes up again.

At this point I apologize and say it must be because of the static; I ask if she’s willing to have me write down the number, read it back to her, and then just destroy it afterwards, which she obliges.

Still in a hushed voice, she says, “My husband doesn’t know I have this card.”

At first I’m not sure what to say to that, but I figure that that explains the whispering.

Then I read her number back to her, and she gets even quieter and a bit more agitated.

“He doesn’t know I have this card. I’m not supposed to have it.”

I’m still trying to stay quiet while giving the usual “Oh, I see,” etc., and in my head I’m trying to figure out what I can about this situation from context while I’m inputting the numbers. Is this really just about the card itself, or is she not allowed to spend money without his approval?

He’s right outside the door.” I thought there may have been a “please” in there as well but I’m not certain.

I immediately got chills and couldn’t help but think of Jurassic Park. I tried to keep my composure and suss out what I could based on what I was hearing. He wasn’t yelling or banging on the door, but she still sounded scared.

At this point, still talking quietly, I decided to put my experience with crisis hotlines into practice. “Ms. Patron, you mentioned you don’t want your husband to know about this — is everything okay?” I was frantically Googling the number to our local domestic violence center and was about to ask her if she was in a safe place.

She was like, “Oh, no, everything’s fine, don’t worry,” a little bit louder (so he could hear?) but I still wasn’t convinced. Her order went through before I could read off the number, and once I told her everything was complete she was happy to hang up.

That was really freaky, and I told my supervisor about it afterwards. She says she sometimes has patrons who are like, “Oh, my husband’s gonna kill me when he sees the credit card statement, haw haw haw!” but she understood that this was not like that. She suggested that perhaps it was just that Ms. Patron has a spending problem, but I don’t know.

Still, that was a far cry from the typical call. Even if it ends up that I was reading too much into it, I hope everything was fine with her.

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The shortest call I’ve ever taken.

It’s always 5 minutes before break