Saturday April 23, 2016

BLOG | S.O.S. call to MuchMusic by Sook-Yin Lee

The environment at MuchMusic was loud: phones ringing, TVs blasting, music thumping, producers shouting, and rock stars coming and going.

The environment at MuchMusic was loud: phones ringing, TVs blasting, music thumping, producers shouting, and rock stars coming and going. (Sook-Yin Lee)

My first job was working on air at a TV station as a VJ on MuchMusic.  The open concept "environment" was a dizzying chaos: phones ringing, TVs blasting, music thumping, producers shouting, and rock stars coming and going.

One morning, I was juggling being on air and racing around, when my phone rang at my desk. As soon as I picked it up I knew something was up because there was silence on the other end and then the sound of crying. It was a young woman, a teenager who was upset and alone in Thunder Bay. She saw my face on TV and called me.

She told me she wanted to kill herself.  

In that moment, the surrounding chaos disappeared and it was just her and me on the phone. She said she was terribly depressed. She had a gun and was afraid of using it.

I'm not trained in this; I had no experience with talking down a suicidal teen.  My floor director yelled at me to get in place, we were up in 30 seconds. I ignored him. That's when he noticed something was wrong. On a sticky note I scrawled out what was happening. I hunkered down and listened to what she had to say and asked a few questions.

"How did you get the gun?" 

Well, it turned out her friend had given it to her, knowing she was depressed. "She doesn't sound like a very good friend to me. It sounds like your friend wants you to kill yourself more than you want to kill yourself."  There was a long pause, and she quietly agreed.  "You don't really want to kill yourself do you?"  No. She didn't.  I suggested that we work together to get her to safety. She wanted that too, but on one condition, no police involved. I promised, but said I'd have to let my my co-workers know so we could send someone over to help because I was 900 kilometres away in another city.

"Where's the gun?"

It was in her hand, and she didn't want to be holding it. I asked her to put it down on the floor and push it away as far as she could. She used her foot and it slid way under the couch. "Good.  It can't hurt you from there."

On a bank of TV screens were the shiny pubescent faces of Silverchair. She said they were one of her favourite bands and she loved that music video, when suddenly, a booming voice interrupted our conversation informing us that the authorities were taking over. "But wait, I said no police!" The line went dead.

I had no idea someone could just show up and end your conversation. I felt violated and scared. What was happening?  Is she okay?  It's all my fault if things go badly.

I was out of sorts. That night I couldn't sleep.  When I got to work the next morning, my phone rang. It was her. She was okay. She told me that when we were cut off, the cops kicked down her door and grabbed her.  She was terrified at first, but then, as she sat in the police car heading to the hospital, she struck up a good conversation with the police officer.  It turns out they bonded over having the same Internet provider. It's small things that can bring us together. She thanked me for talking to her on the phone. It was a new day and she was glad to be alive.


This week DNTO discovers who's at the other end of the phone line. Saturday, April 23rd at 3p.m. on CBC Radio One.