A year or so after I graduated from UVA, I moved to rural Connecticut and worked in a publishing house and then a junior boarding school, met my husband, and had our first baby. Those tristate New England environs were so remote that it was about an hour’s drive to anywhere nationally recognizable (think DMV, Target, any chain grocery store), and we frequently had to leave the state to source things that seem pretty basic from an urban perspective. This is why I currently own three items procured from Pittsfield, MA: my engagement ring, my wedding ring, and my mobile number (area code 413 to this very day!).
Not long after setting up my first cell phone (I was very late in the game in owning one of those because there was no cell tower that serviced our little town until soon before we moved back to VA), I started getting phone calls and texts from people looking for the person who previously possessed my phone number. But these weren’t your run-of-the-mill old friends with outdated records or telemarketers or crowdsourcing cold calls; no, these were people either looking to buy drugs or looking to make a lockup.
The name “Stephanie Danforth” sounds like a litigator in a John Grisham book, right? Or a private investigator starring in a series of books published in the 80s and 90s? Well, this Stephanie Danforth, the woman who used my digits before they were mine, appears to be quite a different kind of colorful character. I’d get texts saying things like “hey you holding” or “I’m in for some when u got it” and repeated phone calls from collection agencies looking to track her down for past due payments. I got several calls stating, “This is your final reminder to appear in court on [whatever date] at [whatever time]. Failure to comply with subpoena will result in your losing your right to testify.” Plenty of laypeople called, too, sometimes late at night with nightclub beats thudding in the background to the point that I had to shout, “THIS IS NOT STEPHANIE’S PHONE NUMBER ANYMORE!”
Why didn’t I change my number, you ask? Well, I thought all of this would end after a few weeks. Or months. It did not. And by then, it just seemed like too much trouble when we were about to move anyway. At first, I found all of it annoying. Then it started to fascinate me. Who IS this person? (A google search turned up nothing.) And HOW does she keep avoiding being apprehended? She’s like my very own Carmen San Diego for the 21st century, and I developed a strange respect for her ability to float along under the radar. Now, over a decade later, I haven’t gotten any calls or texts meant for Steph in a long time, and I don’t exactly miss them, but it was nice once in a while to be able to say, “You have the wrong person–I’m not the one you’re trying to arrest or shake down or meet up with to make an illegal exchange!” There was something gratifying about being purely self-righteous, even to a stranger, maybe especially to a stranger. Saying, “I didn’t do it! Not guilty!” and knowing that was completely, empirically true, was oddly liberating.
I still wonder about Stephanie and what’s happened with her. Is she alive? Did justice ever prevail against her misdoings? How old is she and what does she look like? For the purposes of wrapping everything up in a little bow, as we have every right to do when we’re making up stories, here’s what I hope: that Stephanie Danforth, having seen the error of her ways, abandoned her life of crime along with her old cellular plan, used all the money she’d saved from selling coke to buy a motorcycle, and rode it all the way from Pittsfield to Playa Del Carmen, where she worked her way up to manager at a popular crab shack and now teaches surfing pro bono to underprivileged youth. She, too, recently turned 40, and spent the day on the beach with her German Shepherd, Soldedad, drinking Palomas by the pitcher and reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography until it was too dark to see.
Steph, if you’re out there, please call me (you know my number). I have so many questions.
I always love this story!!!!!! Glad it’s finally published for Steph’s posterity. Cheers to her, to her liberation, and to you her Zora Neale Hurston for telling her story.