“Your mom is dead!”
Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.
“I said your mom is dead.”
In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead. My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach. Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind. They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.
How could she know that my mom was dead? Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone? Why? Yes, my mom was sick. She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die. The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body. It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere. So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.
I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.
“What…what did you say?”
“Your mom is dead. You know…from your call.”
Oh…not my mom…the one from my call. The call I had taken 15 minutes ago. The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.
One beep at a time. We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?” The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.
A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning. In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling…. “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom. He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.” The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.
The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around. The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her. When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”
My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and…. I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.
“Radio,” she answered. “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694. We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122…. The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”
“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way. Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is? Do they know where he might have taken their mom? Do they remember what he was wearing? Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives? Can you ask the girls….”
…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them….
I was gone. I was lost. There was nobody else in the call-center. The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console. There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS. The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute. The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light. Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough. My mind couldn’t think fast enough. My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone. The lady was brave for them. Her strained voice rose and fell. I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them. My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks. I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own. My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.
Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else….
My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone. I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city. The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls. The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness. I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me. My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.
I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work. Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever. Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released. And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.
I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!” I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom. I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.
But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2009.
Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.
As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.
I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.
I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.
I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.
I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.
I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….
I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….
My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.
I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….
Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….
I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….
Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….
And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?
When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….
Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….
I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….
The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….
I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….
But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….
I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….
But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
If you’ve read my “About the Blog” page, you will already know or understand that I spent more than ten years working as a police 9-1-1 operator, dispatcher, and communications supervisor. While I no longer do that type of work, my daughter and several friends do…so the memories of “answering the call” are still fresh.
April 8-14, 2012 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week…as decreed by Congress at least three times over the last twenty or so years. During this special week, 9-1-1 call centers often host open-houses and sponsor tours to give their tax-paying public a glimpse into their work lives and a better understanding of what actually happens when they dial 9-1-1. This is also a week of celebration, essentially, when those same call-center employees are honored by various businesses, agencies, and private citizen groups and individuals for the role they play in contributing to the safety of their communities. There is often a festive atmosphere in the call-centers during this week, when there are gifts and raffles and theme-based banquets and pot-luck dinners, all sponsored by the particular police/fire departments, the call-center administrators, and those businesses and citizen groups mentioned earlier.
In tribute to those women and men (and my family members and friends) who have worked and/or still work “answering the call,” I am re-visiting an earlier essay that details the work performed by those police 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers. Please click on this link “Inside the Roller-Coaster” to take a closer look.
Eucalyptus trees with silver-dollar leaves shaded the chocolate-hued men, those with the ancients’ lines around they eyes and steel and yellow-gray crowns upon they brows, slow and stony and tumbling-down voices, and gnarled fingers like busted-up tree limbs that moved the ivory tabs of black-dotted things this way and that along the scarred and pigeon-shitted table top.
“Don’ be lookin’ over here, you ol’ cheat, don’ be looking over here; git you ol’ yella eye-balls onto you own side a thisyer table.”
“They’s only echoes now,” like the cars and trucks on the overpass, like the train that rumbles slow down on the city track, ‘neath the palm trees on the other side. “They’s only echoes now, them memories that still live and rattle yon in you brain.”
Images alive in the past and yesterday with a scorched-grass and dusty smell that rides in the nose-hairs for a long day; they’re like swollen and knobby coffee-milk fingers reaching into those lost recesses of tainted dreams, scooting those domino pieces to the side again, sliding them face-down and around, picking-up five or two again, and lining them up sideways at a slant.
“Pass me that bag, Mistah Scott…’f you don’ mine.” If it were my can in the brown bag I’d have offered me some sitting there, just to see what I’d have done, to see how colored the skin of my soul was on that yellow-brown afternoon.
I fingered the blue card in the manila coin envelope and slid it back and forth, took it out and brought it in again, watching lazy mouths work their chew, work their salted seeds and spitting shells; I thought about the places they’d been, the lies they’d heard, and the promises failed, as the lines wore deep into their chocolate and honey-colored skin.
“You don’ know how to play this, do you, Mistah Scott?”
I used to play it some as a kid with my sisters, said I.
“Yah…maybe so, but not like we doin’, though, ain’t that right? Not like we doin’ out here ‘long-side the overpass with pigeon shit all over the goddamned place, not like that, didn’ you?”
No, we played inside on the kitchen table…sometimes in the living room…but that was a long time ago.
“Couldn’ be too long ago, Mistah Scott, you just a young man. You couldn’ tell me ’bout no long time ago, not yet no-how.”
No…not yet, no-how….
So…I took my camera to work the other day….
I was returning from my lunch-time walk to the park and back when I saw a man ahead of me on the sidewalk; he was on the same side of the street, but about a block north of me. I could see that he was pushing some type of cart, but couldn’t make-out exactly what it was…and given that he was wearing a t-shirt and pants of that sturdy brown color used by a certain parcel delivery company, I allowed that he might have been pushing a hand-truck or dolly loaded with packages…except that there was no matching sturdy brown truck nearby. As I continued up the street and heading directly toward the man, I noticed that he kept walking back and forth on the sidewalk, first up the street I was on, and then back and forth on the street that ran perpendicular to the one I was on, the one that I would have to cross very soon as I made my way back to work.
While I was waiting for the various cars to pass in front of me and allow my clear and safe passage to the other side of the road, I was better able to see what the man was pushing ahead of him. It was a shopping cart, and not one that was over-loaded with belongings, not one that would reveal the more transient nature of his life, but one that contained a solitary “something” or other…just a single thing…and not many.
I made it to the other side of the street and continued on my northward march up the sidewalk, quickly gaining on the man and paying special attention to the fact that he had stopped and was looking back at me…or in my direction, anyway. As he stood there in his short-sleeved t-shirt in the 31 degree weather, evidently being warmed by something he carried within himself…maybe something flowing in his veins already at this almost early hour of the morning, I wondered what the question was going to be. He was already working on it, too, slowly loosening his lips and mouth, making empty motions and aligning the thoughts of words, the mental sounds of them, maybe, in preparation for my impending arrival at his side.
I was expecting to be asked about the change I had in my pocket and was a little surprised when the man said, “Excuse me, Brother…dhhhooo you know…you know where there’s a restaurant around here…here?”
In the several seconds that it took the man to prepare his words and manage to offer them to me, I noticed that his one hand didn’t stray from his shopping cart…the rickety four-wheeled device that he was using to carry his unceremoniously-opened 18-pack of Bud-lite…and nothing else. In those seconds, I also looked more directly at the man’s face and noticed that maybe I could have been his brother…after all, we were both men…and we must have each had a mother…so maybe….
Cars and assorted traffic passed behind and beside us as we questioned the day and wondered things in our separate minds in those fast and fleeting moments…as the man still stood there in his short-sleeved shirt with his long black hair tied loosely in a pony tail. His golden-brown face was flat and thickly fleshed and had deep lines extending from the outside corners of his eyes and mouth; his nose was also mostly golden brown, but reddish, too, and bulbous, and heavily veined with red and blue road-map capillaries that spoke of years of opened beers and other kinds of things. His black-brown eyes were glassy as they passed and twitched at mine with his stumbling words and wondering words and with his outstretched arm, and then, “Izzzzz it that pa-hink…is it that p-hink building over there?”
I did happen to know where there was a restaurant nearby, so I told the man no, that pink building was a set of old apartments…you need to go back down the sidewalk and turn right at the street in front of us and head that way for a couple blocks…the restaurant is called “Rico-something-or-other.”
“Oh…ok…thank you, Bhrother.”
They said I’d find her in an old house behind Edison’s Supermarket, which wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if there had only been one of them. Walking door to door only led me from one abandoned home to another, one place where lives had been lived and then picked-up and moved to another place, sometimes because the owners of those lives had wanted to move, and other times because they had no choice, the greater life was moving them along against their will or staid complacency. And there was a desolation, too, that ran deep and into the dirt on that clouded day; it ran beneath the broken asphalt of the streets and the buckled concrete of the long unused driveways and sidewalks that led to burned-out garages and weather-warped front doors. It spoke to my wondering soul and prompted more questions than there were answers to fulfill…and left me feeling sadly empty and alone despite the fullness of my own life.
I walked the streets and alleys for hours that morning, entering the castaway homes and calling and looking for a blonde and stringy-haired girl whose life was circling an abyss of injection and want. I couldn’t find her…or didn’t, anyway. Maybe she’ll be rescued on another day….
For eleven years, I worked in an environment where crime and death were a part of
my every day. No, not the literal substance of crime and death in the immediateness of my day, except when one of
our lesser-esteemed employees stole a co-worker’s Christmas tree, but we dealt
with the once-removed essence of those crimes and deaths that occurred on the
streets where our police officers patrolled and worked and where our 9-1-1
callers sought our help, as we were and are 9-1-1 operators and police
dispatchers. We were the pre-first-responders
who sent the first-responders on their calls.
We didn’t enjoy when bad-guys came to their naturally occurring ends, but we
didn’t weep too many tears, either. We did, however, sometimes suffer the emotional burden of carrying our more
innocent victims’ fates, and yes, we struggled under that weight even more when
the victim ended-up being one of our officers or an officer from a neighboring
agency. Within our police community, the Blue did run deep, even for those of us who were not on the street, but who
answered the calls on the 9-1-1 phones and who worked the radios, dispatching
officers and sending Help on its way.
Working in the Radio and 9-1-1 rooms, we would only hear the other details of the event
from the streets as the news made it to us through its various channels: calls
from officers who were friends or family members, reports from patrol
supervisors that were forwarded up through the chain-of-command and passed our
desks or email in-boxes on the way, or through first-person recollections as
those officer friends or family members came to visit us. We often heard stories or recollections of
what it looked like out there, but we didn’t often get to see it ourselves. Most of those stories were related to the events
leading up to the tragedy, or those that occurred immediately following it; we
weren’t often exposed to what happened in the hours and days following the
death of an officer.
I left the police community over a year ago in pursuit of a job and an environment
where crime and death existed in the news and not in my every day, where they
were not the substance of my work. Even though I have moved away in a physical and emotional sense, I still have
contact with some of my former co-workers and still receive information about
the happenings within that police community where I worked for those many
years. The following “story,” or recounting of events, was written by one of the Phoenix Police Department’s
sergeants after he participated in the aftermath of the recent shooting death
of a police officer in the neighboring city of Glendale, Arizona. The sergeant’s details fill-in some of the
blanks that have remained in my own knowledge of the events following such a
tragedy, even though I was involved in the communications aspect of this type
of police work for several years. I came across this writing on Facebook, where I saw it posted a couple of times, with
credit given in both instances to Phil Roberts.
“Anyone wonder what happens to a police officer after
he is killed in the line of duty? Unfortunately,
I had the sad opportunity, and yet the privilege, to find out firsthand. Several days ago, 27 year-old Glendale Police
Officer Brad Jones was shot in the line of duty by a suspect who is not worth
the dirt we walk on. From the moment his “brothers and sisters”
arrived on scene, the officer was never alone. While the fire department treated him,
transported him to the hospital, and during his final moments here on Earth, he
was surrounded by family and fellow officers. Then when he left the hospital, as a matter of
reality, he had to go to the Medical Examiner’s office. He was escorted the entire way by officers
from St. Joseph’s Hospital and never left alone. Twenty-four hours a day, a Glendale officer
was posted at the M.E.’s office. Brad was never alone. When he arrived that
fateful morning at the M.E.’s office, every available patrol officer in South
Mountain Precinct in Phoenix, where the M.E.’s office is located, lined the
streets with overhead lights flashing, stood outside their cars and rendered a
hand salute…at 3:30 AM. Glendale officers
stood the watch with Phoenix officers, constantly checking to see if they
needed anything: a sandwich, a drink or maybe just a brief break. Brad was never alone.
Then yesterday afternoon it was time for Brad to be delivered to a funeral home. I was
privileged to be part of an estimated twenty police cars, formed at an
impromptu moment, just from South Mountain Precinct in Phoenix to pay what
respect we could. We lined 7th Avenue at
the beginning of rush hour, stopped our cars with overhead lights on and
standing at hand salute. As the procession passed the Phoenix Police
Department’s Crime Lab over twenty lab technicians came out to the side of the
street and paid their respects to the M.E.’s vehicle with Phoenix officers
saluting, led by two Glendale motorcycle-officers, a Glendale police car and
two Phoenix police cars as they made their way to the funeral home in Surprise,
Arizona. Respect, total respect is what
happens to an officer after he is
killed in the line of duty…as it should be. Tonight a wife and two little girls
will go to bed without their father and daddy. But Brad is not alone…he never
was, never has been, and never will be.”
Thank you, Sergeant Roberts.
It’s Friday again, somehow, and thankfully…and I simply do not want to get started on my work-day, even though it technically started about half an hour and more ago. I’ve been looking at a photography blog that contains photos taken in Colorado, outdoor shots of people and nature, and it was so easy to stay there and not attend to the stack of papers on my desk that represent people and infections and stories and trying to be nice as I listen to their unconcern, panic, or whatever their names and phone numbers hold for me today. I marveled at the pictures of scenery and nature that so resemble the area of my new home and the beauty of Fall and her changing seasons.
As I was driving to work this morning, I couldn’t help notice the orange and yellow and pink and red of the leaves on the trees and sidewalks in our downtown and nearby residential areas. It reminded me again of the walk/hike I took at this time last year through Memory Park and City Creek Canyon. Upon further reflection, it dawned on me that I went there exactly one year ago next week, so even the stars and planets are similarly aligned, as the trees and everything were the same…as I looked again at the pictures I had taken and posted on Facebook.
The office is now waking and my co-workers are talking on their phones with their own patients and infections and the computer keys are tapping in their fast and slow paces and the piano music is still talking to my heart from my computer’s speakers and the cars and trucks pass silently and loudly on the street below our eastern-facing windows, as the boss is gone today and it’s Friday, again, and the pen feels so good in my hand as its tip scratches the paper and I can still smell the wood-smoke and feel the chill in my ears and nose as I remember my walk from last evening…as the echoes of my little one’s boisterousness rang in my ears and reverberated still with flashes and snapshot images of his silly and smiling eyes and clownish grin. So I think I’ll take him and his brother/nephew out to City Creek Canyon and see if they enjoy the colors of the falling leaves and the crisp morning air as much as I do and will…and maybe I’ll snap some beautiful photos to post here, too…of people and nature, and people, too.
The skinny black man sat in his tumbledown chair and stretched his legs out long and long across the patio there. He was wearing a tattered straw hat that had a bright red and frayed ribbon laying droopily around the brim; it might have been attached at some point in its various pasts, the ribbon, but today it was laying loose against the hat’s crown with its thrice-tied knot to keep it all together with itself. A hot breeze stirred through the patio columns and caused the screen door to complain with a creaky voice at having to move so when it was content not to at this time of an afternoon and summer day.
“I tol’ you and your partner the other day that I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Peaches,” he said from below his hat brim. His mouth moved like he was holding pebbles inside his cheeks, keeping his lips all in a pucker and moving still; I couldn’t see his teeth, as they were hiding behind his fleshy and purple lips, but I knew from a young lady’s description, that he was missing top and bottom twins on the left side of his mouth. He had caught a tire iron or a bottle there during a mid-alley brawl on a last-July evening; said people started calling him “Kissy” after that because of the way he always pursed his lips when talking so nobody could see the remnant and damaged teeth within.
- I never said anything about Peaches, Kissy; I never told you who sent me looking for you; I just said I talked with someone….
“Well, I still don’ know nothin’ about her; ain’t seen her none, leastways not in a long time, not this summer anyways.”
- Well that’s ok, really, we don’t need to talk about her. We just need to get you to the clinic and take care of those spots on your hands, that’s all. You need some medicine, Kissy.
“Yeah, you tol’ me about that before, you and that other Lionel boy from your office, but I’m ok; Kissy’ll be jus’ fine. These spots come and gone once before and I ‘spect they’ll do the same again, so you can go on now, Doctor Scott, don’ try and reason with me none either, just leave me set here of an afternoon, cuz it’s too hot to move and I’m waiting on my check besides. So go on now…and if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’m goin’ to have myself a little nap….”
What is that sound, that scratching, that tapping away, that scraping and prying I heard along the way. I passed down the hallway, around the corner and into my room; I heard a shuffling, a movement, and a something-is-there kind of sound. What is that gnawing, that board coming loose, that crack of a something being pressed against and pushed into, forced to be somewhere it wasn’t, and then. I saw the doorknob turning, heard the pin and tumbler move aside, the light from the window caught on the bronze and tarnish and sought my eye, that twinkle where a twinkle wasn’t just a moment before. What caused that thing, that coming to, that vapor from a floorboard, and that mist between the hinges, what could it be…that tiny kind of burning when I started to pee?
A telephone call from a stranger’s place, an office with signs and slogans on the wall, pamphlets in display cases, numbered tickets on the floor, a welcoming eye and a wavering smile, those things greeted me and disturbed my peace, different words from that stranger’s place on that cloudy afternoon. I took the elevator to the second floor and could have sworn there were rats in the walls. The cabin loomed with its scratching sound, that scrape and tear at the insides from something there….
The nurse was gentle, she was not unkind, even with the purple gloves that lifted the boys and pulled back the hood…but there’s no amount of peace or distraction that can help one not notice a swab being stuck into Mister Johnson and slowly turned and dragged along that tender opening in the effort to collect some kind of hiding or tucked away cells from their resting place within the membranes’ coating…it’s gonna hurt, plain and simple…probably…unless you’re one of those guys who like that kinda pain…with the rings and piercings and, well you know what I mean. Anyway…it would have been so much easier if I had just waited to pee…no scraping and grinding and….
…and what are you, I said to that thing? “I am the thing that you thought you’d hidden away, that secret, that something that was lost even to your memory. I’m that laboratory finding, the antibodies’ keys, the hooks and pins, and whatnots, and the swirls of helices in your pee, the elemental bodies in your babies’ eyes, the cysts in your belly and the rash between your thighs. I’m the dysplastic cells in your girlfriend’s womb that means your cauliflower garden is about to bloom. I am that drip, that burn, that strain, that clap, that chancre and rash, those blisters and bumps on your secret place and places and that goopy something leaking from your nether region…I’m the substance of things you never hoped for and the evidence of things you can’t see…I’m that disease you caught in your stolen or random intimacies, your rendezvous-es, and your closing-time hook-ups…. I didn’t come from a toilet seat or a hot-tub or a door-handle or a soiled seat in a locker-room…you got me, you caught me, and you catched me, too, when you got down and dirty, doing the nasty, plowing furred furrows and other kinds of things…and now here I am…the skeleton in your closet…come knockin’ again….
Very simply, KOA-789 was the call-sign, or call-letters, of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station – very similar to what you would hear the DJs or commercial radio station announcers say over the air, or the way you would even refer to the radio station itself, like KSLX, KDKB, or KJZZ, KNIX, etc. While it may sound odd that a police department would have a radio station, it helps to understand that the FCC considers the collective of radio frequencies, or radio system, that a police, fire, or other public safety agency uses for communication purposes, to be a “station.”
When I said that KOA-789 were the call-letters, I meant that they used to be and technically no longer are. Several years ago, Phoenix Police upgraded their radio system to an 800MHz technology, no longer using the antiquated UHF radio-frequency system that is still in use by many smaller agencies across the country. The 800MHz system is digital and has many advantages over the older system. It also automatically sends a signal broadcasting its own unique digital marker, or call-letters, over the air.
The FCC has rules that require radio stations to announce the call letters and time on the hour and half-hour marks. In specific regard to Phoenix Police, and likely other police agencies, as well, when they were operating with the older radio system, dispatchers used to announce the time and radio station call-letters according to FCC regulations. It was often in conjunction with dispatching a call, during the broadcast of some other pertinent radio traffic, or when the dispatcher from one precinct’s frequency had finished giving information on another precinct’s frequency, as in - ”the frequency’s clear at twenty-three-forty-six-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.” During the late hours of the night or very early hours of the morning when the radio was quiet, meaning that no officers were clearing the dispatcher or each other, the dispatcher would simply announce the time and call-letters - ”It’s zero-three-hundred-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.”
Over the years, the call-letters somehow morphed into a symbol or a trademark of the department, so that whenever one saw or heard the letters, the meaning was well-known or understood – at least by officers and dispatchers, as they were the ones commonly using the call-letters. At some point, license plate frames were made and distributed (sold to employees) with “Phoenix KOA-789″ on them, so that the vehicle owner/driver could tell other drivers, and police officers specifically, that they were part of the Phoenix Police family. Other police agencies would have their own call-letters for their radio “stations” that were in a similar form, which meant that their officers would recognize the license plate frame information and consider that the driver was a police employee. On a trip to California, I happened to see a frame on a vehicle that said “Los Angeles KOA-XXX.” I don’t remember the specific numbers that came after the KOA, but I was surprised to see that LAPD had their own license plate frames.
Again, KOA-789 used to be the call-letters of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station. With the advent of the 800MHz technology, the dispatchers were instructed to stop broadcasting the letters with the time on the hour and half-hour marks during their shift; they were told that it was actually prohibited. That change in radio systems, however, doesn’t prevent police employees from putting the “slogan” on their cars or saying it among themselves, or even tagging the letters onto the end of a story, the recounting of a sentimental or nostalgic memory about a former employee, or even a recollection of how things were “in the good ol’ days.” The use of the letters is not likely so common among the newer officers and dispatchers, but to remove it from the veterans’ vernacular would be akin to removing it from the department’s coat of arms or family crest, for it remains a symbol of belonging, comraderie, and family among those who work for the department (or used to).
This article was written in response to several people finding their way to my blog, somehow, when checking the internet with search queries of “what does KOA-789 stand for?” or “what is KOA-789.” While some of the technical information might not be 100% accurate, it represents my understanding of the history of the call-letters from having been a police 9-1-1 operator, dispatcher, and communications supervisor with the Phoenix Police Department for over 10 years. Please feel free to submit your corrections or additions to the information…at zero-nine-hundred-hours, K-O-A -seven-eighty-nine….
Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.
From the archives of PPD work-place memories:
In the wee hours of one long-ago morning, Stu Pidd stopped Vick Timm, who was riding his bike home after work. Stu Pidd produced a knife and demanded all of Vick Timm’s property. Vick Timm gave Stu Pidd his wallet, cell phone, house-key, two packs of gum, and his bike, and then left south-bound to call the police. Stu Pidd then took the bike across the street where he noticed two subjects in an SUV watching him. Stu Pidd approached the subjects in the SUV and produced his knife again, challenging them. The two subjects in the SUV, armed security guards for a nearby apartment complex, exited their SUV, drew their own weapons on Stu Pidd, and took him into custody. All of Vick Timm’s property was recovered and Stu Pidd was booked on one count of armed robbery and two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon.
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor. When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..
After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc. And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation; and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.
All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways. My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and…. So I wondered at change and transition.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life. He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being. And I thought of transitions again and still. I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been. I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway. I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.
Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air. No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions. I’m looking for peace that lives within.
So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing. In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life. I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television. But, I didn’t. I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday. I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing. It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”
And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?
So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”
Yes, I spoke of you when the scratching of pen and the tapping of keys were my voice. I called on our histories and the unborn worlds that became ours when we became what we did in the friendships of our time, the friendships of our time in the workaday part of our lives, the part of our singular and collective existences that formed when we joined in that common purpose of answering the call and sending help as we did and then.
I did speak of you as I recalled the image of you standing on the flight deck of your floating city and felt the peace of your First-Mover in the Pacific sunset, as I recounted the shaded and glimmering crystals sent from that wayfaring soul to your shared and beloved tree-hugging figure-skater, my noble mariner friend with a heart reaching ever outward from your chosen desert home toward that “known region where nature’s god kisses and nurtures its inhabitants with a clean respect and calmness and ease of simpler life amid the beauty that consoles an aching heart.” I spoke of you when I shared those thoughts of hope and dreams and inspiration and risk and the cost of pursuing those things that rile and soothe the heart and soul, when I weighed the future against the present and sought determination and resolve, those words echoed in my mind about seeking the success in those things, for nobody sets out on a venture to fail, you said, they strive and make things happen in as much as they are able. Thank you, my friend. I spoke of you….
I spoke of you, too, who guided me in my learning, and told me to just say “10-4” when six-thirty-four-king told me that he was “ten-seventeen to six-hundred for one-oh-five with a ten-forty-two and had ten-thirty-one to complete before going ten-seven…” or something like that. “Roll Fire,” you said, “Do this, do that, stop thinking about what they said and just repeat it before I hit you with this parrot. Check your messages, answer the phone, type and talk and don’t say that number again or I’ll smack you, you know I will, and yes, you heard him correctly, clear for his sergeant like he asked, get a dog and the air-craft and send a message to the Radio supervisor and quit thinking, you do fine when you just do….” And, god, did I ever tell you “thank you?” Did I ever thank you for your mentoring that allowed me to achieve and advance and reflect again on life and responsibility and accountability for self and others? Did I ever tell you how you were there for me in the dark night of my soul, those rough days and long weeks of wondering and how? Thank you, dear friend, from my beating heart to yours.
We were and are members of a menagerie of faces and eyes and paths walked together and then, as we sat for hours and became part of each other’s existences, our forevers. Our friendship spilled-over one day, yours and mine, in the sharing of words, the sharing of a sentiment from an unexpected source. I looked at you in your hazel eyes and wondered at the depth of your question on that August day, those months and months after the changing of courses in your life and mine and others, too, our babies in a same and similar place with one left behind…and I wondered at the depth of your question, I did, when you said, “But how are You?” I was touched then as I am now, again. That was the drop that pushed this over. That was the day that I looked at you anew. Please thank your mom, again, my friend, for those Christmas cookies…and cheesecake…and you. Yes, I spoke of you.
And you, too, with the blueberry muffins on a Saturday morning in a frightening time where peace was found in words and phrases and reflections and then, I spoke of you.
I saw the end of a particular time drawing nigh and wondered why, in this passing life, that our various paths didn’t cross and intertwine outside of our workplace, why life was so busy and busy and we remained contextual friends. We never walked the back-nine together, never had that soda together on a Thursday afternoon that was the only afternoon in our uncommon weekend days, never traded mock and practiced blows in a dojo on your side of town, or met for coffee or pasta at your favorite north-side café…we never herded our collective mass of kids to a playground or park and watched the birds dart and dive in the light of the waning sun, never sat in our favorite bookstore over a cup of Joe, and never took the city’s train together to the museum or ballpark or…we remained as we were in the confines of our own gothic and cinder-blocked fortress of a workplace and laughed as we would laugh, poked fun and commiserated, and mourned our collective and individual losses that mounted in the passing years. There were rare hugs and frequent jabs, smiling barbs hurled with gentle hands and eyes that earnestly watched to make sure they weren’t too rough.
And time has passed as it does and will and we come to these moments that are fewer in number and falling down…and what didn’t happen didn’t and won’t, and distance will grow between us and our laughter will resound in our memories only, and sometimes they will be cut short by tightened throats and misty eyes and we will wonder at ourselves and each other and the falling sand. We will wonder how we might cherish the remaining moments so they will be sweeter in their detail in the tomorrow of our tomorrows where they will linger like a sweet perfume that is heady and strong in the first reckoning and then fails with the continued ticking of the clock…like a passion, hard and urgent, that wanes with a changing thought or an unexpected breeze.
I spoke of you, my preacher friend, when I wondered at the purpose of friendship, when I marveled at your tender father-soul and felt my own heart breaking in vicarious love for your grown baby who is fleeing in time with the clock’s wind, up and away from you. I cheered and cried for you and your quivering chin when you thought nobody was watching, and I relished in the magic of words and inspiration. I spoke of you when I understood that we are friends only because we are, and our spirits are made deeper by that connection and then, by that fibrous reaching across time and space and experience and lived lives and we are not so different and we are…as your gentle heart chastens and encourages me.
And I spoke of you on that November Sunday morning when “I was just sitting there reading something on the computer or studying the board to make the proper chess move and a friend walked in and gave me a Bavarian crème donut…and the smell was rich and beyond my morning grasp of words…rich sugary and warm with chocolate icing and then…wrapped in waxed paper and held with simple paper towels from the work kitchen dispenser…and it was so simple…so real…an emotion and a donut.” Those other moments we shared in heated conversation about things being right and not, about how contradictions flow with an inordinate ease in bureaucracies of might, and how one person gets something that another person can’t get and we have to be careful in our caring and our pressing that might go too far and your gentle innocence and quaking heart compelled me in new directions, caused different words to be uttered up a chain and out into the ether where they were wasted and gone and consoled nobody…and I tried…and spoke of you on a Sunday morning.
I spoke of you when sparked and fiery brands fell from the covered sky onto your tormented soul and the barbs sunk deep and your misery was wrought in twisted words from angered minds. My heart stumbled in memories of vermillion pathways and sought solace and strength in those hedges and byways. I spoke of you when I uttered that “Visible or imagined circumstances are mated with ill-conceived thoughts and a new ‘truth’ is born. It breathes with a life of its own, spread and passed-along as righteousness…contextual and circumstantial truths that reek in filth and deception until they are discovered and ripped apart with the knife of examination, eviscerated under the light of explanation and detail…but the damage is still done, the seed was planted and doubt has grown, sprouted and is thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’” So, I thought of you when I found the regal words from an uncivil time about how we forget the words of our enemies and remember the silence of our friends…so I spoke for you. And I wonder what glorious shades and rainbow hues will show forth on your wings as they unfurl from your chrysalis-like hideaway? What new spirit lives with resolve and unconcern for those dropping barbs and stumbling blocks of chatter and sway?
And now I speak of you, of one and all, named here or not, and reflect upon our unchangeable past and unknown futures, the beating of our hearts that separate and move in different directions now that things are done. I embrace you in my heart of hearts and thank you for enabling all of those other worlds to be born in mine, those multiple universes of thought and emotion that only came with your bidding, that only came with your bringing them to exist within me and the lives that we have shared. These words are few, yet weighted with a love and emotion that knows no name other than “friendship,” and I thank you for who and what you’ve been to me in our times passed and passing.
In the age-old conversation about work and life, are you one of those lucky or fortunate ones who stumbled upon or pursued and captured the job that drives your passions, or is driven by your passions? Did you have that childhood dream become a reality, and now, in your adulthood, you wake each day and can’t wait to get to your job because you just absolutely love it…because it so fulfills you, rewards you, or gives you the satisfaction at the end of the day in knowing that you participated in something that was so much bigger than yourself, or that you touched at least one life in a way that will be felt positively by that one life for their life’s duration? Or did you wake in the night and rise to embrace your creative dream and not stop until you were famished and your strength gone as you beheld the object of your creation and were able to say “Yes, I did that, I made that, I created that…and the world, or my own corner of it anyway, is all the better because I did so”? Is that you? Is that me? Or are we in the middle of a muddle where we just get up everyday and go to our jobs, walk the walk, go through the motions and maybe even have moments where we actually care about what we’re doing, maybe only to be rewarded every other Friday with a few more bones, or many more bones in our checking account? Or worse, are you in a job or place that you can’t stand, but you’re too numbed by your personally dissociated indifference to do anything about it? Is your job killing your sense of who you are or want to be? Have you resigned yourself to the daily grind and live only for the paydays that finance your weekends and postponed or neglected dreams? How do you live then? How do you do that? How do you surrender yourself so completely to someone else’s bidding? For the money only? Are we whores, then, when we resign ourselves to such a life, sacrificing our bodies, health, our minds, dreams, or our very souls, for that paycheck? What would we trade or willingly sacrifice, to have a job that we love, so that it is no longer work, but actively living and flourishing in ourselves and our dreams as we participate in that “making a living?” What would we sacrifice so that we don’t have to surrender…and what do we become if we don’t?
It’s not that sacred December season, but I could not help but make the connection with all the mayhem that is and has befallen our city in the last evening and early morning hours. I realize this is another somber and distressing post, but I think my cup is full and the meniscus of sadness is about to overflow, as its already feeble boundary or edge of fragile instability sways and quakes in the beating of my heart and tightness in my throat.
I sat there with my headset on and waited for what might come through the phone and happened to look up at the clock and noticed that it was 9:06 a.m. on our Sunday morning at work. In our police radio talk, in our city anyway, “9-0-6” means that we are to send help quickly. When we hear it on the radio, we know someone is either getting their ass kicked or they are about to. It’s not as bad as “9-9-9,” but it means that there is serious trouble and the officer needs help right now, this instant, this moment, immediately…a second ago, please. It’s appropriate now, I think. We need help. Or maybe it’s just me.
I could not help but be affected by my dispatcher’s quivering chin as she fought back the tears after working a suicide call that involved an officer from a neighboring city. “It’s so sad,” this little one said, as she voiced her distress and concern at what might have been so bad in the guy’s life that he wanted to end it all as he did. He had left a note at his computer on the desk in his office, giving his wife very specific instructions as to what she should do. He told her to call 9-1-1 and then take their daughter out front to wait for the police. She called us and said that she found the note and was scared to search the house for him or to go into the garage. She didn’t want to find his body. My dispatcher entered the responding officers’ radio traffic into the call, typing a narrative of what the on-scene officers said, noting the officers’ identifying call-sign, and then what they said. The Air Unit was overhead and did a search of the property after patrol units had arrived and checked the inside of the house. The sergeant said to keep the wife and child out front and to block off the road from passing traffic. The Air Unit’s observer then told the officers standing with the wife to turn-down their radios so she wouldn’t hear what he had to say. He then told the dispatcher and the other listening units, and me, that the officer was sitting on the swing in the northeast corner of his back yard. He said that it looked like a gun lying on the ground by the man’s left foot and it appeared that he had shot himself. The observer said that the guy wasn’t moving and then told us to stand-by; he was going to get lower and check to make sure. A couple seconds later, the Air Unit observer told us that the man was definitely shot. The patrol supervisor told the units to secure the dog in the backyard, and then to secure the handgun and to roll Fire. We don’t leave officers dead in their backyards for hours while we investigate what happened. Roll Fire – get the guy to a hospital, away from the house, from the family, from the swing-set in the backyard.
I wonder what that means, the symbolism in the man taking his life on his six year-old daughter’s swing-set in her backyard? Does it mean anything or nothing? The possibilities of freighted meanings are too much to contemplate.
My dispatcher’s eyes were sad and her voice was calm as she said thank-you as I got her a relief to sit there as she went down the hall for a few minutes after she finished the call. She was back on the radio then, half an hour or so later, and was giving the details of another hot call she was working with a hit-and-run accident victim who was chasing or following the suspect vehicle as it left the scene. She’s ok. She handled everything fine. She copied and repeated what the officers told her and she got it all typed into the call.
And so we go on. “9-1-1, Where is the emergency?”
This was only the second “serious” call of the morning. An hour earlier someone called to tell us that there was a dead transient in our city’s downtown “Heritage Square.” Another hour or so later, a son called to report that he found his 70 year-old father cold and blue in his bed on the west side of town. Another couple hours later, an off-duty fire-fighter and paramedic called to tell us that he found a deceased transient lying against the back wall of a dollar-store on the city’s south side. And almost finally, just before the end of shift, a young man called to tell us that he was hiking at one of the city’s mountain parks and found what appeared to be a 55 year-old man who had been shot in the chest…just laying there in the middle of the hiking path. Officers responded quickly with their lights and sirens and did, indeed, find the man lying there…and with a gun nearby. As I was about to step off the pod at the very end of my work-day, I noticed a message on my computer’s screen notifying me of another injured-person call…a two year-old was found floating in the family’s pool. The message had been there for a minute or two, so by the time I looked at it, the operator had added a couple more lines to the call. The last line said that the baby was awake and responsive…crying. “Code-4, clear it.”
And I’m 10-7, goodnight.
No TV tonight…no cop-shows…no news…and hopefully, no dreams about work….
It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen? My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.
The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas. The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest. And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer. The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings. The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished. The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.
When the sun goes down, more people come out. The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless. Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious. In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies. Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim. In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:
West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality. On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue. There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver. The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree. A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old. The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital. Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.
South City Precinct – Death of Child. On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue. A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house. The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand. (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours? How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?) The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department. Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide. On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting. The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend. The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home. Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out. The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene. When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.
West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting. Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road. On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house. The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times. The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd. One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1. I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.
9-1-1, Where is the emergency?
“4321 West Why-Not Lane.” The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.
Is this medical?
“It’s kind of…yeah.”
Do you need paramedics?
What’s going on?
“I shot my wife and children.”
When did you do this?
This is Tuesday morning. You shot your wife on Friday?
Where is your wife now?
“She’s in her office, or my office. She’s laying on the floor.”
And where are the children?
“I don’t have any children.”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house. They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. You shot your wife on Friday, right?
And she’s dead?
Ok. And are your kids there in the house with you?
“I said I don’t have any kids. There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”
And the dogs…they’re ok?
“Yeah, the dogs are fine. I like them.”
You like the dogs.
“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”
And you said you might need paramedics. Are you hurt or something?
“Yeah. I shot myself in the chin.”
You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?
And you did this on Friday?
What’s your name?
And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?
Ok. Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?
“It’s there in the office. I put it up on the desk.”
Are there any other weapons in the house?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”
And where are you in the house right now?
“I’m in the living room.”
Are you going to be ok when the officers get there? We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.
“No. I’m fine. I’ve already fucked-up my life enough. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Ok. It looks like officers are in the area. Can you see any police cars outside yet?
“No. There’s nobody here yet.”
Ok. You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?
“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office. I can see a police car out front now.”
Ok. Are you outside?
And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?
“Nope, just the phone.”
On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.
“Should I put down the phone now? She’s telling me to.”
Yes. Set the phone down.
My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children. He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids. When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call. He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.” The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.” He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.
It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things. They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?
I noticed the date and thought of the things that it has represented, the things that it has been to me and others I have known or know. I drove my several miles to work and then stood on the steps later and watched those people come and go as they will and do at the beginnings and ends of their shifts here, taking calls and sending help on its way and I thought about the beautiful morning and the green trees and the birds that come by and leave and their drops of scat and whatnot that mark their passing. I thought about the dirt and desert crags that line the southern horizon from my perspective and wistfully recollected green and white and black monstrosities of splendor and cloud nests way up there and high on eastern horizons of different perspectives and then. I thought about the date again, about it being a wedding anniversary of a loved one and how that matches now with other anniversaries that will be remembered from tomorrow onward when today has finished and fallen below earth’s distant rim, when it has been tossed like a torn calendar’s page into the waste-can of the past and will live again only in retrospect.
Yesterday morning, a frantic mother called 9-1-1 to tell us that her three week-old baby was cold and blue and the father was trying CPR as the Fire call-taker gave him instructions and the Fire dispatcher rolled the big red fire-truck and our police dispatcher rolled the patrol units to make sure things were only horrible in that the baby died and not horrible in that the baby was made to die.
This morning, I thought about how we used to be able to send call recordings to each other so we could share in the wonder and amazement or disgust or befuddlement or whatever at what our callers told us. I remembered how we sent a call around the room that burned itself into our memories of what a newborn baby sounds like on a 9-1-1 call as the mom was sobbing in happiness and the dad was talking excitedly in amazement in the afterglow of having just delivered his baby in the back seat of his car…and it’s been too long since I’ve listened to that recording, too long since I’ve heard tender happiness on our phones here.
And this morning, again…I read the duty report from last night and learned that a “16 yr old male hung himself in his backyard after a verbal dispute with his mother over concert tickets. The juvenile male was transported to the hospital and is not expected to survive.” Yes, concert tickets.
Entry number two said that a 46 year-old man crossed a certain street mid-block at around eleven-thirty last night and was struck by a Dodge Dakota. The man was transported to a hospital where he “was pronounced.” There were no signs of impairment of the driver of the Dakota.
Entry number three said that “A 32 year-old male subject climbed [Such and Such Mountain] and called Crime-Stop to report that he was going to kill himself. Patrol and the Air Unit responded. The Air Unit located the subject and observed him shoot himself in the head. While waiting for Fire personnel, the Air Unit observed the subject flip over onto his stomach. The rescue helicopter responded and transported police and fire personnel to the top of the mountain. The subject was still breathing with a good pulse and respiration.” The call recording said that he called police so we could find his body before it was discovered by hikers…on this very popular mid-city mountain trail. I later overheard a conversation between another supervisor and the night-commander in which we learned that the guy was going to survive…the suicide hiker. What will his life be like now? Was it really that bad before?
And a dear friend’s father passed away yesterday or last night, at some time before the friend was supposed to be here at work. The answer to that sometimes question – yes, they were close. I’ve heard many stories from his gentle son…and if he is/was anything like that son, I know he was a good man.
So, today is a day of anniversaries…things that will be remembered whether we want to remember them all or not.
More memories from the STD Clinic Journal….
November 8, 1996 – I spent a couple more hours in Estrella Jail this morning. I conducted two interviews on patients for whom we had been looking since July of this year.
Crystal B. was finally in jail long enough to receive her twice-daily doses of Doxycycline. The last time I had spoken with her, she was released the next day and never made it to the clinic. She had sworn that she would make it to the clinic so she could be “cured.” It never happened. Since August 7th, her blood had risen from 1:128 to 1:256, bringing forth new symptoms of the infection. This time, she had vaginal and perineal lesions. The chart said that she may also have herpes.
I mildly admonished Crystal, telling her how I had driven for hours, several times, trying to find her on the street. I also told her that one of my partners had driven around looking for her, as well. Even “ex” prostitutes have feelings – Crystal’s blue-green eyes filled with tears as she told me that she had made a mistake. I wasn’t looking directly at her, and not seeing the tears, continued with my scolding. I told her that I wasn’t concerned with all the aspects of her life, I was just interested in how this disease had come to play. When I looked up and saw her tears, I felt that I should back-up and go more slowly. “Can’t a person make a mistake, huh? We all make mistakes, don’t we?” Crystal asked. Yes, I said; we all make mistakes. I was just concerned that she was going to become sicker and possibly spread the disease further. She assured me, kind of, that she hadn’t had contact with anyone since both of her sex partners were locked-up. She denied any contact with dates. Crystal could have been acting, but she seemed sincere.
Crystal had been on twice-daily Doxycycline for about a week now, halfway to her cure. The sores were healing nicely and she said she’s feeling better about herself. She said that she is tired of this life, here in Phoenix. Crystal said that she never had a record till she moved here. Now, at 24yo, she is ready to move back to California where her family and children are. Crystal told me that she will be released on November 21st and hopes to leave right away. My proof of this move and restart on a new life will happen when the health department from her California town calls to let me know that she has had her blood tested again. We’ll see what happens.
After leaving the jail, I went to the field to try to locate a person with 1:128 dilution blood that had just been released from another jail. The person didn’t even know the results yet. I had spoken with Stephanie at the jail this morning and she had given me the address and phone number, supposedly belonging to the patient’s uncle. I had already called the number and left a message, so now, in the field, I hoped to be able to speak with the patient face to face.
Approaching the door, I wondered if this was really where the patient lived. I am almost ashamed to say it, but the house did not fit the stereotypical house of a young, black male who was recently released from jail. As it turned-out, the house was that of his girlfriend. She, Nicole, answered the door, and to my question about whether or not Sammy lived there, she replied that he did. After I learned that she was his girlfriend, I told her that both she and Sammy needed to come to the clinic. Suddenly, Nicole’s face changed from a look of curiosity to one of fear. Then, just as suddenly, she recognized me. She said, “You came to my school and did a talk on STDs. You’re from Maricopa….”
Nicole recognized me from the presentation I conducted at her school, The Center for Xxxxx, where my wife was serving her internship for the BSW program as ASU. Nicole remembered the pictures of syphilis and gonorrhea. The realization of who I was and what I represented slowly spread across her face. She assured me that she and Sammy would be to the clinic that day, and they were. Nicole ended-up having the infection and was treated the same day. Sammy ended-up being the dog, having at least two other sex partners, completely unbeknownst to Nicole.
It’s now March 28, 1997, and I’m just now finishing this entry. Nicole didn’t return to The Center for Xxxxx until just last week. Five months have passed since she was there, working on her GED so she could become independent of her family’s support and get a job on her own. Nicole never mentioned anything to my wife about that afternoon in November, she did, however, ask her to tell me “thank you.” For several weeks after Nicole failed to return to The Center, my wife and I occasionally discussed the situation. I had resolved to go past the house and check-in on her under the guise of follow-up for the syphilis. I never made it to the house, and further, don’t know if that would have been a good thing to do or not. Maybe things would have been too difficult for her in the face to face encounter that would have occurred in her doorway or in the front yard of her house. At any rate, she is back in school and it’s almost time for me to get back to The Center for another STD presentation. “Thank you” is a small reward, but in this job, it is often everything that we can hope for. A few times in my almost eight years here with the county, a patient has ended-up dead, sliced to bits and tossed into a garbage dumpster after finding-out she had something and subsequently telling someone else of her situation. I will take the “thank you” any day. It means more to both Nicole and me than words can really describe. Not that I thrive on the appreciation of my clients, it just doesn’t come often, and is, therefore, a real reward. Thank you, Nicole.
Here we go again….
April 4, 1997 – I went to Estrella Jail this morning to talk with two syphilis cases. I found there, two very different, yet similar, individuals. Mary Lou, who my partner, Sylvia, knows as “Lulu,” is 40yo and has been prostituting for 27 years. She started this mess when she was 13yo. Mary Lou was either kicked-out of the house or simply left at that age and started dancing at one of the clubs in town. She said that she carried herself like a woman and convinced the manager that she was really 22yo. He never asked for her ID. Mary Lou said that as she was dancing, some of the guys would talk about how they wanted to do things with her. She said, “That’s fine, but if you want to fuck me, you’re going to pay for it.” That began her 28 year career as a prostitute in Phoenix. She said that she is ready to retire, though. She is just waiting for that golden watch so she can quit in style. Mary Lou is very straight-forward, a characteristic which Sylvia says has always been hers. They know each other from childhood. Sylvia said that Lulu had always been the black-sheep of the family, her sisters would have relations with several people on the side, but Lulu would at least charge for it. This lady said that it is too dangerous to be on the street anymore. When she first started, a girl could go out on the street and within just a few hours, make about two hundred dollars and there was nothing to worry about. There were no beatings and no worry that one of the dates would turn bad and kill you. Now, she says, the money isn’t very good because there are so many girls on crack who will get fucked or suck someone’s dick for five or ten dollars, sometimes even less. And now, too, you have to worry about AIDS. In the old days, the worst thing around was herpes. Syphilis and gonorrhea could always be cured, but not herpes, and now, not AIDS. So, Mary Lou wants to retire and move up to Globe and get a job, something she’s never had, maybe working at “Jack in the Crack,” she says. Mary Lou is about five-five or six, weighs probably 155 or 165, big-breasted and flat-bottomed. Her mouth is foul and full of the street. She and I are both surprised that she has lived so long. When I asked if she had any children, she said no, “He (looking upward) has taken care of that.” She has had two miscarriages and one tubal pregnancy. Mary Lou said that He knew what her life was like and took care not to allow her to have any kids. That throws a twist into my picture of what God does and doesn’t allow. I know another lady of the street, Von, AKA: Lepizia, who is my age and has eight children; had nine, she said. Being only thirty-five with her oldest child turning 21 this year means that Von had her first baby when she was 14yo. What does God allow and disallow? Who can tell?
Anyway, Lulu is looking to change her life, and that is good, we agreed. She has been smoking cocaine, pot, crack, and all other types of things for these many years. Her mind seems to be all there. The whole time we were talking, Lulu was hitting on me, asking if I was married, telling me that I looked fine. She is a character who, in herself, is a whole book. She said she is going to look me up when she gets out of jail in June. I told her that she, Sylvia, and I could sit and talk for a while.
The next person I talked with at the jail today was a 20yo Hispanic girl named Martha. After talking with Lulu and having a pleasant time, it appeared that things would be different with Martha. She seemed sullen and removed, almost business-like when I began telling her why I was there, explaining her test results, etc. She appeared to be the “typical” hard-nosed Chicana from the street. Her eyes had the dark underlining that is common with some of the Hispanic girls. Martha’s eyes were also beautiful, very dark, almost black. She was missing her top front four teeth, which, I later learned, were lost in a car accident that she had when she was high on crack. Only a steel cable had prevented her car from falling from the overpass at Van Buren Street and the freeway. As it was, Martha lost those teeth and cut a big gash in her right eyebrow. The doctors told her that she was in a coma for seven hours following the accident. When I asked Martha how long she had been prostituting, she told me that she started when she was 14yo, so that has been six years. I also asked Martha why she started selling herself and she explained that an aunt had given her a hit from a crack pipe when she was 13yo and she had to have it from then on. So the prostitution was a way of “earning” the money to buy the crack. Where was Mom at this point, or Dad, or anyone else who could have made a difference? Mom left her when she was six years old and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Payson. Martha explained that she had two different sides of her family. One, she described as living off of food-stamps and welfare, the others were very well-off. Her grandfather or uncle, I forget which, is a judge and is living very well. These are the grandparents with whom she lived after her mom dumped her and ran off with a boyfriend and Martha’s older sister. What does that tell a child, Mom ran off with sister and not you? Well, her mom came back when she was 11yo, and deciding that she was old enough to “wipe her own ass,” as a friend put it to me, she took her with her, back into whatever life she had carved for herself. This became the introduction into the life which she herself now lived, but being of her own mind, having a brain of her own, she said, she is responsible for everything that happens in her own life. Nothing that has happened to her is anyone’s fault but her own, she said. I countered that with the responsibility that her parents, mom or whomever had to her when she was only 13 and 14yo, should have prevented half of the shit that happened to her. Well, she responded, she was witness to her mother’s boyfriend killing her mother’s brother when she was only 11yo. She was the only witness and ended-up testifying against the boyfriend. The mother then hated her, accusing her of trying to ruin her life by taking away her man, rather, having him put away. If this isn’t enough for one person to endure, two years later, Martha watched yet another boyfriend of Mom stab a man and woman to death who were tied into their chairs. Where is God, I wondered? I like angels and have thought that they truly exist, but in situations like this, I begin to wonder if I am not mistaken and there really are no celestial beings whose jobs it is to protect the innocent lives. I am beginning to feel strongly that my wife is correct when she says that there is no God. What loving God could allow this shit to happen? Tell me, Child of God, where is He? Martha spent five months in the state hospital for “crazy” people. “Those people were really fuckin’ weird, talking to themselves all day.” She said that she uses the crack so she doesn’t have to think. I can’t blame her. I asked her what she was going to do when she gets out in August, the day after my birthday, and she said that she doesn’t know. I said that she had been here for two months already and she hadn’t yet figured it out? She said that her mind is just now beginning to get straight. Martha said she was so sick from the drugs that she was down to 112 pounds. She is five-feet eight-inches tall…and she was down to 112lbs. She said that she has gained about 40 pounds since being locked-up and eating three times a day. She wants to go back to the street because she is more comfortable there. “People baby me,” she said. Everything she needs is there and it is exciting. She would go stay with her grandparents, but it is too boring up there. Her grandfather did promise her, though, that if she stayed there for a little while, he would pay to get her teeth replaced, so she is considering that heavily. As I sat there listening to Martha tell me things that had nothing to do with my syphilis investigation, I couldn’t help but just stare into her eyes, realizing how absolutely beautiful she is. It is such a fucking shame that her life has come to this. I know it isn’t over, by far, but where is it going? She graduated from eighth-grade in Adobe Mountain, the state facility for juveniles. She has never had a job and she has a two year old daughter who lives with the biological father. When I was questioning Martha about the one steady contact that she has, a somewhat, but not really, boyfriend, she said that she knows he loves her, and she even admits to herself that she loves him, but she refuses to tell him. She said that if she did let him know in words that she loves him, that is when things would fall apart. I suggested that this might be something that she really needs, to be loved and to love somebody back. Martha agreed, hesitantly, but confessed that it is something that she doesn’t want to do. She added that her boyfriend is probably the best thing for her, but he is too nice to her and she wants someone to keep her in her place. Not someone who is going to be mean to her, mind you, but someone who is more assertive than she is. She says that he’s always kissin’ her ass, trying to make her happy. When I asked if something was wrong with that, she said that she didn’t know, but she probably should try to be with him. The interview ended with her thanking me for making sure she doesn’t get any more shots in the ass, as the nurses had planned, and me wondering what was going to befall this beautiful young girl. Life sure is fucked-up sometimes.
The patients were unremarkable on that particular day, July 17, 1996; however, there was one older man who we treated for secondary syphilis that might be worth mentioning. He was roughly fifty years old and lived around 15th Avenue and Tonto. When describing the situation of his meetings with the unknown people with whom he had sex, he said that it is similar to being thirsty in the middle of the night and going to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. It was that simple. He just goes out to the street, finds some female walking past and asks if she’s interested in having sex. Of course, there are a few dollars that must change hands, and given that this wasn’t one of the more posh districts of town, there were literally only a “few” dollars that must be exchanged. The prostitutes in this part of Phoenix did not require much in exchange for their wares, five to ten dollars, sometimes as much as twenty dollars, was all that one must have to find a willing sex partner on or near West Buckeye Road. Any amount would help them get what they needed in the way of rock cocaine. With the fee paid, they got down to business. They cleared a spot on the alley floor, consummated the act, redressed, and went about their respective ways; the woman continued down the sidewalk and the older man turned the corner and walked back to his house. Free enterprise, supply and demand, capitalism at its finest. Thirsty for a glass of milk in the middle of the night….