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?
**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.
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.”
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….
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.
On a certain Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, Tracy G. called the police department and asked for officers to meet her at a certain location so they could review a restraining-order that had been served to her. Tracy was on her way to her husband’s funeral with her three small children. The day after her husband died, two police officers had served her with the restraining-order that had been obtained by her dead husband’s mother…her mother-in-law. Tracy told the operator that her husband’s funeral was supposed to start in half an hour and she wanted an officer to read the order to make sure that she was allowed to be there. She said that the last thing she wanted was for her children to see her get arrested and taken to jail while she was with them at their father’s funeral…the day was going to be hard enough as it was.
Tracy told the operator that she called her precinct yesterday and was told by one of the patrol sergeants that there shouldn’t be a problem. He told her to make sure she didn’t interact with or confront the other woman, “don’t cause any problems…don’t commit any crimes while you’re at the funeral…and there shouldn’t be a problem…but call for an officer to check the order just to be safe.” The operator asked Tracy several more questions to make sure the officers could find her at the location where she said she would wait. He asked for her full name, her birth date, phone number, vehicle description, and the name of the business whose parking lot she would be waiting in on the south-east corner of a given intersection. “How long will it take?” she asked. “I’m not sure,” the operator told her, “but I’ve entered it as a priority call, so hopefully it won’t take too long.”
Someone in dispatch asked a supervisor about the call because it was unusual in nature. They’re used to processing priority calls to serve the restraining orders, but it was strange to process one as a priority to just have the orders “reviewed.” As the supervisor came over to the operator and asked him about the call, another dispatcher/operator overheard the conversation and offered that she had coincidentally spoken with both Tracy and her dead husband’s mother yesterday. She had directed Tracy to the precinct to speak with the sergeant…and had later listened to her dead husband’s mother rant about how she just knew that her son’s wife was going to show-up at the funeral and cause problems. The witch’s voice still echoed in her ears, that other dispatcher/operator said, as she couldn’t imagine being caught-up in such a situation where the grieving family members couldn’t even gather together peaceably to remember a loved-one who had just passed.
On a bright almost-springtime morning, Tracy G. was taking her three little kids to their dad’s funeral…and she was hoping she wouldn’t get arrested for doing so…in a family divided…for whatever reason.
About a month ago, in the wee hours of the morning, 34 minutes after midnight, to be exact, patrol officers from the West-City Precinct observed suspicious activity on the part of a vehicle’s occupants while it was parked in the roadway at 55th and McDoring. When officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop, the vehicle fled west-bound on McDoring. Officers terminated their attempt to stop the vehicle prior to reaching 59th. The suspect vehicle continued to 75th where it then accessed the east-bound freeway, entering and finally exiting it south-bound on 19th. A tactical surveillance had been implemented at 67th and the freeway, with only the air unit maintaining visual contact of the suspect vehicle. As the vehicle reached the intersection of 19th and Bridgeline Road, it ran a red light and struck an east-bound vehicle broadside, killing the driver instantly. There were no other occupants in the victim vehicle. The suspect driver and passenger were taken into custody…both with minor injuries. It was later learned that the occupants had done a beer-run in the West-City Precinct area earlier in the evening. The driver presented with obvious signs of intoxication. Detectives from the Vehicular Crimes Unit responded to handle the case.
A couple weeks later, in the same West-City Precinct, at a given convenience store that we’ll call “Triangle J,” at only 9:30 p.m. on the particular evening, an adult male suspect was in the process of stealing beer from the Triangle J store when he was stopped by the adult male victim and his wife. As the female victim, Mrs. Josette Citizen, tried to prevent the suspect from exiting the store with the stolen beer, the suspect struck her in the head with a semi-automatic handgun, causing non-life threatening injuries. The male victim, Mr. Joe Citizen, interceded on behalf of his injured wife and was shot once in the chest by the suspect. He died of his injuries, Mr. Joe Citizen did, right there, in the doorway of the Triangle J convenience store. The suspect fled on foot to a waiting vehicle. A search of the area was negative for the suspect. Detectives from the Homicide Unit responded to handle the case. A few days later, the suspect’s sister, having seen the Triangle J convenience store’s video surveillance tape on the morning news, called 9-1-1 and told our operator that it was her brother who committed the murderous beer-run. Two days later, officers and detectives arrested the suspect…and his parents and other family members…who had been hiding the suspect…and who had destroyed evidence that would have definitively linked the suspect to the crime.
I probably enjoy a bottle of ice-cold suds as much as the next person…but this is beyond my comprehension.
I had stood beneath the streetlamp and watched the yellow glow bounce from the crystal frost on the roof of my truck like the moonlight on a tessellating sea…and as I moved my eyes, the painted ice caught the light and reflected back to me a million sparkling stars…ones that would later melt from the truck’s roof and flow down my back window like a springtime rain. As I pondered the frost and my breath’s vapor in the wintry air, I noted the quiet of the pre-dawn Christmas morning and wondered what the day would hold for me and the call-takers and dispatchers at work. I was off on Christmas Eve, but yesterday, Christmas, Friday, was the Monday of my work week…so I was moving in that direction…but slowly…I still had to stand there for a minute in my shirtsleeves…relishing the cold…blowing more vapor clouds into the dark sky of my morning and watching the crystal moonlight yellow streetlight dancing on the rooftop frosted sea of my truck…before deciding to go back into the house for my jacket and then heading downtown to work.
The ride to work was uneventful, as were the first several hours in the call-center. After we had determined that all the dispatch positions were covered and the call-takers were all nestled down at their consoles, waiting for calls of Santa Claus committing armed robberies and home invasions, three of the staff went about preparing the much longed-for Christmas morning potluck. Calls came-in and were handled in their routine fashion as our coworkers scrambled eggs, fried bacon and sausage, warmed-up the French-toast ‘casserole,’ arranged and stirred the ingredients in a crock-pot for Joy’s highly esteemed dip, and scavenged in the shift manager’s office for paper plates, cups, and other sundries. The other home-prepared foods were laid-out for us and an hour or so later, the charge was given to commence in the feasting. A couple people were allowed off the phones at a time to prepare their plates and participate in the away-from-home, 9-1-1 Christmas breakfast. The operators and supervisors assigned to first-shift (daytime hours) had to have the seniority to bid into positions on days, so they have been around long enough to know what to expect, or what can and usually does happen on Christmas and other holidays. Emergency services, especially 9-1-1 call-centers, get no breaks. They operate 24 hours a day every single day of the year…Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, Hanukah, The Fourth of July…all of them…when you need us we’re there.
So we answered the phones between bites of eggs and pancakes and sent police officers to domestic violence and fight calls after putting-down our cups of orange juice…ornamented Christmas trees with lights and presents adorned our call-center, and many of our normally uniform-clad operators and dispatchers were in their holiday-finest clothes and felt really damn nice about it. People were happier, cheery, and enjoying their jobs more because they were released from the standard black shirts and pants and boots and thick leather belts…they were moms and dads and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters answering the calls of our citizens on this Christmas morning.
Amazingly, there were no armed robberies yesterday…no hot-calls for thefts of carloads of presents…only one stolen-bicycle call…and a nice collection of domestic violence calls, both physical and verbal, over some damn thing or another…and too many boyfriends were the perpetrators…and too many kids witnessed their separated families coming together for the required child-exchange…and too many dads’ new wives had to call us when the children reported what their drunk mom and her boyfriend had done to them on this Christmas morning. We had a bunch of minor thefts…mostly multiple 18-packs of Budlight or individual 40’s of some other brand…someone stole a jug of milk from a Circle K convenience store…someone else stole some kind or other kind of Christmas morning candy…and some modern Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread…and my co-worker supervisor drove around yesterday morning…to four different convenience stores looking for dish-soap to be used in our post-breakfast clean-up at 9-1-1…he returned empty-handed…not as the victorious suspect of a soap-run who made a ‘clean get-away’ from the nearby corner-store.
Death visited us only twice during our shift yesterday…one old-guy passed-away in his extended-care facility and one not-so-old guy passed away in the lobby of the local alcohol recovery center, on Christmas morn’. We sent police to shoo-away trespassers who were begging/panhandling for money…to accidents involving people who were rushing to their masses or other worship services for the new-born savior…and to search for an 83yo man who wandered away from his elder-care facility…and he’s still missing today…at the end of today, a day later…he’s still missing.
We sat in our chairs at our consoles and watched the eternal scroll or marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS, and while I couldn’t hear any of the lines with all of our televisions on mute, I think I may have seen every scene four or five times yesterday morning…the kid being rushed upstairs after hurting his eye with his new air-rifle…the same kid rushing upstairs to put-on some damn bunny outfit…the sexist father with his new lamp of a burlesque dancer’s leg as his wife blushed and covered her face with her hair in the living room window as the dad stood on the sidewalk across the street with the other neighborhood men as the dad motioned to the mom to move the lamp this way and that to center it in the window…you know what I mean.
And…a friend of mine sat in his wife’s hospital room on Christmas Eve, waiting for her to wake up after having surgery to fix a botched-up surgery that she had a couple months ago…thoughts of this friend and his wife swirled in my mind as I answered my phones and watched the operators fill their plates and laugh at their stories with their pretty Christmas shirts and hairdos on…. This friend of mine, Jason, also has a blog (listed in the blog-roll in the side-bar to the right of this article) and he shared his reflections on this Christmas morning. Jason mentioned that a few weeks ago another coworker suggested that he write something on the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas…and he thought about it and then wrote a posting on the Twelve Days of Christmas: 9-1-1 Style…Jason is rather witty, so it’s a fun read. After he went home yesterday morning from being with his wife in the hospital, Jason wrote another blog…he had his opportunity to reflect on what might be the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas. He was touched by his love for his wife, his esteem for his co-worker who left her kids on Christmas Eve to come to work for him so he could be at the hospital with his wife…he thought about his other friends who had sent him text messages encouraging him, uplifting his spirits…and he thought of his friend from across the country who sent flowers to his wife in the hospital…even though he had never met her. I saw Jason this morning at work…with his tired and gentle eyes…hurting, thoughtful, grateful…and ready to go home. He captured the essence of Christmas in his blog…it was pure…a challenge and a reminder…for all of us. A reminder for all of us that life happens…to all of us…and we should be thankful for what we have, the people in our lives, our friends…those trusted ones who love us through thick and thin…as we answer the phones ‘9-1-1, where is your emergency?’
We did that yesterday, all day, we answered the 9-1-1 phones…sometimes it was little stuff and sometimes it was real…the substance of 9-1-1…when life happens. You might have seen some of it on the news today…a five year-old girl was kidnapped by a stranger as she and her sisters were playing in the common area of their apartment complex…just snatched her and ran…crashed into another vehicle as he was leaving…and was spotted about seven hours later by one of our canine-officers…(the little one was recovered and returned to her family…you can find the rest of it in the news)… on Christmas Day….
And it was Christmas Morning and Christmas Day in our 9-1-1 call-center yesterday…happiness was there amid the memories of lost friends and coworkers…a card was still on our supervisors’ desk for everyone to sign for the highway patrol officer that was killed last week…many of us are reading books with our places saved by bookmarks that were made in memory of our friend Pazzie who passed away just over a week ago…and as we watch the clock and answer our calls and dispatch our officers and wait for our shift to be over, we wonder at the Christmas mornings that were shared by that officer’s and Pazzie’s families yesterday….
And, so this was Christmas….
After leaving the apartments, I drove to the jail to have a chat with the guy. My job required that I interview him and try to get more contact-information…disease intervention stuff. While that was my reason for going to the jail, officially, I also wanted to see what kind of person this Carlos was. I wanted to see, for myself, what the textbooks and psychologists have been talking about all these years when they discussed ‘anti-social personality-disorder,’ or ‘psychopath,’ or ‘sociopath.’ It was just my opinion, of course, but what else could he be to conduct himself the way he had during these recent events?
The buildings and other vehicles passed thru my periphery in something of a blur as I drove from the neighborhood of West Pierce and into downtown Phoenix where I would find the Madison jail, and inside – this guy, or man, or Black man, or 20-some-year-old male, or person, or living-breathing human organism, or creature, or thing, or whatever he was, who would try to rape a 73 year-old woman. What type of being would do that? What type of person could do that and then go home, kiss and hug his mother, and then ask her about her day, or if her knees have been bothering her, or if she went to the doctor like she said she was going to do last week? How could he pick-up his three year-old niece and nephew, toss them into the air, catch them, and then smother them with whiskery kisses and tell them that he loves them? Is that possible? Is it possible, too, that this type of person could have, earlier in the day, lain down with his girlfriend and made tender, passionate love, gently caressing her skin, body, and soul, tenderly moving the long strands of black hair out of her face so he could look into her eyes at that one, terminating moment? Would he be capable of something as gentle, or tender, or as humanly passionate as that? I doubt it.
It’s more likely that he went home and asked his mom for money, opened the fridge and pulled several, deep swigs of milk directly out of the jug, asked his mom for money again, and then pushed the nephew out of his way and picked up the niece and set her on the table – getting her out of his way, too, as he went to the cabinet and rummaged through whatever dry goods he hadn’t pilfered the week before. “You know my check don’t go very far, Carlos.” No, it doesn’t, not with the twins (his niece and nephew), their mother (his 19 year-old sister), and her own nine and ten year-old boys (his half-brothers) – all living off of her one income and the little that AFDC gives her. “Well don’ you have nothin’ left from it? I need some money.” His mom’s face twists about as she tries to keep herself from starting-in on him again. “He hates it when I do that,” she thinks to herself. “Then why don’t you get a job, boy? Quit smokin’ that rock ever’ day n’ night, n’ get a damn job!” – words that echoed in her mind alone.
And making love with his girlfriend – no, there was no love made that afternoon. One person got satisfied, that’s all. There was no tenderness to speak of – unless ‘tenderness’ means that he didn’t’ rip her clothes this time. They were removed without passion, and after a few quick squeezes of her breasts, he pushed her onto the bed and mounted her. She wasn’t ready, of course, so it hurt while he was moving on top of her, and then it burned when he was done. “So quick,” she thought, and was glad when he rolled off of her and went into the bathroom. “Gotta take a quick piss so no female burns me,” he said with an almost benign chuckle, standing there at the bowl, waiting for the muscles to relax enough for the stream to flow, “can’t trust anyone, know what I’m sayin?” “Yeah,” she thought, “I know what you’re sayin’. I noticed a rash last week, Bastard – bumps and spots starting to grow on my shit down there. What’s that mean, Mother Fucker?”
The blood had already been drawn when I got to the jail, so I didn’t have the opportunity to jab the needle into his arm myself.
“Been looking for you, Carlos.”
“Why’s that, man?”
“You been messin’ with someone and caught syphilis.”
“Who told you that?”
“I spoke to someone who’s being treated for syphilis and they said they mess with you. So, we don’t know if she gave it to you, or if you were doin’ someone else and caught it, and then gave it to the person I talked with.”
“Okay, so who’d you talk to? Some female?”
“You mess with guys?”
“Alright then, it was ‘some female.’”
“Yeah, but which one?”
“I can’t tell you who it was. I’m not allowed to. We got rules, you know. Like you and your lawyer, your public defender. You guys can talk and he can’t tell anyone what you said, right? Well it’s the same with us. Medical confidentiality. It’s the law and I can’t say anything that’s gonna make you know who it is. But, that person asked me to get in touch with you to make sure you get treated. That way, they won’t catch it back from you when you get out of here. You know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yeah, but that’s fucked-up, man. People be sayin’ shit about me and I can’t know who it is.”
“Nobody’s talkin’ shit about you, Carlos. The person had syphilis. I read the chart and saw the blood-test results. They just wanna make sure you get cured.”
“Whatever, man. I still say it’s fucked-up.”
“Okay, so it’s fucked-up. What else is fucked-up, Carlos? Why are you in here?”
“Had some problems with some dudes, you know what I’m sayin’? They said I stole some of their shit and then the cops were lookin’ for me. This shit happened a long time ago. I don’ know why they’re still after me. So then I was at these apartments last week and BAM!, there they were. And now I’m here. I told you man, it’s fucked-up, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“That’s why you’re here?”
“Yeah, it’s fucked-up.”
I already knew the truth, so when my anger and disgust for him overwhelmed my sense of responsibility for the job, I didn’t care anymore. I went ahead and took a chance at fucking-up the rest of the interview. I had already decided that he wasn’t going to give me shit anyway, so to hell with it. It was unlikely that he had, or was going to have sex with anyone I knew, so I thought, “What the hell. This wouldn’t be my first bust-interview and it wouldn’t be my last.” Sometimes the job just didn’t get done the way it was supposed to, and usually it wasn’t my fault. Today, I didn’t care that it was, or would be.
“Well, that’s not what I heard. When I was out on the street looking for you, someone told me you beat-up some old lady, really kicked her ass. What’s that about? They said you really beat on her, punched her in the face, ripped her pants off, tried to fuck her, and then stole a bunch of her shit. Is that what it’s about? Is that why you’re here, ‘cause you tried to rape some old lady and then stole her cell phone an’ shit?”
He didn’t care – didn’t give a flyin’ fuck what I thought he’d done. He stopped shuffling about the room in his flip-flopped feet and fixed his dead, empty eyes on mine and said, “Fuck that, man. You got it all wrong.”
Unimpressed, and still operating outside of my normal realm, I stared back with contemptuous, angry eyes. “Really?”
After a moment, he broke away, and turned to shuffle back and forth, again, on his side of the exam table. And now, with less conviction, “It’s not like that at all, man. I was over to the apartments and this old lady starts throwin’ my shit at me, you know what I’m sayin’, gittin’ in my face an’ shit. So I hit her, BAM! Told her to get the fuck out of my face, you know what I’m sayin’, an’ then I hit her, once. An’ the rest of that shit, like tryin’ to rape her an’ shit, that’s fucked. I got all the pussy I want, man. Wouldn’t try gittin’ it from some old lady. Someone’s lyin’ to your ass.”
“Is that right? Old lady’s got her head busted open, choke marks on her neck, bruises all up and down her thighs – someone seen you doin’ it, they called the cops who came and arrested you, an’ now your ass is sitting here in jail saying it’s not you. Okay. Right. Whatever. Anyway, had to get that shit squared away in my own mind before we went any further.”
“Naw, it ain’t me, man. Not all that shit. I got my own female to mess with. I don’ need to fuck that ol’ bitch.”
“Right. Like I said, I just needed to get that shit squared away in my own head before I do the rest of my job here. So…who else you mess with? You’re usually around 21st Avenue and Van Buren, or Adams, right? Who’d you mess with around there? I already have you named by three or four females, so I need you to tell me your side of the story.” And then, for effect, I added, “So I can make sure people aren’t just talkin’ shit about you.” He responded with a quick, sideways glance. I couldn’t help smiling as I said, “You know what I’m sayin’?”
And it went from there. I didn’t screw things up too badly. He still talked to me. Before the interview, I only had his one contact, the young pregnant girl who was the original patient. By the time the investigation was closed, there were three other cases related to Carlos. Unfortunately, there were too many unknown contacts from the five cases, and we couldn’t take the investigation any further. This is not uncommon, considering the area and the traffic it gets – transients, prostitutes, drug dealers, child-stealers, passers-by…anyone who comes to West Pierce Street.
There was a Thursday-morning kind of glow to the sky that could be explained in only one way – it was a Thursday morning. The air was different than it was on the other days of the week and the slight sense of expectation was at once tangible and reassuring. You could say with a certainty that the week was almost over and today would have to be conducted seriously. Whatever things you had slacked on during the week had to be made up for today, because you knew, you just knew that you weren’t going to put any kind of conviction-based effort into whatever you might encounter tomorrow, Friday. The reason for that being, of course, that so many supervisors take Friday off as part of their flex-schedule, combining to give them a three-day weekend, every other weekend. And, again – of course, every other Friday is payday, and although the stipend is small, it is enough to throw many into fiesta-type frenzies, causing them to splurge on donuts for everyone in the office, or to spend a few dollars more on lunch than they did earlier in the week. So, again, the Thursday morning sun was making its way across the eastern sky, providing any onlooker with what I knew was a special hue and a certain something else that meant I should conduct myself diligently in the task that I had before me.
You could enter the neighborhood through any one of the many side roads or thoroughfares and eventually find yourself heading toward Pierce Street. There was nothing remarkable about it from my perspective and if you would sample the people who might pass along your same path, you would probably find that it wasn’t too inspiring to them either. Yes, you might encounter the one or two souls who have lived there for most or all of their lives, and sometimes run across another person or two whose family was born and raised in the neighborhood, but all in all, it was just another one of the central city streets named after a former president and has come to represent a poorer, or more disadvantaged part of town. Without much effort, you can find prostitutes and drug abusers, transients, drunks, and incorrigible juveniles running, or walking, or pacing, or stumbling along the street. Come back in the darker hours and you might encounter the drug dealers, gang-bangers, auto thieves, murderers, suicides, and prostitutes who were too busy sleeping or working their day jobs to have been running around earlier.
Two streets west of Willow Park, another haven of the un-blessed and a favorite spot of the Public Health Clinic’s disease investigators and Terros out-reach workers trying to stop the spread of some of society’s plagues, the passerby will encounter two sets of white, almost ramshackle apartments that run lengthwise from the street back. There are two or more buildings, actually as many as several buildings spreading almost diaspora-like from the small curb-front property-line. The individual property seems to just keep going farther and farther back as you walk north from the curb. And, of course, the farther back you go, the more hovels you will encounter in the various stages of disrepair and decrepitude that are not uncommon for the area. And yes, you will encounter the little bungalow-like homestead amidst the ruin where flowers have been planted or in some other way adorned in life-like representations of multicolored plastic leaves and nearly natural-looking flowers, stuffed or placed gently, gingerly into dust inviting, brown or whitewashed baskets that cannot help but be remindful of Easter Sundays gone by. There are sometimes little, freshly-scrubbed children peering out from behind Windex-streaked panes or standing in open doorways whose breeze-enhancing currents are touched with the healthy aromas of Pine-Sol or Mr. Clean. The dens are often dirty as hell, but the occupants have tried to transform them into clean, sweet smelling Home Sweet Homes, something that is admirable and honorable from any perspective.
On this particular Thursday morning, I was looking for a guy named Carlos Bur… something or other. Earlier in the week, I had spoken to one of his lady-friends who told me that I might find him here. The girl was, at the time, wearing black and white striped, baggy clothes that resembled operating-room scrubs or jail attire. The latter was correct in this case. Michelle, a Hispanic-looking Native American mix with Black type of young lady was in jail for criminal trespass, prostitution, and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Her medical record said that she was twenty-three, but the little waif in front of me appeared to be just pushing sixteen or seventeen – possibly even fourteen. She sounded like she was eleven or twelve, and excepting the basketball-sized belly that she was sporting, someone might be tempted to say that she was one of the more innocent inmates that they’d seen in the jail. I don’t know. There was an immediate sense of pity, confusion, paternalistic hopefulness, and then from somewhere else – there was that something that reminded me of the reason I was there – the rash on her face and arms, which was also on her chest and back. I had to interview her and determine, or at least begin the investigation and hopefully, later determine where she had acquired her syphilis infection. The innocent, soft-spoken, little girl slowly told me about her boyfriend, Carlos, whom she had been hanging-out with for the last several months. No, he wasn’t the alleged father of her very soon to be delivered baby, but he was already “in love with him” and promised to take care of the child like it was his own. I have heard these words before, from not so dissimilar looking and sounding young girls or women in the same jail.
Michelle told me that I could locate Carlos at any of several of the apartments that I found this morning on West Pierce Street. I immediately went to the specific apartment where they had been staying before she was locked-up and found that it was occupied by three Hispanic males who spoke only Spanish – even when I tried to converse with them in their own language, they held fast to the ‘no speak English’ phrase of their hiding. Usually they put up a front, denying even the possibility that they could speak English when someone looking almost professional, and white, approaches them and asks questions about certain somebodies’ whereabouts. Yes, that statement is probably tinged with a bit of stereotype, but it occurs often enough to give me reason to mention it – and besides, stereotypes can be true. Anyway, the guys told me, in Spanish, that they did know Carlos, a young, heavily tattooed, Black male, not Hispanic, though he was light-skinned enough to pass as such from a distance. He was recently taken to jail and might still be there if I would hurry up and leave their apartment and go look for him – there – in the jail. One of the guys nodded to another apartment, the one in which Carlos had actually been arrested, and told me to look for the manager/owner of the property, an older woman named Linda Kalinowski, or Calaminski, or some other name that began with ‘Cal’ and ended in ‘ski.’ The man said she was very old and drove an equally old and beat-up white pick-up truck.
I did find Linda, in that other apartment, cleaning up what looked like the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. Actually, I heard her before I saw her, yelling and swearing at near the top of her lungs at the destruction that she was wading through as she walked about the apartment.
“Goddamned filthy pigs! What the hell’s the matter with people nowadays? Can’t they clean up their own shit when they leave – look at this mess! What? Who are you?”
She looked more used than old, the poor lady did; dark-golden, leathered, wrinkled, and veined skin covered her face and arms. Linda was 73 years-old, by her own report, and was getting “goddamned sick and tired of cleaning up other people’s shit.” She stood about 5’9” and might have weighed 125 pounds if her jeans were wet. Her shoulder-length, white hair was thin and I could see the rosy pink of her scalp when she removed her San Francisco Giant’s baseball-cap. Her glasses weren’t too far out of style, but the lenses were so scratched that I couldn’t see her eyes clearly. As the fiery oaths spilled from her quickly moving jaw, I could see that the years of smoking and drinking coffee had left their mark in the yellow hue of her teeth and fleeing gum-line.
“Good morning! Linda?” – I greeted her. “My name is Scott and I work with the County Health Department.” In my hand, at the end of my outstretched arm, was an official looking badge, with a picture that resembled me in my just-out-of-the-Air-Force street innocence of nine years ago, that would have confirmed what I just said…if she had cared to look at it.
“Well, it’s about time you guys got out here! Do you see this mess? Can you believe people actually live in this shit? And you think it’s bad right now? You should have seen it when I first got here this morning. I’ve already loaded-up my truck two times and hauled some of the crap to the dump. Who called you anyway?”
“Actually, nobody called me,” I said, “I’m not here because of the mess in the apartments. I was hoping you could help me find someone. I was told that you know Carlos and might be able to tell me where to locate him.”
“Well you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the bastard! That son-of-a-bitch tried to rape me last week. That’s right! Called the cops on him, I did, and they got here right quick and hauled his ass away! Talk about a piece of shit! He punched me in the face, slammed my head into the doorjamb, dragged me down to the floor, and then was ripping my pants off. Look at my neck and the side of my head!” I had already noticed the stitched laceration near her right temple and the finger-mark bruising around her throat. “Look at me! I’m 73 years old! What’s he doing trying to rape me? I’ve seen the girls he goes around with, and besides them, all he has to do is go out to the street and they’re giving the stuff away – so why mess with me?”
“I’m…not sure Linda. Maybe it has to do with power…like he’s trying to show you who’s in charge around here. You said you’d already 86’d him from the property…so maybe he was trying to get back at you…I…I don’t know.” Who the hell knows? And, goddamn!
Before I left the apartments, I learned that Linda has two sons in California. One is a doctor of some type and the other is a consultant with a computer software company. They have begged her repeatedly to sell her properties in Phoenix and move out to California to be with them. She said they were concerned with her getting so old and having to put up with the constant problems from her tenants. Linda confessed that she never tells them what’s happening in her little corner of the world…doesn’t want to add to their worries. “I don’t do this for the money…I’ve got plenty of that. I just do it to keep me going. My other old-lady friends have all died off, just sitting around the house or going to the country club, playing cards, and going to art shows. No thanks.”
No, instead you get to deal with the likes of Carlos.
To be continued….
Sometimes you just can’t help but smile….
Sergeant Rob Travers went to make contact with an apartment party at 1900 West Blakely Court based on a loud-noise disturbance call that was not yet dispatched. When one of the party attendees opened the door for Sergant Travers with a marijuana cigarette in hand, he immediately fled out the back arcadia door and jumped off the second-floor balcony. Within minutes, a burglary call was dispatched at an address across the street from the noise disturbance call. As other units began to arrive in the area, the subject who had initially fled the party returned to the apartment proclaiming that he had been shot. It was later learned that the suspect fled the party to avoid the marijuana arrest, broke into a resident’s home to seek cover from police, and was shot by the home owner before returning to the original scene where he was then arrested. Injuries are non-life threatening. Suspect and homeowner accounts of the incident are somewhat inconsistent.
Who said smoking a little pot never hurt anybody?
We don’t know how it happens, most of us, but when the buttons are depressed, it doesn’t matter. All we know is that help is supposed to arrive on the other end of the line. What is amazing, is that it does. No, I haven’t yet witnessed the serious misplay of signals and heard the agonizing death or continued battering that was yearning for my help, but in time I know it may happen. A nearly perpetual un-ease as the tone sounds in my ear; an equally perpetual wondering if this is going to be the one that may change my life forever. It can change things like that, I know it. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that disaster, but it must come, for life knows no way of stopping the things that have been set in motion. No amount of prayer or forethought is going to prevent the inevitability in life. It just happens. Frantic voices and then ones of grogged sleep and substance induced stupors, lucid memories of the things that used to be there and the distressed sighs of the aged ones who just can’t remember. Were they going to come this Tuesday or next Tuesday? Why haven’t they shown up yet? They were only coming from across town and it seems they should have been here hours ago and I lost my cell phone and need a report number for the insurance and the man next door refuses to turn down his stereo and my babies are trying to sleep and I just got done seeing patients until three this morning and I would so like to get some sleep before I have to start the day again and don’t you know that damned dog just won’t shut up and the man just kept hitting her and she was crying, screaming for help and I had to call and now I’m taking my babies downstairs to my daddy’s apartment so they won’t be upstairs where all of that stuff is happening and the one Indian guy was grabbing the lady around the throat and smashing her head into the lamp post and I didn’t know what else to do and you’ve got to send help quick…. And so we do our best to get the numbers in the right places and depress the right keys so that help can be sent with the speed of an electronic beep to rescue the perishing. God rest ye, merry gentlemen.
“You don’t pray before you send your kids out there into the world? How can you know that they’re going to be safe?” You don’t know, I can’t know, and neither can you. Shall I pray to Peter Pan? Will Prince Charming rescue me like the risen savior? Isn’t it all the same thing? Who can know? How can you ask that of someone so believing of the stories they’ve heard? How can you dare to ask such a thing of someone like that? I don’t ask it, I just wonder it.
I left behind friends and security to gain trepidation and a few dollars more an hour and the prospect of earning even more as time proceeds onward. Probation for a year and who knows what’s going to happen in that year. I keep telling myself to relax. Just relax and answer the phone. Almost one hundred and sixty times today I just answered the phone and tried to just answer questions or just send help on the way.
“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”
I returned to my bunk, sliding my pink flip-flops across the black- speckled, white, linoleum floor and sat down to the accompaniment of the complaining bedsprings. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms, pausing mentally to process his words and formulate my response. There would have been a certain pleasure in unleashing my rabid thoughts like a crazed hound and letting them bite the old guy…hoping that they would infect him with my disillusion and disgust for the God that he apparently loved.
Still leaning, almost haughtily, against the yellowed wall, I responded, “You know something, Reverend…I don’t think you and I know each other well enough for you to broach the subject of God in the context of my life and the situation that I’m in…it just doesn’t seem right…I mean…in this regard, you don’t even know me, and it’s presumptuous of you to assume that we’re on the same page where God is concerned….” I paused again to let the words hang there like loosed dog-hair in a faltering breeze.
Thinking this was an opening, he started, “But I thought….”
I wasn’t ready for what he thought, and this was one topic that I didn’t need to discuss with someone who was nearly a stranger to me…angry at everything, I didn’t want to listen…it was still my turn…the acid thoughts that I had been brewing for the last several months still needed airing…I didn’t have any patience…so I interrupted…after looking up at the mismatched fluorescent light tubes in the ceiling, I leaned over and grabbed my ankles, trying to hold-on to myself, trying to keep my confined, yet racing mind under control; and then, with my chest pressing against my legs and my hands, white-knuckled, squeezing my ankles, I elbowed my way into his words…it was unexpected…I was embarrassed and scared of myself, but I couldn’t stop…red faced and with my pulse pounding in my temples, I nearly growled, “What if I told you that GOD had commanded me to kill that man…that mother-fucker…what would you think about that?” Staring at the black speck in the floor that was directly in front of his left shoe, I rushed on…“Or what would you think if I told you that your God is DEAD and that’s evident by how fucked-up the world is…what would you say THEN?!” I yelled… “WHAT WOULD YOU FUCKING SAY THEN?!” The words echoed, and bounced, and ripped through the air, thrashing the currents of rage and inconsideration and pretence and posturing and falsehood and all the other evil and imagined shadows and ghosts that plundered and dashed in the black silence between us. The taste of algal mold flashed in my mind as my aching jaw and lips pressed together, restraining my urgent, pulsing tongue…baby flesh coated in verdant bubbles and slime and his diaper soggy with green water that was running across the dirty pool-deck…making little rivers of thickly flowing mud that redirected themselves around beer cans and the dirty tennis-shoes of the man standing there…. “Yeah,” I growled through clamped teeth, “you thought we had talked before so I must be ok with God and all of that, right? Well…I’m not.” My raging, fiery-brown, tear-filled eyes slung themselves back up at him, daring him to respond…I whispered, “So, do you really want to talk, Reverend?”
His huge eyes were staring at me and I could see the delicate tip of his fat, pink tongue running back and forth across the edges of his top and then bottom teeth. The light glistened on his scalp through his thinning hair and I noticed again the bulge that hung over his belt. The minister had his hands resting in his lap and the middle finger and thumb of his right hand absently spun the gold ring that was on his left hand. He swallowed hard and licked the thick cotton from the corners of his mouth and looked around the room like he had forgotten where he’d put the iced-tea that he didn’t have but desperately wanted at that moment. He cleared his dry throat and hesitantly began, “But…but you’ve got to think about God…” he said unsteadily, “you’ve killed a man…and…things aren’t going to be the same…never again.” His bewildered eyes sought the remote ends of the ceiling, and then the bedpost, and then the wall behind me, and finally, reached nervously over to my own eyes. The man swallowed again, then licked the corners of his mouth again, with his eyes still timidly on mine…waiting….
“You’re right, Reverend,” I leaned forward again, “they aren’t ever going to be the same. So what?” I snapped, “We’ll all go on living. You’ll live your life and I’ll live mine. I’ll deal with whatever comes my way and you’ll deal with whatever comes your way.”
“But what about your soul?” His words stumbled as he swallowed thickly, still spinning the ring on his left hand, “What about your eternity?” he asked urgently. “Aren’t you concerned with that?” Now I was looking around the room like I’d lost something. I know I had thrown the words out there…they were still echoing in my own ears.
Exasperated, I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me?” I looked sideways, eyes wide with searching, first one way and then the other, like the words might have landed somewhere on the floor, or maybe on the bed or nightstand, and I could pick them up and throw them at him again. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? LISTEN! I don’t believe in your God, therefore, there’s no SOUL to consider and my ETERNITY is going to consist of rotting in the ground…you know…worm food, just like YOU!”
Again the silence became tangible in the cell. The minister sat there on his red chair, looking at me and then looking away. His eyes sought the corners of the ceiling again, as though they could provide him some sort of comfort…or maybe he was looking up there to find reassurance from his God, I don’t know…but after several long moments, when I thought he was going to excuse himself, possibly offering to return at some later date, he stood and walked the two steps over to the night-stand and picked up one of the books.
“You know anything about Cormack McCarthy?” he asked, looking sideways at me. Not waiting for a response, he continued…looking at the back of the book, “Mostly western stuff, huh? You like his work?”
“I do like his work,” I said, leaning back into the wall, trying to decompress a little, “and, no, it’s not all ‘western stuff.’ His stories are beautiful written, and violent, and real to life, yet they help me disengage from my own life for a while, that’s all.”
Turning to me again, he offered, “And become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life, huh?”
A little smile touched his mouth and I wondered for an instant if he had been putting on an act earlier…there was a little too much intelligence in his eye as it caught mine in that smile’s moment.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes, not wanting to start-up with him again. “Yeah, you could say that,” I answered into my hands, “I can become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life without actually becoming involved. It’s safer that way” I mumbled, while pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes.
Replacing the book on the night-stand, he turned to me, “What’d ya say? ‘Bout bein’ safer?”
I removed my hands from my face and said, “It’s safer that way…becoming involved in someone’s life without actually becoming involved. Stars swirled in my eyes as I turned to look at the man. The department insignia on his shirt was dancing with the stars in my brain and I had to close my eyes to answer him. “You can care about what happens and know that you don’t have to do anything about it because it’s just a story. It’s from inside someone’s imagination. Yeah, I can read about their shitty life and then put the book down and they go away. It’s that easy,” I said, almost choking, wiping my blurring, tear-filled eyes, “…it’s that safe…inside the book.”
To be continued….
The cold eyes of the courtroom cameras didn’t blink or flinch in alarm as I un-holstered my department-issued sidearm, rose from my seat and emptied the magazine into the chest of the man on the witness stand. The spectators and court officials, silently watching in absolute confusion and disbelief, sprang from their seats and respective positions and either ran from the room, hit the floor looking for cover, or did what their official duties required of them. Two of the sheriff’s deputies tackled me from behind as I stood there like the crucified Christ with my arms outstretched and my head thrown back looking into a heaven that I no longer believed in. My knees were jammed into the floor as I felt the deputy’s shoulder crash into the small of my back. My head slammed into a dark, wooden bench and stars burst into my eyes like nighttime sparklers on the Fourth of July. The gun that had been dangling from my right hand had fallen to the carpeted floor and lay there, spent and empty and trembling in my eyes as if it were the violent beast itself who had executed this tragedy. “It’s Code 4!” I yelled into the carpet. Blood and lint and dust found my tongue as I yelled again “It’s Code 4!” The burning and peeling of scraped-off skin from my cheek was numbed by the pressure the other deputy applied to my back as he drove his knee into my spine and pushed my head into the floor as his partner pulled my arms behind my back and grabbed my own hand-cuffs from the black leather pouch attached to my utility belt and secured my trembling hands…. “It’s Code 4,” I whispered to the floor, “It’s Code 4….”
No doubt you’ve heard reports or watched the news and seen stories about people who have just snapped and gone ballistic on someone. It is usually a complete surprise, otherwise the person wouldn’t have been said to have ‘snapped.’ The people around me that day might have believed that I snapped. If there had been someone privy to my thoughts for the past several months, they would have seen this as completely premeditated, calculated, and intentional. But there were no such people. There was no other person who knew what had been mulling over in my mind since March of last year. They were thoughts that I tried to hide even from myself. I was embarrassed when I looked in the mirror. It was difficult to meet my own eye. Other times, I just ignored the storm that was brewing inside and tried to conduct myself as normally as possible. I caught my wife looking at me a few times with an almost puzzled look on her face. She said that I looked like I was somewhere else and the looks on my face kept changing, contorting as I had whatever imaginary conversation with myself. I would quickly smile and ask her what was wrong and she would give some bland answer like, “I thought you said something,” or “Are you alright?” This only happened a few times in these months, so I think the recent events probably caught her off guard too.
I’ve seen three psychologists and a couple psychiatrists since the shooting. It was kind of bland psycho-talk, asking questions about my childhood, my parents, the job, my marriage, and the relationship I have with my kids, etc. They concluded, somehow, that I must have broken-down from the pressure of the job and the disparity of life…and on and on. The last psychologist said that a condition of temporary insanity was definitely a strong defense…again – he went on and on.
And, of course, there was the department chaplain. Reverend Ron, as everyone called him, came to see me and offer his counsel, words of wisdom, prayers, understanding…or whatever. He and I had talked in the past so he must have thought we had some commonality of thought or experience and that I would enjoy talking with him, or be able to derive some kind of peace from the words and testimony that he would share with me. He came to see me after I’d been in jail for about a week…had to see me in my cell because they didn’t want to let me out of PC, or Protective Custody; an officer who was now a prisoner wasn’t safe among the general population.
Reverend Ron had entered my cell with a less-than-confident look on his face; it was almost sheepish, somehow. The dark blue polo-shirt with the Department emblem over his heart was stretched tight across his over-sized belly and he had to adjust his belt as he sighed and sat across from me on one of the red plastic chairs that had been brought in from the control room. I had stood as he entered and greeted me, and then sat again on the metal-framed bunk that was bolted to the wall on the far side of my cell. There were a few awkward seconds in which we both looked at our surroundings and wondered if we could each feel more uncomfortable in the others’ presence.
“Ya doin’ ok in here, Matt…are they treatin’ ya alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing alright, Reverend, and aside from the occasional green bologna, I don’t think the food is any worse than I was used to eating before I came in here.” After a brief chuckle, I added, “It could definitely be worse, though…I mean…I could have a big, hairy cell-mate who thought I was cute, or something, heh, heh, heh….”
The older man just smiled, and looking at my crisply made bed and the gray, metal nightstand, he said, “Ya got anything good to read in here?”
“Got a couple magazines, some Cormack McCarthy, Tim O’Brien…and a Bible…of course.”
“Ya doin’ any reading in that Bible?” he asked me, with hope, raising his shaggy eyebrows.
Shifting a little on the bunk, I responded, “No…not much…can’t seem to get into it lately. Somehow the material doesn’t go with my environment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand. Your mind’s kinda boggled-up with everything that’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah…kinda boggled-up,” I mimicked, smiling at his country tone.
“Well, that’s kinda what I come up here to talk with ya about, Matt. Thought ya might want to just open-up…ya know…kinda like purgin’ yourself of what’s inside. Ya know what I mean?”
“Oh…I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know that I should be talking with anybody about what’s goin’-on inside my mind. I already talked to the psychologists and psychiatrists…they came to see me within the first couple days…said things would probably be rather unsettled for a while…you know…adjusting to my situation and the new surroundings.”
Reverend Ron sat there, nodding his large head…looking at one side of the cell, and then the other, finally looking at me again, “Yeah, I figured they’d a been here already, that’s kinda why I waited as long as I did to come and see ya.” Leaning forward now, the older man effected a genuine look of compassion and said, “And how are ya really doin,’ Matt? How are ya doin’ way deep inside…ya know what I mean…way down in that quiet, private place that we don’t often go?”
I stood and turned away from the man, faced the glossy, yellow-white of the brick wall and responded, “I’m doin’ just shitty, if you really want to know.”
The older man sighed and adjusted his belt. “Oh…I imagine ya are…and have ya talked to God at all while you’ve been in here?” I turned to meet his beckoning eyes, and with a quizzical, sardonic lilt to my voice, I said, “Have I talked with God?” Piercing his eyes now… “Yeah, I talked to God…but…” pausing, wondering for a moment if I should embark on this endless train ride… “but I don’t know what the hell good it would do. He’s not going to answer me….”
And now, near angrily, I said, “Because I’ve tried talking with Him before and He didn’t have anything to say back to me…that’s why.”
The guy leaned forward and, donning his practiced, sympathetic air, he countered, “I know it’s probably hard to see through any of this right now…probably hard to hear Him talkin’ with ya…but He’s there… just waitin’ for ya.” He leaned back again and gave me his yearning, thoughtful attention; now it was him, and not his God ‘just waitin’ for me.
To be continued….
“That trespass call has been holding for four minutes already. You need to broadcast it even if you don’t have any available units.”
Available units casting on your broad ass…blah, blah, blah….
“I know…I was getting ready to do that. I was just making sure the status-list reflected five-fifteen-bravo’s accurate location.”
“That’s fine, but you need to broadcast the call…didn’t Andrea tell you that you had to do that within five minutes of receiving all priority-two calls?”
No shit! Didn’t Andrea tell you….
“Of course she told me that. I’m in my ninth week of training. That’s something we covered in the first two days…and if you’d notice, I’ve been doing other things in the four minutes since I received that call.”
“I know you were…but you need to broadcast the call, too.”
Why’d she have to go on vacation now, when we’re so close to the end? And who the hell does Rachel think she is telling me all this crap?
He pushed the pedal with his gray and blue striped Adidas and said, “Any unit for a four-eighteen-tom at one-thousand-one-north-sixteenth-street?”
“Five-twenty-three-david, ten-four. Our complainant, Tom, inside the Circle K, says there’s a white-male in a blue-denim shirt and blue jeans carrying a black back-pack who’s been bothering the customers by asking them for money and he’d like him removed from the property…the subject is about five ten, a hundred sixty pounds and has short black hair and is acting very three-ninety…at thirteen-fourteen hours, is there a unit for back-up?”
Are you happy now? Not only did I broadcast it, but I also got someone to go out on it….
“That was fine…but you didn’t give the frequency call-sign after you said the time.”
Why don’t you just sit there on the other side of the console and mind your own goddamned business? I don’t have to say the call-sign every time I say the time, you friggin’ bitch….
“I have the understanding that we need to say the call-sign when we’re close to the hour…either right before or right after the hour.”
“Well…technically, that’s right….but I like to say it whenever I say the time…it sounds more professional that way.”
R i i i i g h t…like you’d know professional if it walked up to you and pulled the hair out of that mole on your chin…and while you’re at it, why don’t you put away the Soap Opera Digest you’re looking at, Dimwit…you know you’re not supposed to be reading anything while you’re training someone….
The older, heavy-set woman pushed herself back from the console and reached into her blue Wal-Mart bag and got out a package of Planters honey-roasted peanuts and started to eat them.
“Did you notify the supervisor that you have four priority-three calls that have been holding for more than an hour?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“And did you annotate the calls stating that you notified the radio-supervisor that they were holding for so long?”
Yes I did…and if you’d lick the salt off your fingers and click on your little mouse to look at the call, you’d see that I already did that….
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you remember how long Andrea said she was going to be gone?”
Yeah…too friggin’ long if I’m gonna have to sit with your ass every day….
“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.
Although I had known of the guy for about two years, I had never seen him. That didn’t matter, though, when he walked into the room to sit before our foster-care review board. There was no one else he could be, and the fact that he was there was at once disgusting and disturbing. If he was here, that meant that he was out of jail. And if he was out of jail, after all this time, that meant that he must be out, as in released, and free. I was suddenly filled with revulsion. For these past two years, I had only known his name and the relationship that he had with other names, a couple of which did have faces. And now he has a face. My hatred could now become tangible, for it was no longer attached to a simple thought. It was something real, for the name, the idea that had, up until now, been the mere combination of letters, or symbols that were so aligned to cause me to understand that the entity was just, and only an entity, a notion, an idea, a concept, and now a thing. Literally, a thing. Not a person who was capable of human feelings of compassion, sadness, desire, love, tenderness, appreciation, consideration, or even respect – as it might apply to another being aside from his own. The murdering bastard was finally flesh. The evil something that I had only read about for the past two years, when considering what would be best for the murderer’s son, was now a breathing entity whose physical substance demanded consideration.
So, he entered the room following the case manager, approached the table, and following the case manager’s lead, pulled out one of the rolling chairs and sat down. The look of arrogance, real or defensive, was worthy of a slap in the face. The way he looked around the room like we were waiting for him, wanting to speak to him, or listen to him, was unsettling. How dare he present himself to our board? How dare he breath the air that moves freely about the atmosphere, take up any of the sun’s rays, be nourished by human concern or thoughts. How dare his heart beat. How dare he demand respect as a human being, in his appearing before us today. Goddamn and curse him into nonexistence! May he rot in the worm-ridden eternity of nothingness that is the most far below acknowledgement. He doesn’t deserve a thought.
Ernie, the man before us, murdered his stepson two years ago. That isn’t true. He murdered his girlfriend’s three-year-old baby. Again, the boyfriend murdered the girlfriend’s child. Are we so little removed from the wild that we have to wipe out the previous male’s genes so that ours can thrive? Is this yet another argument for the strong forces of nature that are still within our souls, our bodies, and our existence? Can this be? Can we forget that we have become civilized, ‘higher’ thinking…yes, thinking, aware, conscious organisms…can we forget that and revert to the animal that lurks inside us? Are we supposed to expect that what he did is ok just because he is, after-all just another animal? No!
Of course not. Of course not – it was criminal what he did. It was an abhorrent act. He should be strung up by his balls and stabbed with a screwdriver until he dies. I’d like to be the one who….
He walked into the room, as I said, following the case manager, and took a seat in front of us. He is about twenty-three or twenty-four, Hispanic, about 5’10”, maybe 165lbs, maybe more. His shiny, black hair is cut short on top and then combed back. The sides are shaved to a military closeness. Reddened acne-spots mar his otherwise pale skin. He has a slight mustache and goatee, slight because his age and breeding won’t allow it to come-in any fuller at present. His front teeth are slightly bucked so he has to consciously close his lips over their belligerent protrusion. He has very dark, brown eyes, possibly even nearing the color of black. His eyes never met mine so I can’t say for sure. And in saying that, I might add that the reason the meeting didn’t occur was not because my eyes were timid in their sockets, choosing to remain on his apparel or to flee to the corners of the ceiling whenever his might walk toward mine, hand out in greeting, while strolling across the plane between us. No, it wasn’t because of me. Maybe they didn’t meet because he felt the piercing darts that fired themselves from my unbelieving, hateful eyes, arch-like from across the table where eons of evolutionary time separated our souls. His eyes were haughty, though, and the eyebrows above them had that slight wrinkle that belied his feigned concern. That’s what I saw anyway.
Ernie was wearing a brown, crème, and rust colored acrylic sweater that had a gold zipper at the neck. The zipper head had a small chain with a loop at the end to facilitate in pulling the zipper up and down. The slightly baggy sleeves were cuffed in elastic that allowed them to catch at his wrists, where they could gracefully adorn the pale, olive skin which revealed blue veins and couldn’t, for a moment, distract the viewer with any amount of success from pulling their eyes away from his short, grease tainted fingernails. I don’t remember a ring, but I do recall that he had a gold bracelet of medium-sized links, with a typical slide-ring clasp, worn on his right hand.
Ernie is the biological father of Christian. Christian is also the son of Jane – a Philippina/Hispanic looking, very skinny, tall twenty-three year-old woman. Her affect is as flat as the boardroom table that separates us from Ernie. “I know she’s on something,” John said, those two years ago. “She is too out of it not to be.” But then again, her responses to our questions were also flat, which made us wonder how far her elevator went up to begin with. Jane’s sister, Angela, who is a couple years older, resembles her physically, but differs from her greatly in that she has a personality. Even in the simplest answers and statements, her tone and face are animated enough to reveal to us that there is a person inside the body.
Christian, Jane, and Angela are not here today. It’s only Ernie and the case manager, and by telephone – his newly appointed counsel from the public defender’s office in one of the tall, multi-storied, brownstones downtown. Gail, Angela, Chuck, and I occupy my side of the table. Alexander had to leave for an appointment somewhere. He missed Ernie. He didn’t get to look at the empty eyes of the person who caused the death of Christian’s older brother. He didn’t get to look at the hands that must have viciously grabbed the tiny arm, and squeezed the tender, baby skin against the soft muscles as he threw him against the wall, or smashed his little head against the edge of the table, causing the terrible damage that made his brain and heart stop working. Alexander didn’t get to see Ernie’s nervous, murdering fingers twitching and rolling and rubbing and flicking one another as he sat there, haughtily expecting our attention, waiting for us to ask him a question or tell him what we were going to do for him so he could get his son back. Alexander, a twenty-six year veteran of the police department, didn’t get to look into the eyes of another rotten-scumbag-mother-fucking baby killer.
One of my last calls on a particular Labor Day morning before leaving work for my weekend was one in which a woman was being assaulted, and as the call and the minutes progressed in which the officers were driving to the location of the distress, the man ended-up raping the woman. I cannot express how bizarre it was to listen to the play-by-play commentary by the caller as he told us what the man was doing to the woman. He was really thrashing her, and then he had her down on the ground, and then he was lying on top of her and was appearing to strangle her, and then the caller said that he was moving up and down on top of her. And the caller just kept on talking, letting us know what was happening. I wonder how a person could be an observer to an act of this nature and not jump in to stop the man from continuing his assault. I cannot imagine just standing there watching it occur. It is beyond me how an able bodied person could allow it.
I couldn’t stop my tears or rid myself from the choking feeling in my throat as I recounted the call details to my wife that afternoon. The hopelessness that I felt was in a way overwhelming. The observer did his part (?) by letting us know what was happening in that quiet morning parking lot of those apartments. He did, in fact, dial 9-1-1 and start the help that would eventually interrupt the bastard and bring the 15-year-old victim to that state of having been rescued. It took too long though. When I put out the call to the Cactus Park Precinct, or 900 area, there was no reason for me to have picked up the Maryvale Precinct, or 800 area as well. The location was an easy mile from the precinct boundary, so I couldn’t have been found at fault for not requesting more aid initially. The 900 units were coming from the station, but there was no way of knowing if that meant that they had already fueled and loaded their cars or if they were just answering for the call from the actual inside of the station. To me, all it meant was that they were coming from at least six, and maybe seven miles away while this girl was getting beaten and eventually raped. It meant that we got to listen to the caller tell us how the man was continuing to strike and choke her while she continued to scream and fight back in that secluded parking lot that was a bit too unpopulated on that Monday, holiday morning. After about five or several minutes, I went back out on 800 and asked if there was anybody closer than the 900 units who were coming from their station. I explained in urgent radio-ese that the woman was being raped and we needed someone to get there soon. “Anyone responding, switch to Channel One, frequency clear at zero-six-forty-eight hours.” My status list suddenly had three extra units from the 800 area, along with the four units who had initially answered from 900 and were coming from the station.
I drove past the apartments on my way home after the shift was over. I thought it was strange that only 45 minutes to an hour earlier it was the scene of a violent assault and rape. At the particular hour that I was there, roughly 7:45 to 8:00 in the morning, it was a very quiet little place. It was the kind of apartment complex parking lot that was tucked in between a small cluster of buildings that were adorned or accented with more than a few plants, bushes, and trees, or whatever they were. The morning’s sun was still pretty low in the sky, so there was that delicate softness that the trees and the low apartment buildings affected by shutting out part of the sun. It would have been a nice place to sit and read the paper on that morning. It would have been an ideal place to leisurely stroll with one’s dog, or to sit in the grass and play with the neighborhood’s stray cat. But instead, it was the perfect place to first beat and then subdue and rape a young girl.
Nine-fifteen-David, the first unit on scene, initially cleared on the radio and said to roll Fire for a possible 261, or rape. Within minutes of that coming over the air, he asked for his supervisor to respond because it was a valid 261. After a few minutes more, he cleared again saying that the scene was secure with one in-custody and that we could go ahead and clear Chase, which we did. “Nine-fifteen-David is advising that we have one in-custody and it’s Code-4 at 3734 West Camelback and Chase is clear of the traffic at zero-six-fifty-seven hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.” And then I unplugged my headset, tucked it into its black corduroy bag with the little ducks embroidered on the front, and then placed into my workbag. I turned to my relief who was also my Chase or Tactical-channel partner, said ‘Good Night,’ and then headed down the hall and out the building…with the caller’s voice in my ear and the computer screen showing the call and incident details in my mind. And it was all over. “Code four, clear it.”