(My ex-wife, upon hearing the horror subject of this essay, the morning after it actually happened, told me that I really needed to talk to somebody. Well… I’m talking now.)
Tommy said She came by the fire station as a kid. Ten years old, Her and an older brother on bikes- buying cokes from the machine, putting air in low tires, needing cups for the water fountain. The neighborhood surrounding Legion Field is over flown with kids on bikes dodging between cars and making fun of the crazies walking like zombies from their dorm room halfways. Young is good. It’s really good to be young.
The 300-foot rectangle of yellow caution tape was just… tape, but the contents of the Projects, a volatile crowd, respected the boundary. There was only one cop on the scene, and that was about a dozen cops too few. Young children sprinted by the Engine in a November night race, see what’s going on see what caused the red lights, blue lights and full moon screams. I stepped out of our backup Engine, in it’s last week of use before an awaiting doom to scrap metal and/or training for Rookie Schools, and told Davis “This does not look like it’s going to be much fun.”
Early that morning, in a different set of projects, a different side of the Grey Lady, our soon-to-extinction Engine pulled up to a man on the ground, shaking and foaming with seizures. Nothing more than a coincidence, Her older brother walked by, no longer on a bike, no longer running routes off Graymont Avenue. He wore a black hoodie, the hood unnecessarily pulled over his ears. November is still warm where we come from. It’s really good to have warm Novembers. He nodded his hello, kept walking. We picked up the man in the dirt and strapped him to a cot. I brushed the leaves and dirt out of his eyes.
People waved and yelled us in. No one likes seeing this. The thugs, the involved, and the folks trapped next door as neighbors, honored the yellow tape but screamed for someone, anyone to do… something. I put an air mask over Her mouth and nose, Davis cut off her jacket. Lieutenant called for a backboard and for someone to find a pulse, screaming that she was a “load and go”. The Rescue Truck backed up in the narrow alleys of Elyton, we tore the yellow tape to let them pass.
19, where was I? Lying to myself and pretending to be a college student, driving back and forth from Montevallo on a daily basis, and listening to bands like Nation of Ulysses, or Nine Inch Nails, or Juliana Hatfield (I was as schizophrenic then as I am now). I was tall and too skinny and worked out (without a clue how) to compensate. I delivered pizzas, I played hockey, I girl-watched at Century Plaza, and I slept late. Nothing life changing, or life-extraordinary, but I was, after all, only 19. And 19 is a really good thing.
Mother didn’t respect the boundaries of the tape and stood over us, looking down at her daughter. A second cop showed up, half-heartedly holding her back. No one could blame her being there, hovering, because me, in her shoes, a father cursed to walk this world with a never ending worry of his own daughter? I would have eaten my way through yellow tape and city badges and anything else that stood in my path. But that’s emotion, that’s pain, that’s flooded endorphins. I was there as a first response, we were there to help. Mother was eerie calm, standing above me when she said “I’m just curious if my daughter is dead or not.”
I found a pulse. It was strong, beating over 100 times a minute. A pulse like that contradicted everything else in the Projects’ parking lot.
I rode in the back of the Rescue with Eric and George, Station 6 medics, one on each arm raising needles for IVs, a four lead for signs of a heart working, oxygen pumping, hopefully, to still moving lungs. Tommy drove us in, a 4-5 minute tornado from the Elyton Projects to UAB’s Trauma Center. Tommy was pulled off the Engine specifically to drive, a demon on the wheel, unaware of things like “right of way” or “brakes”. The second turn he creased pushed us close to two wheels, and slung me forward across the 19-year-old girl.
My forearm pressed against her forehead, the spill from her blood and brains smeared my skin.
Mother said it was a disagreement with another girl. The police had a baseball bat roped off inside the yellow rectangle. It was hard not to notice. She left the project with a strong pulse, still alive, even if momentarily. Leaving the projects breathing is a really good thing. The strong pulse didn’t show up in the back of the Rescue Truck so Eric bagged her, violently feeding her oxygen while I crushed her sternum with compressions. For the record she died on a trauma table. Literally, she left this world in between a parking lot and 4-5 minutes of lights and sirens.
I was 19 once and sleeping on my parent’s couch. I can remember smashing my eyes shut to fight off the insomniac-depression that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Zero goals, zero direction, zero inspiration. This went on for weeks before it hit me that it didn’t matter.
I was only 19.
Realizing that I never slept better. I had the rest of my life to worry nights away, bite my nails to the quick, drink a lot of coffee.
A dozen doctors and nurses and hospital handymen went into action as soon as we pulled her from our cot to their table. I was abruptly shoved back while they put hands and saws to work. But they were only human beings, not gods or magicians, and could only do so much. I went outside to clean up the IV needles, bloodied-gauze, and brains from the back of the Rescue Unit.
Tommy said She came by the fire station as a kid. Ten years old, Her, her older brother both on bikes… Dodging cars, drinking cokes from a machine, airing up low tires. But look away for just a moment, or blink, or close your eyes and a near-decade later something domestic would escalate from words to baseball bats to guns too fast in an Elyton parking lot, in a warm November night. The neighborhood scattered around Legion Field is thick with kids that find themselves in a fight to grow up. Young is good. Damn, it’s good to be young. But…
It’s really good to have a chance to grow old.
“This is where we see who runs first. It’s you and me, and the train, the steel tracks, and the dirt.” - Defeater