The Truth of the Matter: The Purple Rose and The Apple Cart


Perhaps one of the most unexpected aspects of my job is all the secrets.  And I suppose that’s part of what I love about it.  I get to find out the big reveal behind almost every mystery. Being a paramedic was a huge disappointment in that regard.  You don’t get to find out jack-shit working 911.  I remember picking up each patient and only having enough time to stick an IV in them, run a 12-lead EKG and ask a few questions.  Then we passed them off to the ER staff like diseased little hot-potatoes and never had to think about them again. Except I did.  I always wondered what happened.  Did they make it out of the hospital?  Did they die?  Was my suspected diagnosis right?  Did my actions in the ambulance help them at all?  As an incurable storyteller, I wasn’t satisfied with the abrupt, unresolved conclusion. It was like a symphony that never played the final chord, or having the power go out right before the end of the movie.  I would fill out “follow-up” cards at every hospital.  The EMS liaison was supposed to call or email to update me on my patient’s condition.  But I never heard from any of them.

Now, endings are all I do. I get to open every drawer and cupboard. I get to find the secret door, I get to unearth the buried treasure. I go through every lock-box and read every diary. Everyone’s secrets are laid bare for me to discover… unless they’ve deleted their browser history or encrypted their files- even then, I have methods.  It’s deeply satisfying.

Except for when it isn’t. There are some secrets I don’t want to know.

Some secrets dig in and curl up in your mind and start chewing on the wiring like vermin.  It’s just a little secret- just a tiny little fuzzy one that hardly eats anything at all… But given enough time, it will burn your house down.

My house is burning down.

In January 2021… the rodents started creeping out into the light… dragging the secrets with them

People commit suicide when they have secrets- secrets that they can’t keep anymore. Secrets that will cause trouble.  And those secrets usually have something to do with sex.

Pedophiles commit suicide… in droves.  It’s like a scene from an old Japanese movie in which a fallen army all commits seppuku- tearing their own bellies open with shame at their failure.  But these guys aren’t warriors and it has nothing to do with honor.  They’re cowards, and they opt to die much the way they lived: fancying themselves the wretched victims in an unfair, condemning world. I know thi because I read their suicide notes. They blame everyone except themselves for their twisted perversions.

It frustrates me on a good day.  On a bad day, I want nothing more than to gut them myself.  But more than that, I want them shown for who and what they were. More often than not, these assholes commit suicide because once they’re dead, it won’t matter.  There won’t be police cars in front of their house with nosy neighbors asking what happened.  There won’t be a mugshot posted online and no newspaper articles, detailing their crimes.  If and when people DO find out about their actions, at least they won’t have to face any actual consequences.  They won’t be judged by a disgusted, horrified jury.  They’ll never have to hear the “victim’s impact statements” before they’re sentenced to years of retribution from a prison system that doesn’t even pretend to be civilized.  They won’t have to face the brutal punishment meted out by other incarcerated criminals who, though they’re killers and thieves, won’t tolerate a pedophile. When I investigate the suicide of a child molester or a child pornographer, the cops and I always comment something to the tune of “Well… at least he’s dead…” and we do our best to pretend that it’s enough.  But it isn’t. I want them to be seen. I want them to stand before society and watch as everyone learns what they are and what they did.  I want them be-headed in the town-square.  I want them placed in the stocks at a cross-roads.  I want their bodies hanging from the tower wall. I want the spot-light shown on them before they squirm out of the heat. I want them to know WE KNOW what they did.

I know what you did.

But sometimes the secret you learn isn’t just about the child molester or child pornographer.  Sometimes the secret is about the people you work with. it’s about the government you work FOR.  The secret is about a system that you’re a part of.  And the expectation is that you’ll keep that secret… because that’s best for everyone involved. 

Except it isn’t. I’m not keeping their secret for them… not this time.  This time it’s not enough to sigh, take-off the blood-smeared gloves, shrug with the investigating officers and say, “well… at least he’s dead…” This time my house is burning down.  And I want everyone to see it.


The call came in as a suicide, which is nothing new or interesting.  Another suicide, big deal.  There have been dozens lately, more every month. Before the global pandemic even started, people were excusing themselves from the life-party long before their biological carriages turned back into pumpkins.

I dawdled out to the scene, pausing long enough to do my hair and stop for a Starbucks on the way.  I was even feeling a bit relieved because my decedent had reportedly shot himself in his car- which was great news for me.  Car suicides are easier because there’s generally less documentation. I don’t have to describe the geography and contents of an entire house.

Upon arrival, the local officers began filling in the lines for me.  The dead guy was in his car in the driveway to his house. He lived there with his wife, two biological children and FOUR goddamned foster kids… the oldest three were actual siblings and one solo. This struck me as bizarre. The residence was a none-too-impressive, single-level tract house in a trashier neighborhood of my jurisdiction.  Like any other residence in the area, an array of cars in various states of disrepair decorated the front lawn.  The “front lawn” was really more a dirt patch with a few straggly sprouts of crab-grass reaching feebly for the sunlight between piles of sun-bleached toys.  Nothing about this place indicated the inhabitants had a wealth of time or money to bestow upon a foster child, let alone four of them.  Of the multiple cars that dotted the property, our dead guy was seated in the driver’s seat of the one closest to the front door.  He was what I can only call an unimpressive specimen.  Overweight and pasty, his arms were crowded with tattooed skeletons that gyrated with curvy naked women. Weapons, roses and the occasional calligraphy wove through the imagery.  His head was tilted back with the mouth gaping wide open, a shaggy goatee on his face.  His, long, greasy hair was slick with blood that oozed from a gunshot wound that had almost completely blown out the back of his cranium.  A swamp of blood congealed around his shoulders and beneath him on the seat.  The roof of the car, as well as the back-seat, were flecked with bone fragments and small, putty-like scraps of brain matter.  A massive handle of whiskey sat in the center console at his right hand.

(Not an actual scene photo, but you get the idea)

“So,” began the lead officer as I poked my head into the car and registered all this information, “Our guy here has a history of drinking in the past but he’s been sober for the last few years until 2 nights ago.  He started hittin’ the sauce pretty heavy and no one knew why.  He also started fighting with his wife and his oldest foster-daughter who just turned 18.  Apparently, our guy went after the two of them, being a real dickhead and super mean.  He passed out by the firepit and then woke up yesterday morning… and he started right back up again.  Drinking this bottle of whiskey, yelling and screaming at everyone, especially the wife and foster daughter.  About mid-afternoon, he fucked-off to a friend’s house to drink some more- all this AFTER he and his wife talked divorce- which is something that they’ve been considering for like… 5 years now… but they’ve never actually gone through with it.”

“Wait a minute,” I look up.  “This dude has a history of alcohol abuse AND has been on the outs with his wife for the last 5 years… but someone still thinks it’s a good idea to give them foster kids?”

The officer snorted.  “Oh, you haven’t even heard the half of it yet.”

“Really? Go on,” I tell him.

“So, while this guy is at his buddy’s house, he got so wasted he let this little nugget drop:  He admits he’s been having a ‘sexual relationship’ with his foster daughter… the oldest one that he’s been chewing on the last few days. I guess the event that kicked off this whole shit show was the fact that this foster daughter is about to go into treatment for an eating disorder tomorrow morning.  Our guy realized as soon as she was out of his control and in a residential facility getting a shit-ton of therapy… all of this was going to come out.  She would likely spill the beans about the two of them having sex and his life would implode in fairly rapid order. So he started drinking and acting out like that.”

(Not actually our guy… but you get the idea)

“Oh shit…” I gasped, glancing toward the house where I spied a small, frenetic woman with a tear-stained face listlessly pacing back and forth under the eye of a police chaplain. “That the wife?”

The cop glanced over.  “Yeah, that’s her.  She’s a piece of work.”

“Did she know any of this?”

“Not as far as we can tell, she still doesn’t. We haven’t told her yet.”

“Fuck me,” I muttered. “Okay… go on.”

“So anyway, dude told his friend he’s been having this ‘relationship’ with this kid… if you want to call it that.  The friend basically tells him, ‘get the fuck out of my house, we’re not friends anymore.’  Then the friend calls Child Protective Services. Our guy left and goes who-knows-where until he came home this morning”

“Wow, good for that friend.”

(“I don’t care if she’s ‘just’ your foster-kid… it’s still SICK!”)

“Right?” The cop nodded.  “So CPS calls us this morning, and we’re setting up to come here and get this guy.  We’re just about to head over to arrest him when we get a 911 call from this address.  Apparently, this asshole came home and told his wife to come out to the car to talk.  She gets out here and sees that he’s sitting in the car with the handle of whiskey and a gun in his lap.  He tells her to get in the car but she refuses.  He screams at her a few times to get in. She says ‘no’ and turns to run back into the house, but glances over her shoulder to see that now he’s actually pointing the gun at her.  She calls 911- now we’ve got a SWAT situation.  He’s in the front yard with a gun.  Dispatch is telling her to lock the door so he can’t get in.  She’s actually refusing to lock the front door but barricades herself in a back bathroom with all 6 fucking kids. We’re pulling into position when he gets back into the car and turns on some shitty metal-core music.  We can see him in there, pounding his fists on the steering wheel and then bam. Single shot goes off.  We get closer and find he’s put the barrel in his mouth, and adios motherfucker. Good riddance.”

“Je-SUS!” I gasp.  “What a fucking story… ummmm… okay, so- Are the kids all still here?  Even the oldest one, the victim?”

“Yeah they’re all inside.  Like I said, wife doesn’t know anything about this shit with the foster kid. Not yet.”

When I talked to her, the wife was a perfect storm, flipping between frantic, bewildered and furious.  She would sputter, pace, sob, curse.  He was a narcissist, she said, capable of being incredibly sweet and endearing, but given to volatile moodiness and black-out rages. He hadn’t drank in years but for the last 3 days he’d been on an inexplicable, abusive bender.  He had been particularly ruthless with both her and the oldest foster daughter.  But clearly, the wife hadn’t made the connection yet… hadn’t figured out the end game… hadn’t yet realized that her husband had been both literally and figuratively fucking the child the county had entrusted to their care. 

It was the strangest feeling, watching this woman puzzle over what the hell had kicked off her husband’s detonation.  All the while, I knew more about her life than she did. I was pin-balling between wanting to give her a hug and wanting to scream: How could you NOT know your husband was abusing that kid?  What the fuck are you doing taking these children into your shit-show life?  How could you be so stupid? I said nothing. She needed to have her little spin-out. But also, I wasn’t sure whose job it was to clue her in to the facts. Was one of us supposed to let her in on the secret?  Was I supposed to tell her?  Where the hell was CPS?  They were supposed to come and pick up the foster kid- our decedent’s victim.  THEY knew what was happening, were they going to tell the wife? Was anyone going to?

The CPS caseworker pulled up just then and went inside the house.  The wife numbly watched and then turned back to me with her arms crossed tightly across her chest and tears streaming down her face. “So,” she barked. “What happens now?” I took a deep breath and began telling her that I was going to take her husband’s body to the morgue when the caseworker and the girl emerged from the home. I later learned her name was Bre’. This poor, defeated foster-kid looked like a flower with a broken stem.  She was tall and lanky, the kind of physique you’d see on a couture model.  But she slouched forward, hunched against the cold weight of misery.  Her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail that drifted stray tendrils into her face.  Her enormous eyes were hollow and red.  Easily a few inches taller than I, she shuffled forward as though she hated her height, like she wished for nothing more than to fold into herself until she disappeared.  The wife/foster-mom saw her leaving with the caseworker and charged forward.  She grabbed Bre’s face in her hands and sputtered out some proclamation about how Bre “couldn’t go anywhere” because the foster mom “needed her.”

I cringed.

To some extent, I knew that the foster mom was trying to tell Bre not to kill herself or anything.  But, honestly, I thought the last thing Bre needed was to feel responsible for someone else’s welfare. It didn’t take a genius to see that Bre was withering with guilt. Knowing what I know about narcissistic abusers, I had no doubt the foster-dad had managed to convince Bre that she was to blame for the abuse she’d been suffering.  And in tandem, I suspected Bre was blaming herself for his suicide as well. Her foster-mom didn’t have a husband anymore, her foster-siblings didn’t have a dad anymore, and I would put money on the notion that Bre believed it was all her fault.

She started to cry again as the foster-mom stumbled away and began pacing the front yard, cursing her deceased husband.  Bre’s bent head bobbed with silent sobs as she closed her eyes and turned to get into the caseworker’s car.  I was gripped with an urge to go say something to her. “Hey,” I imagined pulling her aside. “I know what happened here. I know what he was doing to you. I want you to know it wasn’t your fault.” I imagined pushing a business card into her hand and saying: “I want you to call me if you need help. This had nothing to do with you.  You are not responsible for his actions.”  The desire was like a rope tied around my chest, pulling me forward. But I resisted. I stayed rooted to my spot and watched her get into the car and drive away.  “I’m not a counselor…” I told myself. “I’m not a social worker or a therapist.  I don’t really have anything to offer her and I wouldn’t be allowed access to her if I did.”

The irony.  On the one hand, a complete fucking sociopath had unfettered, open access to Bre.  But I knew that if I approached her and tried to say anything, my ass would be dragged down on the proverbial mat.  I would probably get professionally dinged because I didn’t “stay in my lane” and I would be reminded that doing the wrong thing for the right reason… is still doing the wrong thing.  I’m the medical examiner.  My role is to deal with the death- not to try to correct dead people’s mistakes.

Reminding myself of this, I went to the car where my decedent sat and began sifting through the scene. My suspicions were confirmed when I pulled the crumpled-up “suicide-note” from his pocket: a hastily scrawled testament to the dead guy’s selfishness.  He admitted nothing, took no responsibility and offered no apologies. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it said something about– all he wanted was a little help and no one cared about him… or some such self-indulgent drivel.  And I remember reading it and handing it to the officer beside me. I remember thinking about the wife/foster-mom’s devastated confusion, about Bre’s crumpled, tear-streaked face… about the wrecked lives he’d left in his wake.  I glanced at the officer, who was shaking his head as he read the note.

“Hey,” I said to him. “At least he’s dead.”


The week went by in its unremarkable way. I thought about Bre a few times. I hoped she’d be ok. I mean, she was supposed to be in a care facility now, right? Someone was handling this debacle. Someone was being held responsible. How did something like this happen anyway? Who was vetting these foster parents? Who the hell thought it was a good idea to deposit vulnerable children in a home with that guy? God, I hoped someone was losing their job over it.

A niggling little gnat in my ear sent me to the internet.  Maybe I could do some volunteer work or something. Maybe I could help some of these kids. Teach them poetry or trapeze or anything that might snap them out of their own, precarious existence for an afternoon. I attempted to google “Foster kids” and the first five items that Google spat out made my skin crawl:

“How much money do you get for housing a foster kid?” was one top suggestion from the web.

”Can you earn a living as a foster parent?” was another.

One site advertised that you could select your foster child by viewing their picture on an online catalog.

Across the board, the message was clear: These kids weren’t people, they were commodities. This family had acquired four cash cows and our shit-head decedent figured he could do what he wanted with at least one of them. Who was going to stop him? Who would believe her? Who would care? The foster care system had blithely shoveled four little souls into this child-molester’s house like coal into a steam engine. They were fuel. And as soon as all their value burned up, there would be nothing left but ash.

I was enraged by my own helplessness.

But it was being dealt with. That’s what I told myself. It wasn’t my job. This event must have set off alarms. This must have gotten someone’s attention.

I negotiated my way out of the anger and discomfort by the next week. My brain back-burnered Bre. “After all,” I rationalized, “horrific tragedy is my job description. If I went off the rails every time I witnessed human depravity, I wouldn’t have time to eat.” So, by the time Henry (my wizened old co-worker) and I were in the parking lot, smoking our cigarettes and drinking our coffee, I was level and ready to face another shift.

“So?” I asked him as he offered me a Winston Red and obligingly lit it for me. “How was your shift? What fresh hell am I facing today?”

“I had a couple of overdoses,” he shrugged. “If you could, would you go draw toxicology on one of them? He’s at Peaceful Paths.”

I nodded in response as Henry took a deep drag of his cigarette. “I had your girl,” he said.


“The girl from your suicide last week. The foster kid.”

His words swallowed me like a sudden black-out and I was surrounded by a thick, suffocating silence. Every cell in my body gasped at once.

“Uh… She’s dead?” -or some other disfluency squeezed out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe.

Either Henry didn’t notice, or he thought it was better to get it over with.

“They found her hanging on the soccer goal at the high school.”

My chest tightened and my diaphragm spasmed “Oh… ok.”

Henry was watching me out of the corner of his eye. With a decades-long career in investigations, my reaction wasn’t escaping his notice. But he didn’t say anything more, or if he did, I didn’t hear it. I numbly drifted back into the office, bade him farewell and gathered myself together to drive out to Peaceful Paths funeral home so I could pull some blood and urine samples on Henry’s OD victim. My body felt frozen, but my mind was flailing in an ocean of static. I staggered through the front office of the Peaceful Paths funeral home on my way to their cooler, checking in with the staff to make sure they were expecting me. They greeted me and assured, yes, the overdose victim was on a table in the prep room and ready for me to start sticking him with needles. Then one of the funeral directors, Clark, spoke up.

“Your girl is in our cooler.”

“My… what?”

“The foster kid from your suicide last week. CPS sent her to us.”

‘She’s here?”

On the one hand, it’s no surprise everyone knew. Fucked up calls make the rounds. Doubtless, the investigation into Bre’s suicide had linked to the foster-father’s suicide and once that connection was made, people couldn’t stop talking about it. Still, I felt exposed. It seemed like the degree to which I would be affected was not only well known, it had also been a topic of much discussion. Why else would everyone keep calling her my girl.

I didn’t say anything at first. My eyes began to sting. “I… I can’t fucking believe that shit…” I hiccuped out… doing my best to put off my typical fuck-if-I-care attitude. The funeral home folks exchanged looks. They weren’t fooled. If anyone can tell when you’re trying not to cry, it’s funeral home employees.

Clark hesitated and spoke up again. “They’re… ummm… they want her cremated. But-“ he added hopefully, “-the caseworker is doing a good job. They picked out a really nice urn for her…”

I almost choked. I spun to face him and hissed with concentrated venom, “Did you seriously just say ‘the caseworker is doing a good job because they picked out a nice urn for the dead foster kid’? Did that sentiment really just come out of your mouth?”

I whirled away from the speechless funeral home employees. They’d seen me pop-off before, but my ire had never been directed at any of them. I felt a flash of regret for snapping, but didn’t have the energy to explain to them what seemed achingly obvious to me. If the fucking case-worked had done even an ADEQUATE job, Bre would still be ALIVE. How could they fail to recognize that?

I went to the prep room and must have drawn fluids from the OD case. I really don’t remember. I do remember being pulled into the cooler by an undeniable force. I couldn’t NOT go in. I had to. I owed her that much. Her case-worker wouldn’t see her, her family wouldn’t see her, the other foster kids and her foster mother wouldn’t see her. The bureaucratic, county government jerk-offs that ruled from their sanitized offices and condemned Bre to the custody of that monster… they would never see her.  Everyone that had failed her would never have to look into her vacant, opaque eyes. But I had to. SOMEONE had to. Someone needed to bear witness. Someone needed to acknowledge the inhuman crime that had been perpetrated on her tiny, barely begun life. She deserved to be seen.

The cold, sour air from the cooler breathed over me in a chilly yawn as I opened the door.  Shelves lined either side of the cooler. Inert, bodies covered in white sheets lay positioned on each one, the silent witnesses as I stepped inside and walked toward the prep-table that held Bre’s body.  She was wrapped in one of our white, plastic body bags, which are really just glorified envelopes. Gingerly, I pulled the open the flaps, and there she was. Exactly as I remembered her: the same wide eyes, doll-like features and sandy-blonde hair, pulled back into a loose ponytail with wisps curling around her chin and neck. She was wearing the same dark hoodie, which initially obscured the deep, waxy groove looping sharply along the line of her jaw and pulling upward toward the back of her neck in a classic tear-drop shape. It dug into the soft skin of her throat like a plow-furrow. She had used her shoelaces, or maybe the string from her hoodie. Her eyelids hung low and sleepy, almost closed but not quite. Just the cloudy lower rim of her brown irises hinted at the unseeing nature of her stare.

I put my hand on her forehead. She was cold- the soft, pliable cold of clay or mud. The cold of inanimate objects- cold with nothing inside struggling to fight it. The cold of surrender. 

It felt like a dull, barbed hook was being dragged through my chest. I choked and closed my eyes, that terrible cold seeping into my hand. “I’m so sorry…” I said. I don’t know if I spoke out loud or if it just radiated from the core of my heart where the hook was digging. “I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything to you. I’m sorry I didn’t try. I’m so sorry you were failed so completely by so many people…”

Nothing. Just the sound of my own breath with the indifferent dead watching, waiting.  It didn’t matter to them. Nothing I could say or do now would make a lick of difference to the dead who were long past caring how sorry I was.

I don’t know how long I stood there.

When I opened my eyes, I saw a large flower arrangement positioned close by.  Funeral homes will often put funeral flowers in the cooler along with the dead bodies to keep the petals from wilting before the service. There wouldn’t be any flowers for Bre. There wouldn’t be any memorial service, wake or reception with little sandwiches and bad wine. She was getting a direct cremation that very day. They were disposing of the evidence. FUCK IT. I thought. I reached over and pulled a huge purple rose from the arrangement, positioning it under Bre’s cold hand. She should have something nice. And that flower arrangement was an ostentatious cacophony of blossoms. No one would notice.

“I’ll see you later, kid.” I said to her as I covered her back up, switched off the light and closed the door behind me… leaving her to be cremated and deposited in the really nice urn her case worker did a good job of choosing.

-PART 3-

It’s not the end, not even close. Over a year has passed and it still isn’t over.

Roughly 3 days later, my phone rang. It was my friend, Laura. She was crying so hard I could barely understand her.

“Grace, I need you to tell me what happened to my sister. Her name was Bre.”

At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. Laura and I had spent a lot of time together driving back and forth to a class in another part of the state.  She had told me many details about her life. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her mother had kind of gone off the deep end. As I remembered it, Laura’s mother had remarried some Unabomber, conspiracy-theorist type. They had all been living “off the grid” in the undeveloped wilds of my county. Laura’s mom had wanted Laura to drop out of school at 12 years old in order to raise her younger half-siblings. But Laura had fucked right out of that situation to live with her dad who died a few years ago. Laura had indicated to me that she was alone in the world. Last I’d heard, Laura’s mom was in prison on drug charges and her step-father (and I use the term VERY loosely) was in the wind- wandering the streets, high on something-or-other and doing god-knows-what.

Then the reality hit me.

Laura and Bre had the same, wide eyes, full lips and porcelain skin.  Laura’s complexion was a bit darker, as was her hair.  But other than that, the two of them were carbon copies.

“Oh my god… oh my god… oh, Laura…” was all I could babble for the first minutes. It all made sense now. Of course, they had different last names… they had different fathers. And of course Laura was 10 years older, Bre had been born during a whole different era of their mother’s life. Their mother was in prison and Bre’s father was just gone. Of course Laura’s half-siblings, the one’s she had essentially raised until she was 15, were in foster care. Perhaps the most fucked -up death I had ever witnessed had been that of a good friend’s little sister.

“Just tell me what happened? I just want to know what happened.”

My throat hurt. I could feel the bureaucratic collar tightening. It’s deeply rooted and yet cleverly unspoken in the culture of civil service: Avoid liability! Protect THE COUNTY at all costs. From the moment you get hired, the gag order begins.  You never say anything that could make THE COUNTY look bad. You never reveal anything that could be used against THE COUNTY. You suckle the hand that feeds you and you sacrifice everything to defend it. Because you don’t want THE COUNTY to turn on you. Don’t you want your retirement package? Don’t you like two-weeks paid vacation and bank holidays? Then keep your trap shut about the things you see here.

I faltered.

“What do you know so far?” I asked Laura.

And that’s where it all fell apart. She reeled off the heavily edited and powerfully spun story that CPS had given her about her sister’s suicide. They’d claimed Bre had been having a “sexual relationship” with the man in the house where she and her siblings had been placed. She had been “removed” after his suicide and was in the hospital on a mental health hold for a couple of days before being released to another foster home where she was being “watched” 24/7. But Bre had somehow escaped the supervising gaze of whoever had been tasked with protecting her. She ended up hanging on a soccer goal, found by complete strangers the next morning.

Laura sobbed out the story of how she had found out that Bre was in the hospital and how Laura had attempted to get CPS to release Bre into her care.  Laura was her sister, after all. Laura had basically raised Bre from birth to the age of 5 when Laura finally had to preserve her own life and leave as their mother devolved into drug use and chaos. 

CPS, however, had denied Laura’s request, self-indulgently claiming that Bre was better off with them. They were professionals, after all.  This is what they DO. Laura hadn’t gotten a chance to see Briana before she was cremated. Neither did the two younger siblings whom CPS had decided to leave with the abuser’s widow. Now, no one was talking to Laura. She wanted to see her two younger half-siblings, but no one was returning her call. They just wanted it to go away. They wanted to forget it ever happened.

This is what they DO, indeed. I felt my pulse quickening and my breath leaving my chest in furious heaves. It was sickening. Clearly, whoever had been talking to Laura was engaged in the time-honored tradition of covering their own ass.  Bre and her siblings had been placed with a malignant narcissist and his conveniently oblivious wife.  Bre HAD ABSOLUTELY NOT been in a “sexual relationship” with that motherfucker. She had just turned 18… she was being MOLESTED by her foster father who didn’t let slip it was happening until AFTER she was 18. And WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING HER? How do you forget what happened to that kid? How do you take your eyes off her?

This is what they DO.

It wasn’t hard to see the desperate hand-washing, the not-my-fault gestures of Child Protective Services. They knew they had fucked up. They knew they were on the hook for Bre’s death.  Their only, pathetic hope was to bury their heads in the sand, leave phone calls unreturned and hope that time might win this war of attrition for them.

This is what they do.

I told her everything- every last detail.  Everything I just told YOU, I told Laura.  It all came tumbling out and I sobbed along with her. I told her I was sorry. I should have done something. But more than that, I told her this:

“Look,” I said. “You need to get a lawyer. Hopefully, someone will take this case pro bono and can get paid out of the settlement.  But you need to sue the FUCK out of the county.”

Laura began to protest. But I was way ahead of her. “I know nothing is going to bring Bre back. I know that money won’t make this better.  But you need to understand that money is the only language the county speaks. Unless you make them feel this financially, it won’t matter to them. And don’t let your mother get involved and take some cheap cash-out so she can throw it all away when she’s released from prison. Put it into a trust or something so when your younger siblings age out of the system, they have some kind of support to get started in life. They’re going to try to throw $30,000 at you. That’s their ‘fuck-it-and-settle’ price when they just want something to be done. DO NOT SETTLE.”

She hasn’t. As far as I know Laura got an attorney and nothing is settled yet. At least not for her.

It’s a bit different for me.

My disgust for the county government has taken root with ferocious vigor. I’m infected with contempt for any member of administration as they all sit, wedged into their cubicles, shitting out vapid memos and congratulating themselves for the latest, pointless “policy.” I’m so strangled with resentment I can barely walk into the Public Service Building. I’m the poster-child for disillusioned burn-out. I hate the fact that I work for the same grinding, indifferent machine that feeds children into the slow machinations of its own, fat apathy.

I was so distraught, I ended up calling a friend who’s a former sheriff’s deputy for THE COUNTY. He once told me the story of his own departure from faithful service. He left a few years ago when the futility of the work and frustration at his own helplessness finally overtook him in the form of panic attacks and rage.

“Chris…” I said to him. “Something happened, something bad. I’m not sure I can do this anymore.”

I didn’t have to elaborate.

“One day, the apple cart just tips over and we are left wondering what the fuck happened,” he said.

And he’s right, there are some mistakes that can’t be smoothed over. You can overcome some misgivings.  You can whether certain storms. But there’s just no coming back from some catastrophes.

So here, I am… surrounded by apples…

Wondering what the fuck happened,

A purple rose in one hand, and a lit match in the other.

I know what you did.

And I hope this secret burns your fucking house down.



There are still more stories coming. If you like my weird little tales of death, don’t worry, there are lots left. That said, I truly believe that this might be the most important thing I’ve ever written. I enjoy penning amusing anecdotes about my job- but this is something different. Brianna’s story needs to be heard and every last word is true. I didn’t change her name because her name needs to be known. Her story needs to be known.

So please- tell it. Please share this story with anyone who will read it or listen. And please do something for the foster kids in your community. They are vulnerable and are being exploited like this everywhere. Please, for Bre.

Mr. Alexander Graham-Bell, Wish me luck!

It’s the little things.

This job is difficult for a whole host of reasons. But most of those reasons are small. It sounds weird I know- because so much of what I do is BIG TRAUMA. Murders, Suicides, Accidents… oh MY! So few people see such events up close. Everyone assumes it must be horrible and haunting. But not really. I’m toppled by the itty bitty aftermath. I can wrestle a bear, no problem. But I cannot handle the ensuing allergic reaction from having his hair all over my shirt. Watch me run from a burning building like a champ… and then trip over my shoelaces in the parking lot.

I recently had a virtual appointment with my primary care provider, during which I talked about my acute-on-chronic PTSD in the context of working in death care with virtually no support during a global pandemic. A few days later, I glanced at my after-visit summary and my doctor mentioned something about my “PTSD from seeing dead bodies.” I was low-key offended at his assessment. I’m regularly misunderstood and underestimated by the men around me… but… damn. Did he ever miss the point.

Dead bodies are the easy part. They’re quiet, predictable and they never lie.

I really enjoy going on death scenes. I have a puzzle to solve. I get to play with the police dogs and joke around with the crime scene technicians. I get to search people’s cupboards and root through their pockets. Best of all, if it’s a homicide, there will be pizza.

(Seriously. Not to be glib or anything, but homicides take a long time to process. The detectives have to write warrants, then judges have to sign them. The crime scene people have to take pictures, the reconstructionists have to map out the scene. It takes hours and once you arrive at the scene, you’re kind of stuck there for the long haul. Inevitably, someone goes out to retrieve coffee and snacks. Now, I’m not saying I like it when people kill each other, but if there’s a silver-lining, it’s usually covered in pepperoni and cheese.)

The hard part is the minutiae, the bureaucratic drone-work, the million little inane tasks that have been invented by anemic desk-jockeys who’ve never even seen a dead body, let alone smelled one. (Unless you count the pulseless, vapid spouse they go home to every night.)

Seriously, on our current case-file system, I have to enter the time of death 3 separate times. Then I have additional forms to fill out depending on the kind of death it is, or how old the deceased person was. If the body goes into the morgue for an autopsy, It has to be checked in ***just so*** or I can expect to get a slew of nasty-grams from the morgue technicians who feel it’s a personal affront when you accidentally leave a hair-tie on a corpse… or neglect to put ALL FIVE forms of identification on the body (not joking, see below).

(I didn’t actually send this message, but it felt good to write it)

But perhaps the hardest bit… is the phone calls. SO MANY PHONE CALLS. I don’t know about other medical examiner’s offices, but around here I am literally the ONLY employee during my shift. For 48 hours I’m on the hook for every task required of the medical examiner’s office. THIS INCLUDES answering the phone, picking up messages and returning calls. You wouldn’t believe the calls we get. I couldn’t possibly describe them all, but here’s a quick sample:

-Funeral home calling- their transport crew failed to collect ANY information on the body they picked up so now they need the decedent’s time of death, next of kin and primary care provider.

-Funeral home calling back- the primary care provider refused to sign the death certificate. What should they do?

-Hospice calling- this patient had a fall in the week prior to their death. Does that make it a medical examiner case?

-Hospice calling back- the family wants an autopsy.

-Random lady calling- her transient son hasn’t been heard from in 3 months. Is he dead?

-Random lady calling back- it’s been 15 minutes, how come no has called her back yet?

-Doctor’s office calling. The funeral home sent over a death certificate to sign and the doctor hasn’t seen the decedent for two years.

-Doctor’s office calling back- the funeral home sent over a death certificate and the decedent’s doctor retired last week so they can’t sign

-Another random lady calling- She just got her mother’s death certificate and it lists an accidental overdose as cause of death. She disagrees and wants to talk to a manager.

-Random guy calling- his dad died in the hospital last week, the body’s been cremated, but now he wants an autopsy because he thinks the hospital doctors accidentally killed his dad.

-Another random guy calling- his father died 30 years ago and now he wants the death certificate changed to homicide because he’s been watching too much Law & Order

-Still another random guy calling- He needs copies of his wife’s death certificate, why are they taking so long.

-Another random lady calling- she’s sobbing so hard I can’t understand what she’s saying.

-Dispatch calling- You’re on your way to a double suicide across town… and may God have mercy on my soul.

So on and so forth. I’d offer you a few more examples, but just typing this list nearly gave me a panic attack. I’d also like to point out, dealing with most of these calls isn’t my job. But the medical examiner’s office is death’s junk-drawer. People throw problems at us because these problems tangentially involve death, and no one else knows the answer. I might not know the answer either, but I can wing-it like a motherfucker.

Still, the other day I had a run of perhaps the oddest phone calls ever. It was the kind of shift where you wonder if you inadvertently wandered into Bizarro-world. Nothing made sense, but everyone wanted an explanation anyway.


-09:15 Call #1-

I have left the pager on my kitchen table while I take my dogs for a walk. I am gone for maybe 15 minutes and I come home to the pager beeping it’s brains out. I have a message to call a fire crew. I call the number on the pager and connect to a miffed firefighter who definitely wants me to understand the depth of his displeasure.

“We’re on the scene of a death,” he huffs.

“Okay…” I respond.

“We’ve been here for over an hour!”

“Okay…” I respond again, not altogether sure what he’s getting at.

“We’ve been calling you! YOU HAVEN’T ANSWERED!”

“Um…” I glance at the pager. The only page on it is the one I just got. No other pages this morning. Furthermore I check the phone. No messages. No missed calls. “Ok… I’m not seeing that I missed any calls or pages.”


“I understand, but I’m not seeing any missed calls or pages. What number were you calling?”

“I don’t know that,” he scoffs.

“Well, if the phone or pager isn’t working, I need to kno-“

“It’s not important now,” he snaps. Then he proceeds to reel off his report in a rushed, pissy tone. Turns out, the death is a hospice death and EMS never should have been called in the first place. This death doesn’t fall under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction and the firefighter seems personally offended when I say so.

“Listen-” I start to tell him that if we ever fail to respond to a call, they can always contact dispatch and have them try to reach us.

“GoodBYE,” he barks. The line goes dead.

I’m confused. I contact dispatch and they confirm that the only call they got from this fire crew is the one I responded to. Then I have dispatch page me AND call me on our cell phone. Both these methods of communication are completely operational. I can only surmise that, rather than have dispatch page me (like they’re supposed to) this fire crew repeatedly attempted to call the medical examiner’s office by dialing a wrong number. When it didn’t work, rather than employ some very basic problem-solving skills, they opted to keep calling that wrong number. Then they got their petticoats in a flounce because I didn’t answer. To top it all off, America’s heroes seemed to be even angrier that I failed to apologize for NOT being on the other end of whatever phone number they were dialing.

And this is my problem with firefighters. Even when something is unmistakably their fault, they still get mad at YOU.

-10:10- Call #2-

(I feel it’s important to mention here that this isn’t the second call I answered that day, it’s just the second ultra-weird one)

A man calls in a real tizzy. His elderly father passed away at a care facility. He is claiming that the nursing staff was negligent and didn’t take good enough care of his dad.

“I looked at the nursing log! His blood glucose was 360!”


“They’re supposed to call his doctor if his blood glucose is over 400!”


Then he waits as though I’m supposed to make some connection here.

“Umm, Sir, I’m not sure where the oversight is…”


I glance at his father’s medical records. I pulled up the file online before i returned this call. His father was 93 years old and had Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, his father was a type 1 diabetic with atrial fibrillation and a pacemaker. The ol’ trooper had 3 heart attacks under his belt and hadn’t been able to walk under his own power for a couple years.

I’m not sure what to say to the son. Undoubtedly, it would just piss him off more if I told him that his father had been playing the bonus round for quite some time and the reaper finally caught up with him. Still, the son confirms that his dad wasn’t on hospice, which means the death technically should have been reported to our office. I know I’m going to have to reprimand both the funeral home and the nursing folks for this oversight. But it happens. These clerical glitches are common. Often, when a decedent is very old and infirm, everyone will assume their passing is not a reportable event.

I’m just about to wrap up and tell the son I’ll handle it, when he drops this little gem on me:

“The blood glucose thing was bad enough! BUT when they called to tell me my dad was dead, they said he choked to death and then texted me a photo of his body!”

“… What?” I sputtered.

“YEAH!” The son fumes on, glad that something has finally gotten my attention. “The nurse told me my dad choked on his food and when I said I was coming there to see him, she said I didn’t need to and texted me a photo of his dead body.”

This changes things. A death due to choking is a mandatory report and possibly an autopsy. It means the death is arguably accidental and if that turns out to be the case, the death certificate needs to reflect as much. Not only for life insurance reasons, but also because it creates a paper trail regarding the nursing home and possible negligent practices. But aside from that… who the hell texts someone a picture of their dead father? What was she trying to prove? That the poor old dude didn’t have his face beaten in prior to his death. It’s fucking weird.

The son senses my abrupt change of tone and he’s setting up to kick-off again. But I cut him off and tell him I’ll call the nursing home and see what their story is. I’ll call him back with an update.

I take a minute to search the address of the nursing home in the death certificate database. Nothing. No one has died at that location in the last 8 years. I’m… confused. How is it possible that a location whose sole purpose is to shelter ailing old people hasn’t had a single death in almost a decade? It’s fucking weird.

-10:40- Call #3-

As promised, I contact the nursing home which is actually something called an “Adult Foster Care Home.” These little establishments are usually an informal alternative to a full-fledged nursing home facility. They tend to be privately run and are little more than a house with a few extra medical supplies. As far as I can tell, people will get some kind of licensing and rudimentary medical training and start moving “clients” into their home. The proprietor “takes care” of the residents who pay a glorified rent. These clients are “in-betweeners:” Too decrepit to live independently, but not quite so ill that they need 24/7 care.

When I call this place, a woman with an earthy Russian accent answers. I tell her who I am and explain to her that I’ve been talking to the son of her recently deceased resident. She immediately begins stumbling over her words in an effort to explain that the son is unreasonable and malicious. She’s probably right but that’s not why we’re talking.

“Ma’am,” I interrupt. “Are you aware that you’re supposed to report deaths to authorities?”

“Vhat?” She blurts out.

“Any death that isn’t a hospice patient has to be reported. You’re supposed to cal 911.”

“Ve do not need cahll… No von healthy ever die in my houze! Only old…seek people…”

ONLY old, sick people die there?

“Ma’am,” I try another tactic. “Did you tell Mr ****** that his father choked to death?”


I sigh deeply. “A choking is an accidental death. It ABSOLUTELY needs to be reported. How do you know he choked? What happened?”

She flounders for a minute. “Vehll… he vas eating and then he die… so ve figure he choke. I call the funeral home. I call his family…” She delivers these words with an audible shrug, like she can’t believe I’m upset over something so pedestrian as an old man choking on his dinner. What’s the big deal? It’s not like he was murdered or anything.

“Look, you can’t DO that.” My incredulity spikes a shrill tone. “You can’t just arbitrarily guess at causes of death and then tell people’s families! And deaths have to be reported. How many people have died in your facility that have gone unreported?” The thought legitimately horrified me: people dying of falls, infectious disease, overdoses, malnutrition, anything. And here’s this crazy eastern block sociopath thinking they were old anyway. No one’s going to care.

She begins flailing. This doesn’t bode well for her and she knows it. For lack of a better plan she turns to supplicating flattery. “Vell, I’m not as good at it as you are… I’m only nursing assistant. but I run good place.”

That’s good… fine…great. I feel a stab of sympathy for her. She’s in the land of opportunity and has a good thing going. But if she’s ignoring this regulation, what other rules have escaped her notice?

“I need you to fax me the deceased patient’s chart. Everything you have. And I’m sorry, I’m going to have to report you to the licensing board.” I wasn’t thrilled with the thought. She was even less so. She tries a few different protests that don’t make a dent in my resolve. This isn’t Game of Thrones. Dead bodies are kind of a big deal. You can’t just roll them off the back of your ox-cart and hope they don’t get resurrected by white-walkers. We’re civilized, goddamnit. AND we’ve got the bureaucracy to prove it!

I’m sorry, but you’re going to need a permit to ceremonially arrange those body parts in the snow…

Later on, the decedent’s chart arrives. And the first page appears to be a hail-Mary from the nurse. In an effort to prove nothing suspicious happened to the old man, she has included the picture of his dead body: presumably the one she took with her phone and texted to the son.


-11:00- Call #3-

Stephanie from Peaceful Paths Funeral Home is calling.

“Hey Grace…” she’s hesitant, which is a bad sign. Funeral home employees have to deal with at least as much bullshit as I. So, when they’re stymied, I’m worried. “I have this woman here, I’m not sure what to do. She walked in with a Tupperware container-“

I already know where this is going.

Women with Tupperware containers walk into funeral homes often enough for us to know without being told: Miscarriage. Women will miscarry in early pregnancy and won’t know what to do. They might not have health insurance so they don’t go to the hospital. They might be super anti-establishment and not believe in modern healthcare. Hell, they might’ve not known they were pregnant. But for whatever reason, they miscarry and find themselves at home and in a weird moral, emotional and logistical gray-zone. They’re holding a lump of expelled tissue, anywhere from the size of a mandarin orange to the size of a grapefruit. What to do now? From a practical standpoint, it’s too big to flush. And from a humanitarian standpoint, no one wants to just throw it in the toilet… or the garbage for that matter. But it’s not a dead body- at least not technically. So, what often happens is women will lay the -tissue- in an airtight container and put it in the freezer. When they’ve had some time to process (or not process) the loss, they’ll take it out and go to a funeral home, thinking they’ll have it cremated or buried. And this is where things can get weird. If the …little guy… wasn’t cooked enough to survive outside the womb, it’s not considered a “death”. But funeral home employees aren’t trained to be able to assess that. It’s always possible that this person gave birth to a living child, however premature, and then killed it. This means that by disposing of the “body” funeral homes would be aiding and abetting a murderer.

So the funeral home calls me.

“What should I do,” Stephanie whisperes into the phone. “She’s waiting.”

I sigh. “Take a picture of it next to a pen or a coffee mug or something for scale and text it to me.”

I’m shooting from the hip. we have four different forensic pathologists and each one of them will give me a different answer if I call and ask for direction. In the past, we’ve been told to collect the “body” so the pathologist can see it for themselves. We’ve also been told to contact the woman’s doctor to get medical records and see if there’s any documentation as to how many weeks gestation she was at her last appointment. But we’ve also had doctors say that it’s not a medical examiner problem and they don’t care.

My phone beeps as I’m considering the options. I look at the photo and sigh with relief. The “body” is an opaque red sac, about the size of a lemon. Still, I call the on-call forensic pathologist and run the whole scenario by him.

This doctor is newer and I haven’t yet learned to predict his responses. I convey the essentials, he listens, and if it’s at all possible, I can hear impatience in his silence. He’s polite and tolerant when he tells me that this isn’t a medical examiner case. I’m not sure if I’m just imagining his contempt as he speaks. But the fact is, there’s a shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists in America, and by wasting 2 minutes of his time, I basically just torched $300 of taxpayer dollars.

13:00 -Call #4-

I pick up a message. The wife of one of our decedents is calling with “some questions.” I hate that phrase. “I just have some questions.”  I look up her husband’s case before I call her back. The dread slides into my stomach and knots itself up like an eel. His death was a suicide… an ugly one.

Suicides are hard for families, often they won’t accept that manner of death and will attempt all kinds of mental and logistical acrobatics to make it something else.  Henry once had a family whose son had committed suicide by hanging himself in the garage. In the weeks after the death, the parents had a series of seances and the charlatan… *ahem* I mean the medium had these poor folks convinced that the spirit of someone else who had committed suicide in the residence (years before) had possessed their son and caused him to do the same. Then they mounted a (failed) campaign to have the death certificate changed to say it was a homicide.

I’ve never had it that bad, BUT families have called, claiming the suicide was a cleverly hidden murder… usually enacted by a new spouse or love-interest the family didn’t like. It’s a fight to convince them otherwise.

Now when I say “fight”, I don’t mean screaming match. The conflict is never so overt. Maybe I should say “dance:” a subtle, manipulation of questions and answers, the finest act of diplomatic side-stepping and re-direction. Dodge, parry, feint… until the querying person realizes that they don’t really think that their step-mom KILLED their father. She’s just an awful person and they can’t stand the fact that she’s now in possession of Dad’s coin collection.

Managing these conversations is an exhausting art form.

I expect the worst as I call the young wife back. But this girl was about to take a sharp zig on my expected zag.

“Hello, This is Grace with the medical examiner’s office… you had questions?” I try to sound calm, confident and yet soft and empathetic. I’m a memory foam mattress: warm, supportive and yet firm and non-reactive. I absorb impact, jumping on me won’t be any fun.

She does the usual stuttering and evading. She wants something but doesn’t want to actually say it.

“Ummmmm… Is my husband’s body still with you? Because I was wondering about something…”

“Ok,” I try to encourage her to her point. Go ahead honey, I think. Nothing surprises me anymore

“I’d like to take pieces of his skull and give them to his family.”

-… Except maybe that…

I’m silent for what seems like a long time.

“Huh.” I say thoughtfully. And she charges on ahead:

“He shot himself in the head, it was… really bad. And after his body was gone, I found little pieces of skull in the carpet. And I was thinking, since we can’t have a viewing… maybe… everyone…” she trails off.

I have no idea if this is legal or even possible. I know for a fact that the uptight state morgue technicians (as previously mentioned) come completely unglued by a rogue hair tie. I can’t imagine they’d consent to dividing up a skull so everyone gets a piece at the funeral. I can imagine them clutching their pearls and frantically typing up horrified memos to my boss if I suggest such a thing. But I also don’t want to be the asshole who tells this woman what passes for acceptable grieving rituals. I’m in no place to judge. When my dad died, I drove his truck in circles, sobbing and eating all the candy bars in the glove compartment. A dear friend of mine died and I mixed his ashes with a can of paint and spread him all over the walls of my studio so I could “manifest” some of his astounding creativity.

All the same, skull fragments from the obliterated head of a suicide victim? Beats me. In our state, people are allowed to transport and bury their loved one’s body on their own property so long as they’ve got the right paperwork. Which I suppose means no one’s watching if they decide to get all viking about it. Ultimately, the legality isn’t the issue so much as finding someone who’s willing to make it happen. And, cringing… I pass the buck.

“I think your best bet is to talk to a funeral home,” I tell her. “The medical examiner’s office is responsible for cause and manner of death. We don’t really deal with the disposition of bodies after they leave the morgue.”

I’m sorry, you’re going to need a permit to hand out pieces of your husband’s cranium at his funeral

She sounds disappointed when we say goodbye and I feel shitty for shuffling her along like that. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know specifics about funeral laws, but anytime I’m asked a question at work, I can’t shake the feeling like I’m supposed to have an answer- whether it’s my job or not. Someone could call asking for a banana bread recipe, and I’d probably die of shame for not having one committed to memory. I blame my Gen-x, standardized-test childhood. Back then, if you didn’t know the answer to a question, it was your fault.  No one ever considered whether or not the question was ridiculous or unreasonable… or even if you should know the answer.  Now that I think about it, a lot of people have gotten a lot of mileage out of me due to “question guilt.”

I think I might die mad about it.

-15:00- Call #5

I’m going to a suicide.

I see a lot of suicides.

I’m tired of suicides.

This guy was living in a group-home, which is a sanitized way of saying he just got out of prison and he was staying at a halfway house. I know some people who have gone this route and from what I understand, it’s terrible. On the one hand, you’re out in the world and you can see the sky and walk down the street and go to the bathroom when you want to.  On the other hand, it’s the worst dorm room situation ever. You have a curfew and mandatory drug tests. You have to hold down a job and pander to your boss, your parole officer, your house manager. You have to deal with navigating a society that in no way resembles the incarcerated norms you’ve adapted to. Worst of all, you have to live and get-along with your housemates: an array of similarly displaced strangers who may or may not steal your stuff or stab you in your sleep. From what I understand, many people violate parole and risk going back inside rather than live in a “group home.” Others try it out for a few weeks and decide to tap out and commit suicide rather than deal with “life inside” or “life outside.”

I arrive at the scene to find the house manager in the driveway, talking to the police. The house manager is a portly old bear whose ample belly protrudes well past his belt buckle. His arms are crossed and he puffs his chest up as he speaks to the police, clearly hoping to match their uniformed authority with his own. He’s the king of this ramshackle realm, and he isn’t used to being out-ranked…especially by a woman.

As I park the medical examiner truck, unload my gear and approach, the house manager ignores me. He’s talking to the officer who greets me with exaggerated deference. The cop introduces me to house manager who looks me over and I can feel his surface assessment bounce off like a skipping stone on water: skinny… blonde…GIRL. He turns back to the officer and resumes talking, dismissing me.

I am having none of this.

“Sir,” I say in a bright but firm tone, “I’m going to have to ask you to excuse me and the officer for a moment.”

His sentence trails off. He glances at me again, then at the officer.

“She’s in charge,” the officer says simply.

Manager-man is stymied and shuffles off to his car without another word. I watch him go. I recognize that this is a confusing moment for him. A “client” in his “care” is dead and he isn’t sure what’s going to happen. He doesn’t know if he’s going to get blamed, if the house is going to get shut down, if he’s going to lose his job. Like anyone else, he has wrapped himself up in his coping mechanism.  For some people, they become small and apologetic. Others overexplain and justify. Manager-man has opted for the- “I’m in control” tactic. I’ve just taken it from him. Poor guy.


The officer and I head back toward the halfway house and he gives me the lowdown on this situation. Our guy was found hanging off the edge of his bunkbed, suspended by the neck with an electrical cord. He was last known to be alive this morning when he was briefly contacted by investigating detectives who told him that his recent release from prison wasn’t the end of his troubles… not by a longshot. No one was yet sure what the story was, but something set this dude off. We are still waiting for a call back from his probation officer who has all the sloppy details of our guy’s latest problems.

As reported, my decedent is quite dead. He has been cut down by his roommate who discovered him.  That poor soul is the dude we passed back in the living room on our way up. He was sucking on a cigarette as though the smoke might cloud his brain and obscure the unforgettable memory of seeing a ligature suicide. Even after 13 years, I’m always a little taken aback by it- hanging people look weird: mouths open, usually the blackened tip of their tongue sticking out like dried jerkey, sometimes a thin, silvery line of drool dangling down their shirt- and the unnatural hyperextension of the neck, eyes drowsy and opaque.

This guy looks… well… he looks like a hanging. I turn my back to the body and address his belongings.  This is where the real interrogation takes place. I sift through a cinder-block of paperwork: Release details, parole agreements, drug and alcohol tests, and a sheaf of letters from a woman to her daughter… most likely the decedent’s daughter and her mother. Why does he have these?

“He have kids?” I ask the officer.

“Yeah, three. We’re trying to get them notified now.”

On the dresser there is a faded, framed photo: our guy on one of those roller-coaster splash rides with two small boys sitting ahead of him. The picture was taken at the climactic moment of the ride, just as the car reaches its zenith and plunges down into the water.  Everyone is laughing.  The kids look ecstatic. In the photo, our guy’s eyes are closed and his mouth is wide with an excited scream as they make the drop.  It makes me sad to look at it. Happier times. At some point his kids loved him. For a shimmering, held-breath moment, they were all delighted together.

“Child molester.”

I blink away from the photo. “What?”

“That’s what he was in prison for,” the officer pokes his head inside the door and motions to the phone in his hand. “He molested his daughter and did 15 years. Got out last Friday but it looks like some new charges have just been brought up. Detectives were looking into it. Looks like dude was about to get collared and have to do it all over again.”

I glance back at the photo, feeling… annoyed. I’m irritated with the emotional nickels I just fed into this dude’s bullshit slot machine. And I’m disappointed in myself for looking at that photo and believing the story it told- or rather the story it made me tell myself. I feel gullible, naïve. I know better than to feel anything for anyone while I’m working.

The officer goes on:

“Guess it’s his son this time.  He’s in college nearby- parole officer has been talking to him. Sounds like he’s just recovered some repressed memories of dad here sodomizing him in a shower when he was 8.”

“Oh Jesus FUCK!” I bark. “Okay… well I guess we know what happened then…” I numbly process the scene, take my photos and cram all of the dead guys belongings back into the dresser. “Fuck this guy.” I mutter to myself as I get the oldest son’s information from the officer and stomp back to my truck, passing the house manager who looks flabbergasted. I guess he just learned the reason behind his client’s suicide, too.

-17:30 Call #6-

I’m driving home to regroup, write some case files and steel myself for whatever the rest of the night is brewing up for me. I’m stuck in traffic and agitated with the amount of work I need to do. I figure fuck it. I dial the son’s number and route the call through the truck’s Bluetooth speaker. Another weird call:

When he answers, I introduce myself: name, title… but then, I’m lost. I’m a complete stranger but I’ve got intimate knowledge of what was probably the worst day of his life. We’ve never met, but i know things about him that he’ll struggle to tell his closest friends. I don’t know if I should play dumb or just lay it all out for him. I don’t know how this poor college student will react if I call our decedent his “father,” But should I just pretend I don’t know his father sodomized him in a shower when he was a child? That’s the kind of information that really informs your interaction with someone.

I’m tired. I don’t have the bandwidth to skillfully navigate this conversation. So I just stumble on ahead.

“I know the parole officer told me you’d be hearing from me. And I’m not sure I should be calling this man your father, but I know you’ve been informed of his death and I just need to talk to you about what happens next.”

“Yeah, Fuck that guy. To be honest, I’m glad he’s dead,” responds the son.

Inner high-five!

I tell him he doesn’t need to be involved, he doesn’t need to take time out of his life to make arrangements or even take notice of his abuser’s death. “One thing though, he did have some belongings.”

“I don’t want any of his shit.”

“I understand that, but I found a whole folder full of cards. I believe they were addressed to your sister and they were sent by your mother.”

Silence on the other end of the phone. Then, “What?”

“Yeah, dozens of them.”


And the son explains to me that his father had custody of his sister while their mother was in prison. Their father had always told them that their mother never wrote or called. In reality, he had been hoarding all of the letters, never letting his daughter see them. It was during this time that the abuse happened.

“Wowwwwww,” I marvel.

“Yeah,” the son sighs.

“Well if you want them, the house manager has all of it in a box, he can send it to you.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure she’ll want them. Our mom is back in prison for trying to kill her last year.”



We sit there, silent for a moment.

“I’m sorry…” I say, because what else is there?

He thanks me and takes my number in case he has any more questions later on. I don’t expect to hear from him. He doesn’t want to remember talking me- which is fine.

No one ever does.

Once again- I didn’t actually publish this narrative, but it felt good to write it.

It’s like traveling through the multiverse. I recently saw that new ”Dr. Strange” movie. I loved a scene in which Dr Strange and his companion basically blast thought about 16 different planes of existence in as many seconds. Then he vomits.

I’ve never identified so completely.

Every phone call is its own universe… complete with all new laws of physics that you’ll have to learn as you go. Up is actually down this go-round. Better luck next time, kiddo.

What weather system are you moving through this time? It might be raining ashes or rose-petals. Might be a slight drizzle, might be a nuclear war.

Wing it… do your best.

Pack an umbrella. How good is your coat? Did you bring a hat?

Take a deep breath.

Answer the phone.

A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Job, PART 2: If The Dead Could Speak, They’d Say “F^<K YOU!"- So I'll Just Say It For Them

Death is cool.  I get it.

When I first started as a medicolegal death investigator, I was giddy with amazement at everything I was suddenly seeing and doing. It’s normal to catch a couple Gs when you first enter the world of law enforcement, forensics, pathology etc.  One minute you’re watching it on television, the next you’re crossing the crime scene tape and you’re inside the scene. It’s fucking wild. How did this happen? I remember the first time a police officer said to me, “Well, what do you want us to do? It’s YOUR scene,” I was terrified and elated.  I was the real deal! I was in charge!  I had the lead in the school play! I was sitting with the cool kids at lunch!  I had the inside track on everything and I couldn’t WAIT to tell everyone every last detail so they’d all know how awesome I was.

You guys wanna hear about my latest decapitation?”

Of course, that’s exactly the problem. I wasn’t awesome. I was an asshole who thought she was awesome. I was working an internship at a medical examiner’s office. I was high on my own, newfound knowledge and I was keeping a blog that was WAY more inappropriate than this one- a blog that was found by my internship preceptors and almost cost me my career before it even started. I hadn’t learned yet.

“Learned what,”  You ask?

Learned that people are awful. I’m frequently awful. The world is a trash-fire and there are certain things you


…Like divulge details regarding people’s identities and deaths. Sure, I tell you a lot in this blog, but I certainly don’t tell you everything.  And the stories I DO tell you are mostly true. But some aspects have been shifted around just enough so my dead folks are safe and my identity and location aren’t obvious.

Oh, wait… you thought “Grace Baudino” was my real name? That’s adorable.

And I think, therein lies the crux of the matter.  You’ll notice I referred to them as “my dead folks.”  They are. They’re mine. Their stories are in my hands.  It’s up to me to see that their truth is told. I know these people. I know them more than their own families sometimes, more than the pathologist who will literally pry their brains out of their skulls.

I hold their faces in my hands and look in their eyes. I stick my fingers in their mouths. I squeeze their chests, feel their bones and run my hands over stretch marks and fat rolls that they’re too ashamed to show anybody. I pull their clothes off and document their pubic hair and nail polish. I rifle through pockets and cell phones, reading their text messages and suicide notes. I root through their bed-side tables and refrigerators. I find their drugs, their guns, their porn, their bottle of vodka they stowed under the bathroom sink.

I find hidden cigarettes when they told everyone they quit. I find positive pregnancy tests buried in bathroom wastebaskets. I even water their plants sometimes.  I’ll feed their fish and make sure animal services is coming to pick up their cat.  I’ve cried over some dead people because I was so heartbroken I would never get to meet them. I’ve hated others. But they’re all mine and I’m NOT SHARING THEM.

That sounds weird, let me backtrack.

At the beginning a death-investigator career, the dead are just a means to an end… an opportunity to have a new, cool story to tell. The weirder, the better.  Each case is nothing more than another stage, upon which to prove yourself. It’s fun, exciting and very SENSATIONAL in the truest sense of the word. But around year 7 or so, the varnish has all worn off your glamorous job and you really start seeing the deaths… like… you’re not just recording them anymore. By the time you’re broken in a bit, you don’t have the same frantic focus that you had as a rookie. Once you stop worrying as much about what you’re going to miss or screw up, it frees up bandwidth for you to really start seeing your decedents. They’re suddenly people again. At least, that’s how it went for me.

Of course, the problem is, you realize other people are “seeing” them too… and not in a good way. I feel about my dead people the way folks feel about their siblings.  I might get angry at how inconvenient they are. I might make fun of their home décor. I might roll my eyes with exhaustion and disdain and make snide remarks to the cops… but I’ll be damnned if I’m gonna let someone else do it. Furthermore, I’ll be damnned if I’m going to tolerate people treating a death scene like it’s a live-action episode of CSI.  If you want to see a show, go flip on Investigation Discovery. This isn’t the Roman Coliseum in 100 A.D.  People aren’t dying for your entertainment.

But we’ve lost track of that somehow.  We’ve all been given some weird entitlement serum and believe we have a right to witness complete strangers’ most intimate, traumatic and painful moments. Real life is nothing more than hi-def reality television… and it’s grotesque. To me, asshole spectators staring at a mess of blood and carnage is even worse than people thinking they have the right to see other people naked.  The entire nation has turned into a carload of drunken douchebags, yelling “show us your tits!” at every woman they pass on the highway.  Except they’re yelling, “SHOW US YOUR GUTS!” and they’re not even going to toss you a shitty string of Mardi Gras beads.  They’ll just yell, “The public has a right to know!” and mother-fuck you on social media if you suggest they’re in the wrong.

On the one hand, I get it.  People are curious and sheltered. I’m not sure about other societies, but in America, we’re cloistered from the reality of death. Death only happens in TV shows and movies, usually to a minor character and usually just to further an inane plot-line. But when death happens right in front of our faces, we’re frozen with disbelief and fascination. What are we looking at?  A summer camp of slaughtered teenagers on a screen is completely different from the caught-breath sucker-punch of seeing an actual person, stripped of their soul. Sometimes, I can practically hear the crackling buzz of peoples’ brains short-circuiting as they attempt to comprehend the fact that a death has occurred so close to them.  I imagine it feels a lot like standing right next to someone who just got struck by lightning. How did this happen?  How did it come so close? Why them and not me?

But shock and awe will only excuse so much gawking.

I remember the first time I really got pissed at a bystander. It was a complicated scene.  A couple had been found deceased in their home, a man and a woman. They were in their mid-50’s, living in the middle-class suburbs: as nondescript as a pair of paperclips living in an accountant’s office. But then they died, and their mauve little cul de sac turned into a glittering circus of red and blue lights.  I had just arrived on the scene and the typical collection of neighborhood busy-bodies were all gathering in the street along with the police cars and a couple of news crews who had decided to make a day of it.  I watched as one desperate housewife approached the crowd, asking what was happening.

“John and Sonia are dead,” came the answer.


No one had yet said anything about this scene being a homicide/suicide. At least not officially.  As investigators, the possibility of a homicide/suicide was on our radar.  But we knew better than to say so out loud. Of course, this woman didn’t give a shit about any investigation unless it involved the news crews gathering around to investigate HER… because that’s exactly what happened. Microphones were shoved into her face and reporters drilled her with leading questions about the deceased couple. Beaming with the attention, her performance amplified to Oscar-worthy proportions as she lamented the murder/suicide that had just taken place. What a shame it was! It’s never who you expect! She howled and wept and the cameras ate it up… putting it all on the evening news for the consumption of the general public.

Thing is… it wasn’t a murder/suicide.

Autopsies later confirmed that the woman had died of a stroke. And the man… shattered with grief… had opted to kill himself, rather than live without his wife. Post mortem changes confirmed he had died of asphyxiation approximately a day after her passing.  Of course, it took a couple of days to thread through the whole, tangled story.  But the media didn’t want to wait a couple of days. They wanted to run the story now.  “HOMICIDE/SUICIDE IN SLEEPY SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD!” screamed the headline. And there, on the front page of the newspaper was the “grieving community”… a.k.a. a bunch of dick-bag Karens, carrying on for the cameras.

When the truth came out, the media didn’t bother to follow up or issue a retraction. Subsequently, I was the one who got stuck on the phone with the couple’s son when he called and asked why the world had been told that his father had killed his mom and then himself. I refrained from telling him it was because some deplorable lookie-loo decided to make his parents’ deaths a springboard for her attention-seeking bullshit. I still gave a shit about professionalism and decorum back then. These days I wouldn’t hold back.

I used to try to take it in stride- the staring, the questions and the performative nature of people’s interest.  It’s normal, I suppose. But then I saw a guy lift his child on to his shoulders so that child could get a better view of a suicide victim who had jumped off the 5th floor of a parking garage. Things changed for me. That’s when I started stepping in. I could forgive curiosity. But, I could no longer abide people treating someone’s death as a side-show, or an opportunity… or an amusement.

I began giving lookie-loos the stink-eye when I marched on to a scene, making sure they saw the words: “MEDICAL EXAMINER” printed in big, block letters across my back as I passed them. I willed for my contempt to simply ooze off me with every step. That’s right!  I thought as I passed them. I’m in charge here and I DISAPPROVE of you! But soon I realized no one noticed or cared.

So, I began grumbling insults under my breath… which was a bit more satisfying but still didn’t really scratch the insistent itch of my ire.  In the last year, I’ve begun staring bystanders in the eye and barking, “CAN I HELP YOU?” I’m attempting to draw attention to the fact that they don’t actually have any reason to be standing there watching me pull a crushed body out of a demolished car.

Every time I start shouting at bystanders, the cops titter and exchange nervous glances. It’s like they sense what’s coming, the way animals can feel a tornado coming from miles away. Believe it or not, the cops are better-behaved than I and are far more concerned with upsetting the public than I have ever been.  With the advent of Black Lives Matter, the police in my area don’t attempt to block the public’s view of anything.  It makes sense, I guess. They don’t want to give the impression that they’re hiding their alleged nefarious deeds.

Subsequently, the cops have viewed my devolution into a snarky, confrontational monster with a mixture of delight and terror.  I’ve actually started saying things to people that they only think. And even as they snigger behind their hands, they wonder if my antics are going to get all of us fired.

All I can say is: Not yet.

I’m getting closer though. Recently, I had another “jumper.”  An elderly man who was beginning to lose himself to Alzheimer’s opted to walk off the roof of his 6-floor retirement home rather than inflict his dementia on his family.  I find these situations unbearably tragic. I believe our ancestors deserve better than to think self-destruction is their only option once they’ve outlived their earning potential. But this situation was made much worse by the gossiping old biddies who insisted on poking their graying heads out of their windows so they could observe me performing an external exam on the body. Normally, I would have just loaded up the decedent and taken him to a funeral home so I could assess him, but no one witnessed his terminal events and he had been found deceased in the parking lot.  There was some confusion as to whether or not he actually jumped, or if he had been hit by a car as he was walking across the pavement. And since it was a possible hit-and-run, the scene had to remain untainted until I made my assessment.

It was maddening.  I would bend down to palpate the decedent’s head or chest, to turn him over or take pictures of another injury and down came a sinister shower of whispers sprinkling down on me from above.  I would look up to see shades pulled aside or blinds split apart as the community reveled in the latest happening.  I was grinding my teeth to nubs and bristling under the stares until finally I just began shouting up at the windows. “THIS MAN DID NOT DIE FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT! SHUT YOUR SHADES AND STOP STARING!”

I also considered telling them that if they didn’t knock off the gaping I was going to come up there and throw them off the roof as well… but that would have been too far.  As it was, I had a sheriff’s deputy recruit helping me with that scene, and he looked a little worried as I shrieked my displeasure up at the neighbors.  Usually, the law enforcement field instructors like having me on death scenes because I’ll happily babble-on at length regarding death investigations.  This time however, I recall hearing the recruit ask his field instructor if we were really allowed to yell at people like that.  The field instructor said “no.”

That’s not the worst of it though.  The dam really broke a couple of months ago on the scene of an overdose.

I know it doesn’t sound like much of a spectacle.  It certainly didn’t attract as much attention as a 4-car pile-up or a double homicide.  It wasn’t so much that a hoard of lookie-loos gathered around like the witnesses at Christ’s crucifixion. But the situation… this single PERSON… finished me. My public exterior collapsed like a theatrical backdrop, revealing the rusty, crippled machinery that had kept the show running for over a decade.

It was cold, VERY cold. That was part of the problem.  It was also late. At my office we work 48 hour shifts- 8am to 8am two days later.  This was the second evening of my shift and I had been at home getting ready for bed when this call rolled in.  Some guy had been found deceased in the laundry room of an apartment complex.  The death was almost definitely an accidental overdose and it meant a mandatory scene investigation. My abdomen locked up in a painful spasm as dispatch relayed these details. I was tired. I had already been on several death scenes that day and I was not thrilled to add yet another laborious case file to an already monstrous load of paperwork. I ground my teeth with anxiety as I pulled off my freshly-donned pajamas and put my practical business casual back on. Stepping outside, I noted my breath hung in the chilled air as I shuffled to the county truck. I climbed into the driver’s seat and sat there, gripping the steering wheel for a moment, checking the clock to calculate the likely number of hours before I’d be home in my pajamas again… then how many hours of sleep I might still get, provided nothing else happened tonight.

“Fuck.” I murmured.

I heaved the truck into drive and rattled off to a multi-building apartment complex across town.

There was quite the show going on even as I arrived.  I pulled in and positioned the truck close to the death scene which had been surrounded by police tape. But a few yards away from this area, the investigating officers were engaged in a one sided battle royale with some crazy woman. She was wearing ratty pajamas and a pair of flip-flops.  Her hair was twisted into a makeshift bun that erupted haphazard tendrils of hair like an exploding firework.  She was screaming obscenities at the police and stomping around in a fury.  The police, to their credit, looked too exhausted to really get excited about her display.  The officers stood, casually observing the tirade and backing up a step or two whenever the woman’s orbit circled a little too close. One of the officers said something to her and this was apparently the last straw, because she yelled one last expletive and scurried off towards the street. For a split second, I was afraid she was charging into traffic.  But she course-corrected and veered back onto the sidewalk and disappearing into the night.

“What the hell was all that about,” I asked when the cops spotted me and approached to brief me on our situation.

“That’s our dead-guy’s girlfriend.  She lives in the apartment complex down the street.  I guess he was there and the two of them had some kind of fight.  He left and took all their drugs with him.  About a half hour later, someone in this complex comes down to the laundry room to get their clothes and finds our guy, unconscious on the floor, surrounded by scorched aluminum foil and other shit. She’s pissed because we wouldn’t give her the dead guy’s phone.”

-Which made sense.  In cases like this, the phone is often the “smoking gun” and the drug investigation taskforce (DIT) can use it to figure out where and how to contact dealers. Either the girlfriend didn’t want the dealer to get caught, or she didn’t want to lose her only means of contacting the dealer now that her boyfriend was dead. Maybe both.

“So, our guy doesn’t live here? How did he get into the laundry room?”

The officer giving the information, Brandon Ryans, motioned to three young men, who stood at the stairwell of a nearby building.  “They live here. They say the lock has been broken for months. Anybody can get in.”  The three guys were trying to appear nonchalant, shuffling their feet and smoking. But they were watching the evening’s happening with rapt attention… like they couldn’t quite believe they were actually inside the crime scene tape.

“Are we done with them,” I asked Brandon.

“Them? Yeah, we told them they could go a while back.”

“Then why are they still standing there?” I snarked back at Brandon, probably too sharply. It wasn’t his fault these dudes were lingering.  The cops have been heavily trained for the last couple of years NOT to tell people to fuck off.

I marched towards the civilians, with long, firm strides.  “Hey guys, are you part of this?” I was being polite, but definitely using a tone that a typical, male ego would call aggressive.  They looked at me and looked away, rattled that I had addressed them while everyone else had just been content to let them lurk.

“No,” one of them mumbled. “We’re just smoking.”

“Come on you guys…” I said in a conciliatory but final tone. “Go on and get out of here. This guy didn’t die for your entertainment.”

They bristled and exchanged looks, each of them wondering if the other was going to try and challenge me. After a beat, the speaker flicked out his cigarette and ambled away, making sure to amble off with a pouty: “Well, it wasn’t really all that entertaining…” He said this with a wounded air- as though he had bought a ticket to these amusements and felt that he’d overpaid.

“Worst death scene… EVER!”

I rolled my eyes and shivered in the sub-zero air.  As I walked to the landry room, I saw that the apartment complex was arranged with all of these buildings were facing inward toward the parking lot in a sort of courtyard configuration.  I saw curious residents all gathered at their windows, taking in the scene.

“Fuck.” I said again.  There was no way to shield the goings-on from public view. I was going to have to work with an audience. I greeted the DIT guys as I approached the laundry room, seeing with dismay that this laundry room opened directly to the outside and it was the size of a small walk-in closet.  The decedent had been dragged out by paramedics and now lay on the sidewalk under a couple of blankets… essentially on display for the whole world to see.

I jammed into the laundry room with the DIT guys and they showed me the paraphernalia. I took my pictures and gave them a ration of shit for hiding from the crazy woman confrontation outside- and they admitted it was one-hundred-percent true. When she had bulldozed her way on scene, they all scrambled into the laundry room to let the patrol guys sort it out.

I stepped back outside to perform a brief external exam on the dead guy- just enough to verify there wasn’t any obvious trauma or foul play. I felt the burning weight of hundreds of eyes on my back as I did this.  My muscles tightened even more and I tried to keep the body as covered as I could.  But it was impossible. I was going to load him into my truck and take him to the closest funeral home where I could do a proper external exam, but all of this would be tricky.  He was a massive human, easily 300+ pounds.  He was laying on the ground which meant we would have to lift him up and then parade him through this coliseum of on-lookers who were undoubtedly filming this whole fiasco with their bedazzled phones.

And FUCK it was COLD.

“Ok guys,” I addressed the officers. “I’m gonna need your help loading this guy.  I have to take him to a funeral home to get a good look at him.” The officers’ shoulders sagged at the announcement, but no one refused to help or walked away. (Except the DIT guys who were suddenly SUPER busy with the decedent’s phone).  I pulled my stretcher from the back of the truck, grabbed a body bag, breathed heavily on my hands to warm them and went to work.  It took four of us to muscle the dead guy on to the stretcher, all of us straining and huffing.  But we did it while keeping him mostly covered, which was a miracle. I was just coaching the police on lifting our dinosaur of a stretcher and wheeling it back to my truck when I heard the voice.


I whirled around, certain the crazy girlfriend had returned, maybe with a knife this time.

But it was a different woman. A mid-to-late thirties, portly, white woman who wore a velour tracksuit with “JUICY” printed across the ass in big, shiny letters.  She was clutching a convenience store bag and also had the exploding clutch of brown hair perched atop her head in a bun. She looked all of us in the eye with an expectant blink.  Not concern, definitely not alarm.

My eyes narrowed even as Brandon threw himself at her like he was shielding someone from a grenade.  But who was the grenade- her or me? Brandon and I have often worked together over the years. My husband and I have even gone out drinking with him.  Brandon has seen me go from fresh-faced newbie to embittered veteran and while he may have enjoyed watching the progression, he also knows I’m becoming a bit like aging dynamite. Anything might set me off.

“Hey…” He called nervously. “There’s nothing going on, it’s not a problem. Just a police matter ma’am, thank you!”

She would not be dissuaded.

“DID SOMEONE DIE!?” She demanded as she craned her neck to see around me and catch a glimpse of the dead man on the stretcher who, thankfully, was covered with sheets.

My back was to the woman as I had been guiding the stretcher off the curb and into the parking lot to load it into my truck.  Brandon was at the head of the stretcher and had an unobscured view of both my face and the caterwauling woman behind me. I can only assume that my expression looked like a gathering storm cloud. And Brandon was the wild animal who could sense the tornado coming.  He tried again, sounding a little bit more manic this time.

“Ma’am, there’s nothing to be concerned about. There’s no risk to the public. I promise you, nothing going on here concerns you.”

He gestured to me to go ahead and maneuver the stretcher forward, off the curb, past the woman and safely into my truck, away from probing eyes. I followed his direction, resolving to ignore her and just get the hell out of there.  I could barely feel my feet, I was hungry and even after I left the scene, there was still so much work to do.


She rattled off a couple more typical phrases, in particular a bunch of bullshit about her “rights” and how they applied in this situation.  She even went so far as to begin following us toward the truck as we tried to navigate past her and load up our decedent.

Something snapped.

I couldn’t say what. The evenings’ frustrations coalesced into a single, ferocious lightning strike in my head and the thunderclap was about to follow.

“That DOES IT!” I growled under my breath as I turned, letting go of the stretcher and stomping toward the woman who still stood there, clutching her phone, her cigarettes and her completely baseless sense of entitlement.

“nonononoNoNoNONONO!” Brandon reached out to grab me but had to grab a hold of the stretcher to keep it from rolling away… seeing as how I had just released it and was bearing down on the woman who blinked at me expectantly. “GRACE, it’s NOT WORTH IT!”

I ignored him. After almost 12 years of obnoxious observers, I was going for it. I was done with being the bigger person, I was done with professionalism. I was loaded for bear and I was aiming to give her both barrels.

“Ma’am,” I hissed at her as I pulled up to her. (“Ma’am” because I was going to rip her a new one but I was going to do it politely?) “I want you to take off all your clothes, right now.”

She gasped and stared at me for a second, like she couldn’t quite believe I had just said that.

“I… beg your pardon…”


“How… dare… you…?” she huffed in astomishment.


She stared at me for a moment, her confusion and shock slowly evaporating under my heated point. Her face shifted from blank to furious.


I whirled away from her and grabbed the stretcher, pushing it forward as I caught a glance at Brandon’s face.  His expression was a mixture of dread and amusement. He followed my lead and guided the stretcher to the back of my truck and helped me load our decedent as the woman’s screaming tirade continued… Variations on the theme: Whatever was happening, she had a right to know.

“You don’t have a right to shit,” Brandon called to her. I suspect he felt obligated to back my play, even as he was cringing at it.  She was still raining down a hail of profanity as I pulled out of the parking lot and drove away, leaving Brandon and the other officers to deal with the bomb I had just detonated behind me. I grit my teeth down to nubs as her caterwauling faded.

I’m not sure what I had hoped to achieve in that situation, but it didn’t happen.  Looking back, I guess I wanted her to consider her actions and recognize that she was in the wrong.  I wanted her to understand that human devastation isn’t a show to save her from her uneventful evening. This was a real person who was really dead… not some one-dimensional character on a shitty program.  He had real friends and family who would be really heartbroken over this.  And none of it was her fucking business.  Someone just lost their turn on planet earth, and whether or not he’ll ever get another one is up for debate.

But none of that mattered to her, just like it doesn’t matter to so many other people whose lives are ruled by the principle of: “I DO WHAT I WANT.”  And when we, as emergency workers, first responders and the undisputed janitors of the human race respond with: “Yes, but do you really want to be an asshole?” I’m always astonished at how often that question is answered with an unequivocal and resounding, “YES!”

I was disappointed as I left that scene.  I had always imagined that finally letting loose on a lookie-loo troll like that would feel good.  But it was a hollow victory.  She hadn’t learned or realized anything, just flipped out and I probably should have guessed it would go that way.  What’s more, I was not super proud of the fact that I had lost a hold of my faculties so much that I had actually engaged with a gawker.  Lastly, I felt guilty because I put the cops at risk.  Oh sure, my actions are my own and I don’t even work for the sheriff’s department.  But “juicy-ass scene-goblin” wouldn’t see it that way.  It was possible, likely even, that she would call in a complaint to the “Police Community Standards” hotline and regale them with a story about how a police officer ordered her to strip. I hadn’t been wearing my uniform coat and was dressed all in black, but I was there with the cops. She wouldn’t bother to make any distinction.

“Fuck.” I said under my breath as I pulled up to the funeral home. I dialed Brandon’s number on my cell phone and when he answered I didn’t bother to introduce myself. “That was really bad, wasn’t it?”

Brandon sighed. “Well… yeah.

“I’m sorry man, I’ve been wound super tight lately. I should’ve let it go. I’m sorry, you tried to stop me.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I heard him shrug. “It was awesome, but yeah. It was kinda bad.”

“Do you think she’s gonna call and complain? I don’t want you guys to get in trouble.”

Brandon sighed again. “I don’t know, she might. It’s fine, people are complaining about everything right now. Some girl accused me of being a racist yesterday when I arrested her boyfriend for beating the shit out of her. And she’s the one who called 911. The world is a shit show.  But on the upside, what you did was so off the wall, I doubt administration will believe it if she does complain.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Are you ok?”

I sighed. “I don’t know. I’m kind of on the teetering edge.”

“You’ve been on the teetering edge for two years now.  It’s why you’re so much fun.  Don’t stress about it. Go home, get some sleep. I’ll catch you later.”

Sometimes it feels like I’m living in reverse.  People are supposed to care less as they spend more time in this job.  I thought all the contact with trauma would make me callous over. Instead, I feel like my skin is getting rubbed off and I’m just a raw nerve, exposed to the world and everything in it. I’m taking things more personally. I’m getting more protective of the dead. I have less and less patience with people who exploit death as a curiosity an amusement… a side-show.

I think I care too much. It matters to me that these people are dead. They’re NOT just extras in someone else’s movie. I want people to know that… to feel that. Maybe I’m asking too much of the human race, but I care.

I feel like this job NEEDS people who care… but this job also DESTROYS people who care.

So what is the answer?

A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Job

Remember that book? “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

I did a quick look up and found out this charming little tale of childhood angst was first published in 1972. If you haven’t read it, maybe give it a look. You know, before it’s too late and you spend your life with an unexplainable sense of optimism, assuming everything is going to work out for you.

Let me explain.

The book is a story about an 11-year-old boy, Alexander, who has a catastrophic day in which he suffers numerous atrocities. He trips over his skateboard getting out of bed. He has to sit in the middle seat during his morning carpool ride to school. He gets shit on by his friends at recess. He goes to the dentist to find he has a cavity. He has to eat lima beans, he has to wear shoes he doesn’t like. He gets scolded by adults. His nightlight burns out and his cat doesn’t want to sleep with him. Throughout it all, he believes the remedy for his woes is to move to Australia.  In the end, Alexander’s mother lets him know that regardless of where he is or what he does, sometimes life will kick him in the teeth. All he can do is take it on the chin and hope tomorrow is better.

I get it. This book strives to communicate to kids that bad times don’t last forever. Things will improve and it’s important to develop a sense of resiliency when nothing is going your way.

That’s one way of looking at it.  On the other hand, I can’t help but see Alexander’s run of school-kid crises as preparation for what’s to come. Alexander is having a rough time of it and no one cares… Which makes this book perhaps the most Generation-X literary work ever published: Life is going to fuck you over, kids. Deal with it.

I think Alexander may have grown up to be a deputy medical examiner.

I think I might be Alexander.

Seriously, I’m not sure, but I believe books like these set the gaslighting tone of the 70’s and 80’s in which we were told that not wanting life to suck so much all the time was some kind of a moral failing. I don’t know about your generation, but I come from latch-key kid territory and the overwhelming theme of my childhood was this: Nobody gives a shit how you feel. Work harder.

I think most of us born-between-1965-and-1980 folks really internalized that message and have become the bone-grinding laborers that are currently keeping the world together while the Baby-boomers succumb to dementia and the Millennials battle for social justice in the streets. Speaking from my own experience, I would have loved to march and riot and demonstrate along with all the other outraged feminists.  But I have to work.  The dead bodies of my county aren’t going to clean up themselves, and my co-workers are just as overworked as I am. I can’t bring myself to call in sick-of-the-state-of-affairs when I know it would mean sticking my cohorts with a 72 hour shift. We’re all burned out.

I’m not gonna lie, things have been bad lately. I think the combined stress of the pandemic along with a whole array of political upheavals and civil unrest is taking a brutal, unacknowledged toll on the human race. People have been dying of COVID-19.  But, there have also been more suicides, more homicides and WAY more instances of people dying BADLY than I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously, you guys… shit is fucked.  Maybe it’s always been that way and my original programming: the suck-it-up-no-one-cares-how-you-feel-programming… is simply starting to fall apart. The lesson I learned from Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is failing me.  Maybe I’m just done taking it on the chin and hoping tomorrow is better.

Anyway, it’s been a run of some gnarly shit- and since this is MY blog and MY coping mechanism… I’m gonna go ahead and talk about it.

(I guess that’s as close as you’re going to get to a trigger warning.)

-Case #1- Bad men and beautiful creatures

It was the second day of my 48-hour shift, and I use the word, “day” lightly. The time was 4:55 in the morning, and I know this because it was the third time I had been woken out of a dead sleep to deal with someone else’s problems.  The first call had been at midnight.  The second call had rolled in at 3 am. Now it was 4:55, I had barely slept and I was shlupping my cranky ass to a suicide… Rather, ANOTHER suicide. There have been so many lately.

It may surprise one to hear, but much like paramedics, death investigators have certain scenes that they don’t mind running, and other scenes that they despise with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.  For example, back when I was a paramedic, I was a whiz with cardiac calls, but I hated respiratory calls.  I would completely fall apart and do a shit job.

The quirky, stoic medical examiners displayed on network television would have you believe that all deaths are created equal and we who investigate them are indifferent and unaffected at each and every one. 

That is not the case.

I hate suicides on a visceral level. Walking into a suicide scene feels like swimming in toxic waste.  You come away from it feeling heavy and poisoned. I hate asking witnesses about the dead person’s slow descent into hopeless misery.  I hate looking at blown-off heads or mouths erupting with frothy foam from an overdose.  I hate heaving dead bodies down from their hanging points. I hate measuring ligatures. I hate peeling ropes, electrical cords and ratchet-straps out of the deep furrows around people’s necks. I hate having to explain to the dead person’s mom or wife or brother that we know it’s a suicide due to a multitude of reasons. I hate telling them their suspicions the death may have been a homicide or an accident aren’t based in reality or fact.

That morning, as I wrote down the address and headed to the scene, I hated all of it more than ever. In addition to the standard issue post-suicide angst, I would also be battling sleep deprivation. I’m physically incapable of napping during the day, which meant the remaining 27 hours of my shift were going to be fueled by caffeine and rage. I wasn’t even halfway done. And a shift at the medical examiner’s office is like a box of chocolates: There’s a lot of variety, but sooner or later, all of it is going to keep you awake, make you fat, and give you a disease.

I stampeded onto the scene with a degree of salty sarcasm that frightened even me.  Sadly, stopping at a Starbucks for a cup of liquid decency didn’t improve my mood. The only thing that helped the situation was the fact that none of the decedent’s family was at the scene when I got there.  Normally, the cops are supposed to keep witnesses around so I can interview them myself. But today I didn’t give a shit. In fact, I was relieved no one emotionally invested in the death was still present, because the second I walked in the door I was off like a sarcastic comet… my contempt for everything and everyone trailing a searing streak behind me.

I barked questions at the cops, I sneered at the Walmart décor… asking if it was from the “Suburban Desperation Collection.”  I demanded to know who had cut the decedent down from the ligature point in her closet. And did that investigative genius bother to take any measurements or pictures before they destroyed anything of evidentiary value. To cap it all off, I also asked why the fuck these people had a drawing of Christopher Walken in their living room.

(It took me a second to realize it was actually a cringe-worthy, cliché “Native American’s” face superimposed over an equally mediocre landscape.  Whoever had drawn it had attempted to accentuate the stereotypically high cheekbones and solemn countenance.  But they had only managed to render a white-washed, gaunt ubiquitous male who, hand-to-God, looked just like the Hessian Mercenary from Sleepy Hollow.)

By the time I made it to the decedent’s body in the living room, my tirade died down a bit. I heaved out an exasperated huff as I knelt down beside her.  Her name was Krista. She was 21 years old. Blonde. Eyes closed with black eye-makeup flaking off her eyelashes on to her cheeks. Her shirt had been cut by the fire department during resuscitation and lay in shreds beneath her.  To facilitate CPR, Fire had also yanked her bra up to her chin rather than try to cut the underwires.  He jeans were slashed from the cuffs to the waistband so an interosseous IV could be drilled into her leg. Tangled IV lines and plastic wrappers from resuscitation equipment surrounded her.  There was a tube jammed down her throat and vomit smeared her face and dribbled into her hair. There was a deep, waxy furrow looping around her jawline and up behind each ear. It was vulnerable, grotesque and in a word, humiliating. I glanced around the living room.  There were pictures of her with her family, hung everywhere. She was smiling in all of them, clearly laughing in a couple as well. I felt a twinge in my chest.

“Oh, kiddo… what the hell did you do?” I sighed as I pulled the airway tube and began peeling away layers of resuscitation equipment. The officers spoke as I worked. They detailed Krista’s last night on Earth as I ran my hands over her scalp and face, feeling for bumps, bruises, deformities. Feeling for movement where there shouldn’t be any.  Looking in her mouth, pushing on her teeth to make sure they were all still in place. I checked for scratches, bruises, defensive wounds… anything that might suggest she didn’t do this to herself.

“This is her parent’s house,” The officers told me. “By all reports she was a pretty normal kid until she moved in with some guy for a bit.  That fell apart and she’s been a mess ever since. She was living here right after the break-up. But apparently she wasn’t willing to abide by ‘house rules’ so parents kicked her out a while ago and she’s just kinda been couch-surfing ever since. They let her sleep in her old room here from time to time. But I guess she won’t keep a job and parties all the time: In and out at all hours, problematic behavior, steals, lies etc.  Anyway, she shows up yesterday at like 7am, asking if she can crash here for a bit.  Mom & dad say yes, even though they’re leaving to go to out of town for the weekend and she’s going to be here alone with her sister who still lives here.  The sister decides to go to a boyfriend’s place, leaving our girl here alone.  Krista decides to have some people over even though she’s been told not to.  Sister calls at about midnight and hears people in the background.  Sister tells our girl to get those people out of the house.  They hang up and about 2 hours later, Krista texts the sister and tells her not to come home tonight.  Naturally, the first thing Sister does is come right home. She finds our girl alone, trussed up in the closet.  Sister cuts her down, calls 911 and here we are.”

I glanced down at Krista’s face as though I expected her to offer some kind of explanation or rebuttal. The officers continued:

“We’ve already talked to one of our girl’s friends who was here earlier.  The friend says she didn’t like Krista’s new boyfriend who was here, so she left right after that phone call with the sister. I guess Krista’s boyfriend stuck around for a bit, but then left too.  We got his number, but we haven’t called him yet.”

“Well, shit,” I guffawed. “Dial him up and put him on speaker! We have questions for him.”

The officer nodded. “One more thing,” he said. “Sister says Krista was at some birthday party recently.  She got pass-out-wasted and I guess she was sexually assaulted by a couple of guys there. It wasn’t the boyfriend. He wasn’t there.  But I guess she didn’t file a police report because she felt like it was her fault.”

“Fuck…” The twinge in my chest tightened into a twist, like my heart couldn’t watch anymore and was trying to turn away. I stared into Krista’s dead face for a second and I could feel the officers’ eyes on me as I absorbed this information. My glance snagged on another smiling pic of our dead girl as I straightened up from my crouched position on the floor. “Fuck, that’s… terrible… Ok, mom and dad have been notified?”

The officers nodded. “They’re driving back right now, it’ll probably be another few hours. Sister is at a friend’s house.”

I stood there, silently for a moment.  Looking at Krista’s face and trying not to think of the pictures on the walls around me: pictures of her smiling, pictures of her laughing with her sister or hugging her dog. I wanted to say something to her. I wanted to hold her and soothe away the trauma in her life. I wanted to rewind it all and tell her she was going to be okay.  But she wasn’t ok.  She was dead.

“Boyfriend,” I announced to the officers. “Get the boyfriend on the phone.”

They nodded again and one officer, Derrick, dialed the number we had been given for the boyfriend.  He put the phone on speaker and we gathered around as the ringer trilled.  We had to call 3 times but he finally answered.  I kept quiet as Officer Derrick introduced himself and told the guy (let’s call him Tony) about the death.

To his credit, Tony was pretty upset.  He gasped and sputtered and his voice shook as he asked what happened.  Derrick calmly explained that Krista had killed herself and we knew that he had been at the house earlier in the evening. “Listen, Tony,” Derrick said. “The medical examiner is here with me.  You’re on speaker and she’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Man… o-ok,” Tony gasped as the reality of the situation punctured the fog of sleep.

“Tony,” I spoke loudly into the phone in Derrick’s hand. “My name is Grace, I’m the county medical examiner. I need you to answer some questions for me.”

“Yeah… yeah.”

“You’re Krista’s boyfriend, right.”

“No… not exactly… we’re talking,” he mumbled.

My eyes narrowed and I glanced at Derrick, who shrugged and rolled his eyes in response. “you’re ‘talking.’ Ok. What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. We hang out but it’s nothing official.”

“Right. Okay. I understand you were here tonight.  Can you tell me what happened?  What was going on? How was Krista acting?”

Tony launched into a confused description of being invited over to the home, driving across town to get there, the “vibe” of the whole thing being “pretty chill” until the sister called.  At which point the other girls in attendance “later-ed out” and he and his buddy left soon after.

“So,” I rubbed my eyes with one hand as I took the phone from Derrick. “How was Krista acting when you left.”

“I don’t know… She got really quiet.”

My ears pricked. “What do you mean ‘she got quiet?’”

Tony fumbled with his words for a second. “She got quiet, she seemed… quiet… I don’t know.”

“Was she upset?”


“Did you guys fight?” Tony was sounding a bit evasive. He was couching his answers in equivocations in order to deflect something. Not quite lying, but definitely side-stepping.

“No…?” he hesitated.   

I was starting to lose my patience with Tony. “OK, go on.”

He fumbled around for a bit, meandering through some feeble tale about they were supposed to go paddle-boarding the next day and her friends were lame and some other such bullshit. His voice went higher and the words came faster with no destination or point in sight. The tone of his monologue made my teeth grind until they squeaked.

“Tony… tony… tony… TONY STOP TALKING!” I interrupted him mid-sentence as he blathered on about absolutely anything other than what I was asking.  The deputies froze at my tone and exchanged a glance. I have a reputation for being kind of a hard-ass, but I don’t think any of them had ever actually heard me yell at a “witness” before.  But Tony was trying to wiggle out of something and I wasn’t having it. “TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.”

“Well… I drove all the way over there from across town, and I thought we were going to hang out. But then we had to leave and I told her I was annoyed-“ His voice trailed off.

-and that’s where the real story colored itself in. I knew exactly what had happened. Tony had driven across town, thinking he was going to get laid.  And when Tony didn’t get laid, he let Krista know exactly how he felt about it.  He had burned a good $7 in gas on the possibility of an orgasm. When he didn’t get what he felt entitled to, he had berated Krista and she got -as he called it- “quiet.”

I asked him if he knew about the sexual assault at the party.  He said he’d heard about it but wasn’t there and didn’t know the details.  His voice broke and he started babbling again. I could tell he was winding up to kick-off some hysterics and I wasn’t interested. I handed the phone back to Derrick and walked away as Tony began wailing. I didn’t care.

Tony was an idiot.

I’ve known the type.  After getting out of an incredibly abusive relationship, I attempted dating a “nice guy,” as in: he wasn’t a tattooed psychopath with a substance abuse problem. But despite the fact that I had told Mr. Nice-Guy about my recent, traumatic past… that didn’t stop him from kicking stones and whining that I had neglected to have sex with him after a few dates.  Specifically, he didn’t get a pony-ride on his birthday and he felt cheated.

Another time, another boyfriend wove together an epic guilt trip when I made moves to go to sleep when he was expecting sex. “Of course, maybe you just don’t LIKE sex,” he’d accused glumly. “Or maybe you just don’t like sex with me.” (Later that night I woke up to the sound of him noisily jerking off to porn in the bathroom. When he came back to bed to find me up, he told me it was my fault he’d been driven to such behavior.)

Still another time, ANOTHER boyfriend confronted me with near outrage when I had taken a sleeping pill on a camping trip, thinking I was about to turn in for the night. “What do you think you’re doing?” he had demanded as I washed down my Benadryl with a sip of water.  

I bet if you’d asked any of those guys what my reaction was to their behavior, they’d say that I “got quiet,” too.

Because I did.

In each of those instances, I froze with confusion, anger, shame. What should I say? What should I do? Am I wrong? Is he?

I knelt down again next to Krista as Derrick tried to talk Tony out of his imminent melt-down. I couldn’t help myself.  I didn’t want the deputies to see me, because, after all, I’m a hard-ass. But I wasn’t just going to leave her there. I had to do… something.  I reached down and cradled Krista’s head in my hands, stroking the sticky hair away from her face. I put a hand over her eyes and closed my own for a moment. I can’t put words to that moment because I didn’t say anything. I was just trying to reach past whatever barrier she had slipped through in her final moments. I see you. I know what happened to you.  I’m so sorry, kiddo. I’m sorry so many people failed you. You deserve better. I’m sorry all you get is me: a random stranger standing over you on your parents’ living room floor. I’m so sorry.

When I glanced back up, Derrick was watching me.  He’d handed the phone off to the other deputy (Tony was now audibly sobbing over the phone in another room) and when our eyes met, he said that he’d called the body transport crew and they’d be here soon. I stood up, straightened my coat. “Ok,” I sighed.  I felt heavy. Like I just didn’t have the energy to even be sad or say something to Derrick who looked concerned, like maybe I would start crying too. I wouldn’t, I was just weary.  Weary of loss. Weary of tragedy. Weary of what human beings do to each other and themselves.

I walked to the front door and stood in the foyer for a second. It was almost 5 am: early enough that the sky would still be dark, and it wouldn’t take the transport crew long to arrive. It was also early enough that the neighbors wouldn’t be staring out their windows or coming outside to ask why all the police cars were there. Sighing again, I opened the front door. I needed to breathe a bit.

There, right at eye-level as I opened the door, a hummingbird hovered in the entryway.  Facing inward as though it had been about to knock on the door. The tiny thing didn’t flinch or fly away, but rather hung there, regarding me with fearless curiosity.

My breath halted in my throat and the moment froze like a paused movie. Its wings were a dark blur and I couldn’t completely see it in the dark. But its throat was such an astonishing neon green it looked like it was lit from the inside.  “Oh…” I gasped as the hummingbird zipped a few inches closer, then backed away again. The little green light twitched and flashed with each miniscule movement. We remained like that, staring at each other for a few suspended seconds before it turned and disappeared, leaving me in the early morning stillness. I couldn’t move.

“What are you doing?” I heard Derrick behind me, breaking my trance.

“I… uh… there was a hummingbird. It was… green.”

“Hummingbirds are cool.”


The transport crew came and took Krista’s body away and throughout the rest of my shift, I grilled every cop I saw about whether or not anything could be still be done to prosecute the guys who attacked Krista at that party.  The answer was pretty much the same all around: She hadn’t reported it and now she was gone. Those cases are hard enough to pursue when the victim is still alive and willing to talk.  Without Krista to make the report, there was almost no chance those guys would ever answer for what they did to her.  No one took it lightly, either.  Every cop and detective listened intently and shook their head in frustration. Everyone felt the same way: angry, disgusted, helpless.

The next day, I had the dreaded talk with Krista’s mom. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, but I mentioned the sexual assault when she asked me if I knew what happened. As I explained what we had found out about the incident Krista’s mom sighed, sounding almost exasperated. “I told her… I told her these things could happen.  I warned her about drinking…”

I get this a lot.  People feel compelled to explain things to me, to justify what they did or didn’t do.  They defend themselves or the defend the dead person.  It’s unnecessary. After over a decade of doing this job, I don’t really feel invested enough to make judgements on who’s a good person, who’s a bad person or who’s to blame. I just want to get my paperwork done.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel kind of … incredulous at this response. Like, okay, it’s important to warn kids about the things that could happen if they drink too much.  But still, in the aftermath of her daughter’s sexual assault and subsequent suicide, this I-told-her-so reaction struck me as being pretty… awful. Granted, this wasn’t my family and our conversation was only a glimpse into their dynamic.  But damn. The whole situation burrowed me deeper into a state of bleak ennui. In the immortal words of Charles Bukowski: “People are not good to each other. Perhaps if they were, our deaths would not be so sad.”

Or, in the words of Alexander: “Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad…”

I did my best to file it all away in the “things I can’t think about or it’ll kill me” drawer in my brain. Also, I didn’t tell anyone about the hummingbird because I knew it would sound all woo-woo or whatever. I mean, it’s silly to attach significance to it, right? Hummingbirds happen – my desire to turn its appearance into a tiny, little, neon miracle… maybe Krista’s soul flying away from a bullshit, human existence… stupid… right?

I didn’t even tell my deputy husband, Mike, how upset I was by the whole scenario.  But it appears someone did. Imagine my surprise when he came home from work a while later, put down his gear and regarded me.

“Derrick is going after those guys.”


“Derrick, he was with you on the suicide of the girl who was assaulted at a party.  He’s interviewing the other witnesses, he’s going to try to go after them.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, it might not go anywhere.  But he’s at least going to get them on law enforcement’s radar. We’ll know who they are. “

And it’s only now funny to me how I went to that death thinking that no one invested would be at the scene. No one who cared would be around.

I cared. Derrick cared.

Sometimes, you’re alexander. You realize no one gives a shit how you feel. You take it on the chin and hope tomorrow is better.

But sometimes, something lights you from the inside.

Sometimes, you’re the hummingbird.

I hope I’m the hummingbird.

Stay tuned for cases #2, #3 and #4

Bleach and Bleachability

So, today we’re taking a brief break from the “Acting Out” posts of yester-week, and I’m addressing a problem that has once again found it’s way into the news

Yes, folks, once again the prospect of drinking bleach has come to our attention.

I recently joined a google group for true-crime aficionados and the following news article was under discussion:

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link, rest assured that the majority of the information is already included in the title. A Florida family allegedly sold thousands of bottles of bleach, claiming it was a cure for the coronavirus. They called it “MMS” for “Miracle Mineral Solution.”

Florida. Amirite?

Now, most people realize that drinking bleach is not a good idea. But as I read through this article, it occurred to me to wonder what the “general-public” ruling is on drinking bleach. So, with a whole day that was packed with other stuff I should have been doing, I decided to dedicate some time to really unpacking the whole, “drinking bleach” question: We all know it’s bad… but HOW bad.

Here, I should note that while I was on my quest to really unpack “drinking bleach,” I had the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on in the background.

What follows is the brief essay that I posted for all my new google-group friends to read. I call it Bleach and Bleachability in honor of Jane Austen and every bastardization that has ever been inflicted on her beloved works.

————————BLEACH AND BLEACHABILITY—————————————————

(Please do me the favor of imagining the first two lines of this being read by Kiera Knightly with a lovely baroque piece being played in the back ground as you you gaze over the English countryside:)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a wife, must be in want of a means to dispose of her.

And although, heretofore, many have supposed that bleach ingestion may be a convenient and available means to such an end… in truth one must endeavor to educate one‘s self before simply adulterating the offending individual’s tea with a spoonful of Clorox.

So, obviously, we’ve all heard Trump’s speech in which he blitheringly mumbled that ingesting cleaners might cure the coronavirus.  I was just as horrified as anyone but didn’t really think about it much more than to assume that the gene pool would be well rid of anyone who looked to our ignoble 45thpresident for medical advice.  But upon being presented with this article, I couldn’t help but contain my curiosity.  Many, many years ago when I was a shitty paramedic, I remember hearing a story of a paramedic instructor who would begin the “toxicology” portion of paramedic school by opening a bottle of bleach and taking a swig of it.  His point being that everything we’ve been told about “toxic” substances isn’t always true.

sorry, wrong “poison”

I took my curiosity to my search bar, just to see what ye olde internet was saying about drinking bleach these days. One of the first articles I ran across was on the web-site Quora (which apparently doesn’t waste much time with fact-checking). A young man by the name of Luke Harrison stated: “just a little sip of bleach can kill you.” He then launched into an admirable work of gruesome science fiction in which he boldly stated that this, “little sip of bleach” would do a person in within 15-30 minutes. He then described how, if someone survived, the bleach would have burned the esophagus and stomach to such a profound degree that the unfortunate soul would have to get an “esophagectomy” and would never be able to eat solid food again.

Feeling somewhat doubtful, I then checked Luke Harrison’s credentials and discovered that he expects to graduate from college in 2023, AND he wrote this little treatise on bleach drinking in 2018.  So… yeah… pretty confident in his medical knowledge for a high-schooler.

Quora… it’s a real think tank…

FINALLY, I simply went straight to the source and called the state chief forensic pathologist and asked him about the toxic effects of bleach.  He said that the toxic effects of bleach are almost completely dependent on the concentration of the substance and the overall health of the person drinking it.  Most people wouldn’t have easy access to highly concentrated bleach and would have to settle for whatever could be found on store shelves.  These products typically top out at a concentration of 6%.  

The biggest issues tend to be less about the theoretical “burning” of the esophagus and stomach (although bleach is corrosive and this can be a problem if you have pre-existing tears, ulcers or esophageal varices due to other health issues) The real concern seems to be more the bleach altering the pH of your blood, because let’s all remember… what you put in your mouth, ends up in your bloodstream. Human blood has a pH of 7.35-7.45, whereas bleach has a pH of 10-11 (making it alkalotic, NOT acidic.) This can do a number on your blood cells (they will hemolyze and die, flooding your bloodstream with blood-cell debris) and result in an acute kidney injury that, again, may be further complicated by an already existing condition.

So… what does drinking bleach do?  Well… it depends.  In a healthy individual, it’s reasonable to expect that drinking a cup of bleach won’t feel GREAT, but it won’t kill you.  Especially if you chase it with a whole lot of water and a swift kick to the ass… because, why the fuck are you drinking bleach, idiot? It’s also reasonable to expect that REPEATEDLY drinking bleach will cause enough problems that you’ll end up in a hospital long before you actually die.  At that point the hospital staff will (hopefully) stop you from drinking bleach and get your dumb-ass better so you can go out and find other bone-headed ways to do yourself in.  Finally, it’s reasonable to expect that continuing to drink bleach WILL kill you as repeated exposure to the substance will eventually cause an esophageal or stomach perforation followed by sepsis.  And/Or it will eventually turn your kidneys into grumpy little brown nuggets who won’t want to do their job anymore due to the lousy working conditions.  

But remember, these outcomes largely depend on the concentration of the bleach.

So ultimately- FUCK THESE GUYS for selling people bleach and telling them it was a miracle coronavirus cure.   And as for Luke Harrison… well, judging by his completely unfounded confidence in his own knowledge of what will kill you and what won’t, I don’t expect we’ll be bothered with his Quora opinions much longer. 

Oh… yeah… and if you want to kill your wife, bleach poisoning probably isn’t the most expeditious way to pull it off.  Feel free to hit me up for a more effective method.


Anyway, while none of my new friends have yet asked me for new and different ways of dispatching an unwanted spouse, I did receive one marriage proposal.

Not sure how to feel about that…

New Podcast Episode!

Hey there folks…

Here’s another survival story. This one comes from the faraway land of Mexico… where my friend Duque managed to survive a shootout and kidnapping attempt… then he managed to leave that life behind and simply commit to social justice, cold drinks… and cooking tacos.

We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy Dead Men's Donuts

Greetings Travelers! Your favorite snarky medical examiner is here with more morbid adventures! There's a new format. I'm going to alternate episodes: For every episode featuring a survival story, the next episode will be a true story from my own experiences as a Medicolegal Death Investigator… but more importantly… as a Woman Medicolegal Death Investigator on the Autism Spectrum! That's right, just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder- turns out, I'm neurodivergent (of course, a lot of people already knew that but it was news to me) Anyway, this weeks story is a reintroduction to me, my profession and a true recounting of my very first autopsy
  1. We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy
  2. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  4. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  5. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach

New Podcast Episode!

Hey guys…

So, now I have two new blog entries in the works… because things happen faster than I can write about them. But they’re coming. I swear they’re coming.

In the meantime, here is a new podcast episode-

This is a story of miscommunication, racial tension, and 75 tootsie rolls (or a laser pointer)

We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy Dead Men's Donuts

Greetings Travelers! Your favorite snarky medical examiner is here with more morbid adventures! There's a new format. I'm going to alternate episodes: For every episode featuring a survival story, the next episode will be a true story from my own experiences as a Medicolegal Death Investigator… but more importantly… as a Woman Medicolegal Death Investigator on the Autism Spectrum! That's right, just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder- turns out, I'm neurodivergent (of course, a lot of people already knew that but it was news to me) Anyway, this weeks story is a reintroduction to me, my profession and a true recounting of my very first autopsy
  1. We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy
  2. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  4. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  5. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach

Lord Voldemort Rides Again!

So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. It turns out podcasts take up a lot of time, but a new adventure in mortality is almost complete. Stay tuned! But in the mean-time- here is the latest podcast episode-

We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy Dead Men's Donuts

Greetings Travelers! Your favorite snarky medical examiner is here with more morbid adventures! There's a new format. I'm going to alternate episodes: For every episode featuring a survival story, the next episode will be a true story from my own experiences as a Medicolegal Death Investigator… but more importantly… as a Woman Medicolegal Death Investigator on the Autism Spectrum! That's right, just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder- turns out, I'm neurodivergent (of course, a lot of people already knew that but it was news to me) Anyway, this weeks story is a reintroduction to me, my profession and a true recounting of my very first autopsy
  1. We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy
  2. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  4. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  5. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach

New Podcast Episode

So, here it is- Chris’s story.

We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy Dead Men's Donuts

Greetings Travelers! Your favorite snarky medical examiner is here with more morbid adventures! There's a new format. I'm going to alternate episodes: For every episode featuring a survival story, the next episode will be a true story from my own experiences as a Medicolegal Death Investigator… but more importantly… as a Woman Medicolegal Death Investigator on the Autism Spectrum! That's right, just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder- turns out, I'm neurodivergent (of course, a lot of people already knew that but it was news to me) Anyway, this weeks story is a reintroduction to me, my profession and a true recounting of my very first autopsy
  1. We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy
  2. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  4. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  5. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach

So… I’ve heard that people have had a rough time with anchor cutting off the podcast episodes after only a couple of minutes.

Has anyone had that issue?

Well- just so you know, it’s available on Google Podcasts

Or Stitcher

Or Spotify

Or Apple Podcasts

I’m sorry, I have no idea how to link those

Anyway, my point is- if you want to listen, you can find it all over the place…

and you SHOULD listen… I mean I like that people sometimes enjoy the stuff I write, but the fact is- writing essays can get kind of tedious for me when I’ve spent an entire shift cranking out case files.

SO- my own stories will continue to come suffering down the line. But in the meantime- listen to a survival story or two.


New Podcast Episode!


this story isn’t new to you guys, but it is likely the first time you’ve heard me read one of these stories first-hand. If you would like to hear me read “The One That Got Away” to a live audience- you can check it out here:

We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy Dead Men's Donuts

Greetings Travelers! Your favorite snarky medical examiner is here with more morbid adventures! There's a new format. I'm going to alternate episodes: For every episode featuring a survival story, the next episode will be a true story from my own experiences as a Medicolegal Death Investigator… but more importantly… as a Woman Medicolegal Death Investigator on the Autism Spectrum! That's right, just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder- turns out, I'm neurodivergent (of course, a lot of people already knew that but it was news to me) Anyway, this weeks story is a reintroduction to me, my profession and a true recounting of my very first autopsy
  1. We're Back! Special Episode: Neurodivergence and My First Autopsy
  2. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  4. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  5. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach

Otherwise- congrats to us all for surviving another week of the apocalypse!