Haunted or Traumatized: Why Not Both?

You can get through a lot in life with the right soundtrack.

I’m always acutely aware of this when I’m on shift. Heading off to a death scene is kind of a downer, but heading off to a death scene with a well-chosen song blasting out your speakers is kind of awesome.

That night:

I had been on a conference call with a bunch of friends when the pager went off. This virtual meet-up was a weekly occurrence and had become a beacon of connection in my otherwise isolated, weird-kid life. To be brief, on Instagram I had made friends with a nation-wide collection of police officers, death investigators, nurses and morticians and a group of us would jump on an audio app called “Clubhouse” and commiserate on Thursdays at 6pm. (We still do if you want to join- we call ourselves “The Why Incision.” Look us up.)

It’s great to have a community of people with whom to talk shop. Sure, my friends and “readers” always enjoy hearing about my work shenanigans. Until they don’t. Everyone loves true crime until it gets… like… super dark and you start talking about the really fucked up shit. Then you start crying and people get all bent out of shape because you didn’t issue a trigger warning. With “The Why Incision,” there’s no need to edit yourself or warn anyone that you’re about to say something incredibly disturbing. Everyone has seen it all, done it all, smelled it all and thrown up on their own boots. Nothing is taboo.

We’re fine… we’re all just FINE

Back to the night at hand, I was being dispatched to a decomposing body in a creek bed. Naturally, I was disappointed to leave my group chat with my buddies, but they had all agreed I should absolutely keep them on speaker and continue our dialogue while I was driving to the scene. Furthermore, one of them dared me to roll up to the scene playing “Panama” by Van Halen as loud as possible. Never one to disappoint an audience, I did just that… even stopping a block away from the scene to cue up the tune so the chorus would be hitting right when I arrived and jumped out of the truck.

I pulled up to the suburban trailhead and erupted into the night like an 80s vixen in a music video. I can’t be sure, but I think my arrival was accented by a waft of smoke and a fire display as David Lee Roth screamed “PANAMA” into the night. The wooded area where my decedent lay was a few hundred feet off of a sidewalk that hugged a tidy, sterile series of condos on one side. The young, upwardly mobile with their designer dogs and toddler’s on tricycles stared in horror as my boots punched the ground and I heaved my scene bag out of the truck. My compatriots in the chat room across the country cheered through the phone as I excused myself from the conversation and strutted to the small clump of emergency workers. They were gathered in the quaint circle of benches next to the gate leading to the designated green-space. This “Green-Space” was actually a wide, savage swath of wilderness that tore a jagged rift through an otherwise “nice” neighborhood. Austere statutes of city founders stared their disapproval down copper noses as I approached the officers with a grin. Call it childish, if you will, but one of the things I love about this job is its unapologetic interruption of sanitized life. It’s an appropriate metaphor, I suppose: the straight pathways of a quaint walkway with order on one side and raw, untamed foliage on the other. It’s a reminder that utter and complete chaos is only a few steps away from your tastefully decorated apartment. Death is the ultimate badass- it doesn’t care how much you pay for your 2-bedroom, 2-bath with a community room and an HOA. Death is wildly barreling through the world with reckless abandon and won’t be deterred by a fence, or a groundskeeper with a set of hedge trimmers. PANAMA!!!!!

“He’s that way,” said one of the detectives as he gestured down the paved trail. “Maybe a quarter mile.”

I glanced down the pathway, and turned back to the officers. A detective being there was unusual. Normally detectives didn’t leave their homes at night unless there was something undeniably suspicious about a death. I mulled this over as I returned to the truck and pulled the stretcher out of the back. On the one hand, this was a smaller town in our county and it didn’t take much to rile the locals. But still, a decomposing body in the creek usually meant a transient individual died where some poor cross-fit jogger would find them… not really something that constituted a forensic mystery. Someone must be hunting for overtime, I concluded. Honestly, how weird could this death be?

I slammed the door, hit the lock button on my key-fob, slapped my bag on the stretcher and turned to the officers. “Okay, let’s go.”

Our company was somber as we rolled down the pavement. “Nice couples” came out on to their green-space-facing patios to watch as we marched by. I resisted the urge to smile and wave as our parade passed. In a few minutes, we arrived at the side of the officer who was guarding the access point to the decedent. “The stretcher won’t make it,” he observed as we drew closer. He pointed at the tangle of trees and bushes where something of a “path” was visible… and I use the term “path” loosely. The sidewalk cut off and a narrow dirt trench wandered off into the woods. The trees hung low and brambles crowded the ground. Beyond the glow of the lamp-posts lining the sidewalk, the woods were swallowed in darkness. The black sky hung behind the trees and bushes like a thick velvet backdrop. And we were going in.

He’s back there… good luck!

I pulled out my notebook and asked for the details, figuring this would be the last time my hands would be free to write anything down for a while. The officer guarding the path listed off the call times and few facts he had at this point. Some dude with a new metal-detector had decided to take his new hobby into the unknown. He had hiked into the woods behind his home, only to be met with a rank smell and a horrifying sight. There was dead body laying in the creek bed. The sun had still been up when the witness made this discovery and he had stumbled out of the woods and called the police, likely throwing his new metal detector in a dumpster on his way home.

“It’s BAD, Grace,” said the officer as we picked our way through the woods. “I mean… REALLY BAD. It’s covered in maggots. You can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, you can’t tell if he’s black or white… and… and… ” the officer gulped. “The ducks were eating him.”

“What?” I stopped dead in my tracks.

“The DUCKS, Grace. The ducks were all over him. THEY WERE EATING HIM.” The officer shook his head as though he was trying to dislodge to vision from his mind… one of the most benign, serene creatures on the planet, voraciously consuming human flesh.

I thought about it for a moment. On the one hand, most wild animals show little restraint when it comes to eating rotting flesh. Mother nature is terrifyingly efficient in that way. On the other hand, ducks aren’t really known for being stone-cold carrion scavengers- not like crows or rats. And a second later, when the truth dawned on me, I opted to keep it to myself. While the ducks may have inadvertently swallowed a mouthful of decomp… my guess was the ducks were eating the maggots as opposed to the dead guy himself. The ducks were probably in hog-heaven with all the wiggly little morsels that were suddenly available for consumption. And I could have said as much to the officers. But I loved the notion that the police would now be convinced that their town was overrun with zombie-ducks: demonic water-foul with a craving for human flesh.

It took a while to pick through the brambles and bushes. Even though our decedent wasn’t too far off the sidewalk, an epic battle stood between us and his body. I was raised in Arizona, where the high-desert climate and lack of rain prevents anything from overgrowth. But there are no such limiting factors here. The unbridled lushness of the greenery is both beautiful and terrible to behold. Things grow and keep growing and there’s nothing to stop them.

As a child, I remember reading the story of Sleeping Beauty and the hundreds of knights who perished trying to battle their way through the thorny foliage surrounding her tower. The image meant nothing to me as I had never encountered a plant more ornery than a raspberry bush with it’s modest pricks and pokes. But after moving here, I was called to a suicidal hanging in which the decedent had wandered out to his favorite tree by a river in order to do the deed. I’d had to stumble and crawl through a half mile of overgrown blackberry brambles in order to reach the body. The brambles were well over my head and decorated with half-inch-long, skewering needles that would break off in your clothing and skin. The tangles would catch hold of your pant-leg and grip you in a spiked noose. It took hours to get to him. And we could only carry him out after a deputy showed up who had a machete in his car for just such an occasion.

This scene wasn’t as bad as that one, but it was close. My pant legs and hair were full of snagged leaves and thorns by the time we arrived at the side of our decedent…. or rather… above him. As the branches cleared to make way for the creek. I discovered our decedent was at the bottom of an almost 12 foot drop off. The ground and trees gave way to a cliff-like overhang, with our dead guy laying in the partially empty creek-bed below. In the darkness, the terrain and the body were practically invisible. But the police officers illuminated his body with flashlights… scattering a small collection of zombie ducks as they did.

“Shit.” I muttered as I stared down at him.

“Yep,” said the detective at my side. “We also have a big pile of belongings up here in the woods. No idea if it’s his or not.”

The “pile” consisted of several shopping bags from a nearby Target, along with items scattered through a small clearing just above where the dead body lay. And it was… a bit weird. First I saw the wig: cheap, shoulder-length, brown hair. Then I saw the make-up. Then the barbie dolls… then the barbie-doll clothes… LOTS of barbie doll clothes. On the upside, there was a bottle of prescription medication and a cell-phone that wasn’t password protected. But even these items presented a problem.

Our area has a massive homeless population. Even in a nice, suburban area like this.. the wooded areas are crowded with “unhoused campers” who leave colossal collections of debris in their wake: wrecked tents with bent poles and broken zippers, shredded sleeping bags, empty food containers, papers, clothing, etc etc. There’s no way of knowing who actually owned any of it. Anything with a name- such as a license, credit card of prescription bottle, might belong to the inhabitant of the abandoned “camp” or it might just be shit they stole out of someone’s car. It might be the remnants of a previous camp. The woods around any community was littered with piles of flotsam, left there by and indigent population that stayed for a few nights before being eradicated by law-enforcement when the locals complained.

“There’s another camp a few hundred yards that way,” the detective waved his flashlight toward the north. “We’ve got a few people there. We’re asking them if any of them know this guy. They’re all saying ‘no.’ They claim they had no idea he was here.”

I sighed. “Well, let’s go take a look at him.” I ambled down into the gully, swinging off exposed tree roots and rocks as I made my way down the side of the drop off into the creek bed with reluctant officers scrambling along behind me.

Our decedent was laying face up, with his head and upper body exposed and his legs partially submerged in the water. He was writhing with insect life and his face was gone. The body was swollen with bloat and the skin was black and festering. half-illuminated with flashlights, it was clear he had been here for at least a week or two. As I bent over him, I heard skittering and splashing in the water and brush around me. Our arrival had caused the scavengers to scatter and the night was full of sounds as the animals retreated.

Oh… you’re taking him? I guess… that’s fine…”

“Shit,” I said again. We were screwed. The body was unrecognizable. It might have been an average-shaped human at one point. But the decomposition had rendered any features unrecognizable. Even if we found some form of ID. We would never be able to confirm if the face matched the picture. What’s more, the body was partially bonded with the earth below it. Getting him out of here would be quite the production. It was dark. The decedent was impossibly placed and layers of skin would slide off him when we started moving him.

“We’re going to need the fire department,” I said to the detective who had bravely descended to the dead man’s side with me.

“Yeah, they’re almost here.”

“Ok.” I gave the body a cursory look. “I don’t see any obvious injuries, but I’ll never know until we can get him out of here and into better lighting.”

The detective nodded wth grim understanding. “We’ve sifted through the belongings. We have a name: Alexander Winthrope. 45 years old. It might be him. I don’t know.”

“Alexander Winthrope…” I tasted the name. It sounded like he should be playing tennis at the country club, not decomposing in a creek bed. I glanced above, a couple of officers were looking over the edge of the embankment. It was possible our guy had just been sitting on the cliff-like protrusion and simply fell. It wasn’t a fatal distance and he didn’t have any obvious breaks. So maybe he had some kind of natural event. Or he was high on something. Maybe someone stabbed him in the back and threw him off. It could be anything.

I clambered back up to the clearing above. The police were picking through the pile of miscellaneous items. I joined them as we examined each new object with our flashlights. An empty bottle of metformin with the Winthrope name on the side, the dolls, a massive collection of doll clothing. A few receipts from the Target down the street indicated all of these items had been purchased at the same time about 10 days ago. Then we found it- a small, pre-paid cell phone. I flipped it open and the tiny screen sprang to life. I flipped through the call log, flipped through the contacts (there weren’t many) and out of curiosity, went to the photos.

The first few weren’t anything interesting: a blurry picture of someone’s feet, a selfie of a handsome man with olive skin, shoulder length black hair, glasses… wearing a newsboy cap, smiling. But next was a series of photos of… Barbie dolls- The very Barbie dolls that were laying at our feet now. And what was weird about the photos was that they weren’t weird. Not to be vulgar, but I would have expected to see photos of Barbie dolls in compromising positions: Barbie, naked, lounging in the mud. Barbie and Ken going at it doggie style on the forest floor. These are the kinds of photos I’m accustomed to seeing on the phones of my decedents. I mean- not always with Barbie dolls. But you get the idea. I’m used to expecting the worst and having that expectation exceeded.

This phone was filled with pictures of the Barbie dolls, fully clothed and faces directed at the camera as though they were posing for a friend. They looked like a bunch of buddies, hiking in the woods together. Their stiff plastic arms were wrapped around each other in camaraderie. Some waved, all unblinking smiles and good times. It was… weirdly wholesome. Like someone had done a photo-shoot in the forest with a half-dozen of their closest plastic friends.

“What the hell?” I mumbled to myself. I showed the photos to the cops and detective who looked equally uncomfortable. Matched with the bags and receipts, the answers we came up with only produced more questions. Why the hell would someone (most likely this Winthrope guy) spend almost $200 on Barbie dolls, doll clothes and make-up, only to bring it all out here to take posed photos.

There was a wallet with an ID, Alexander Winthrope again. It looked like the selfie in the phone, but that didn’t mean anything. Both items could be stolen.

“Have we called the fire department yet?” I asked the officers. As though on cue, we heard talking and rustling from the woods behind the clearing and 3 rubber-clad firemen erupted from the woods.

I hate firemen. Everyone knows it, including them. They’re the frat boys of the emergency services world and they think they know everything. I, on the other hand, know that I don’t know everything… but I DO know more about death than they do.  I also know that I’m in charge on death scenes… a matter they seem to take some issue with. In my experience firemen are generally uncomfortable with the thought that they might not be the most important people in any given situation. They hate not being in charge. And they really hate a woman being charge; especially a woman who isn’t impressed by them.

Ugh… you guys again…

Funny thing is, I’m so acutely aware of my disdain for America’s Heroes, that I am sickeningly nice to them. I really do my best to be cooperative while maintaining a death-grip on my authority. So, when they arrived at our scene, I smiled and greeted them as though I was hosting a tea-party in their honor… a smelly, maggot-ridden tea party. I graciously escorted them down the drop-off into the creek bed where they stood around discussing the extrication process. It was bad. They would have to rig up a whole pulley system with a basket. Everything was slippery: the cliff-side, the creek-bed, the decedent. We were looking at quite a production, one that was almost impossible in the dark.

The Fire Lieutenant pulled me and the detective aside and told us just that.

 “I mean, if it were a matter of life and death, we could do it, no question. But we don’t have a full house tonight. The next closest truck is in the middle of a structure fire and to be completely honest, doing this right now is dangerous. The drop off is only maybe a dozen feet, but trying to rig up a wide-angle rescue for a dead guy at night really isn’t worth the risk to my crew.”

(For anyone paying attention, this is why I actually hate firemen: Pure jealousy. They’re way better than I am at advocating for their own well-being. They’re comfortable saying: “No, it’s too dangerous.” -thereby avoiding injury and burnout. Meanwhile, I’m wearing a pair of grey slacks and sensible flats while I slide down a 12-foot embankment into a creek bed in the dark. YOLO!)

The detective and I exchanged a look. This wasn’t a HUGE problem, but it was a problem. One of the officers took initiative to check and see staffing levels and returned to let us know the area was “below minimums”- which is to say, there weren’t enough officers on duty to adequately protect the city. And there definitely weren’t enough officers to leave one standing there in the woods to guard a dead body all night until the fire department felt more comfortable.

“Well…?’ I said to the detective.

“Well, I don’t like it, but we don’t really have a choice. I mean he’s been unguarded down there for how long?”

“I don’t know, a week or more.”

“Right, so he’s been down there at least a week. He can lay down there one more night. It won’t make a difference.”

I shrugged. “I guess not.” It felt grossly negligent to just leave an unguarded dead body overnight. But I certainly couldn’t stay there by myself. And while I could’ve made a fuss and demanded law enforcement post a uniformed officer at the scene, or demand that fire suck it up and get to work, such behavior certainly wouldn’t have won me any friends. Not that friend-making is my guiding star…

“Okay, well… we’re out! Good luck tomorrow!” The fire department rolled away in their big, fat, stupid man-mobile with all the ladders and lights. They tittered like children at a fart joke, giddy with the feat they had just pulled. They had just passed the grossest buck ever to tomorrow’s crew and now they were going back to the station to play video games and eat chili.

I watched them go. No such luck for me. I was on a 48 hour shift and would still be on duty tomorrow morning when this debt became due.  

The officers and I agreed to meet back here at 9 am. We packed up our gear and silently walked back to our cars. The detective loaded the dead guy’s stuff into a plastic bag and put it in his trunk until tomorrow. Our mood was somber and ashamed. No one liked what we were doing, leaving him there. But what choice did we have now? 

Oh… Wait… You’re LEAVING him!?! Well that’s just GREAT!!!

The next morning arrived and even though I arrived at the scene at 9 am sharp, I was clearly late. I pulled up to find the Fire Department had already chopped down a bunch of the trees and rigged up a body-basket. Furthermore, they were all dressed in full Tyvekk gear and wearing their SCBA tanks as though they were in a zombie movie or something.  I followed the path from last night and once again descended the wall of the creek bed to view my decedent. He was putrefying and the bloating and rot completely obliterated any identifying features. Shoulder-length black hair fell from his scalp in clumps when I rolled him on to his side to check for trauma. The body was water-logged, stiff and covered with mud. A visual exam was all but impossible. When the detective asked if I could name a cause of death any more than last night, I shrugged.

“Well, I don’t see any obvious injuries. We’ll have to put him through the Lodox and see what we’ve got.”

“lodox” Latin for “fancy x-ray machine”

Overnight, the detective had done some research. He had gone by the Target store where all of the items came from and asked to see their surveillance footage from the date and time on our decedent’s receipts. He had recorded some of the footage on his phone and showed me while the fire department did their thing.

There was our guy… Shoulder-length black hair below a newsboy cap, wearing the same clothes he had on now. He was pushing a cart-full of newly-purchased items past the registers and out the door.

“Okay, I guess that answers that question.”

“Yeah,” The detective agreed. “I also ran him through the system and found some info.  He’s living in transitional housing- trying to get out of being homeless. I guess he’s Native American… like grew up on a reservation in South Dakota. He worked at a gas station nearby. Everyone said he was a super nice dude. Nicest dude you’ll ever meet. No one’s seen him for about a week and a half. They all figured he went back home. No criminal history. Police have had a bunch of contacts with him but all because he was a witness or a reporting party.” The detective shrugged. “He was also gay…”

I absorbed this description and felt a twinge of sadness. His sexual orientation didn’t matter but it also did. The LGBTQ+ population is at a higher risk for assault as well as suicide. You combine that with being Native American & homeless and in my mind that made this death more tragic by a thousand-fold. He was special.  I mean, every person we deal with is special in some way. But Alexander’s death hit me with a profound sense of loss. I thought about the pictures of the dolls. The large quantities of make-up. He came out to the woods to perform a photo shoot with his little plastic friends in a way that most people would consider “weird”. I considered the description- that he would do anything for anybody, nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He was homeless but trying. I even considered his name… “Alexander Winthrop.” I couldn’t be sure, but my guess was it wasn’t the name he was born with. Likely it was some “re-branding” attempt to Anglicize him and make his existence more palatable for the white, hetero-normative masses.  

He should be alive.

I felt like I was standing over the body of every “weird kid” I’d ever known… including myself: People who wanted nothing more than to simply exist in a world that was constantly trying to churn out straight, obedient, breeder drones. It broke my heart to think of him out here, alone… dying. We needed him. The world needed him. People like him are in short supply and now he was gone.

I’ve got 99 problems and white, hetero-normative, patriarchy is basically all of them.”

“So, have you called the pathologist?” The detective shook me out of my musings. The fire department had him out of the creek-bed and were trucking him through the trees and brush toward the trail were my stretcher was waiting. I hadn’t made contact with the doctor who would make the call: autopsy or no. I had an unfortunate suspicion I knew how it was going to go when I did. The on-call pathologist for today, Dr. Newton, was a brilliant, sardonic, impatient curmudgeon. Normally I loved his filter-less sarcasm, but this didn’t bode well for Alexander. Dr. Newton was retiring at the end of the year. He cared less and less about cases like this one. He would hear the words: “Homeless” and “Decomposed” and immediately shut off.

“Not yet, I’ll do it now.”

As expected, when I called Dr. Newton he sighed with exasperation. “There’s no obvious cause of death,” I said, trying to sell the post-mortem exam. “We don’t know if he fell, we don’t know if he was assaulted or had some kind of natural event. The medications at the scene indicate a history of high-blood pressure and diabetes. I guess it could also be an overdose. I’m really not sure.”

“He’s HOOOMELESSSSS!” Dr. Newton said with exaggerated deliberateness. “It’s an overdose. Get some blood samples if you can and then release him to a funeral home. I’m not doing an autopsy on a decomposed transient.”

I cringed and glanced at the detective. As much as I liked Dr. Newton I also found him intimidating as hell and I was unnaturally invested in his opinion of me. My resolve withered.

“Ummm… ok. I’ll talk you later…” I hung up and faced the detective. I felt very much like a straight, obedient, breeder drone as I spoke. “Dr. Newton says, ‘no dice.’ He doesn’t want to autopsy him.”

The detective stared at me. “Are you serious? We have no idea why this guy is dead. It could, literally, be a hate crime and he doesn’t give a shit?”

“Uh, no.”

And this is one of the unfortunate truths of the medical examiner’s office. Who gets an autopsy is so often reliant on the mood, workload and career-path of whatever pathologist is in charge that day. Some are more contentious than others. Some are burned out and over-worked. And all too often, those factors determine who gets an autopsy and who doesn’t.

“What the fuck?” said the detective, who was clearly a better person than I was at that moment. “Can you call him back and tell him that I would really like him to reconsider.”

I nodded and shame-facedly dialed Dr. Newton’s number again. He was no happier to talk to me a second time, but I made the case. “We’re not even absolutely sure of his ID. He’s only 45 and without some kind of exam, I have no idea what his cause of death is…” I held my breath, waiting for the tirade to start… the kind of tirade Dr. Newton was famous for.

But Dr. Newton didn’t tear into me like a bear in a campsite. “Well, If that’s how you guys feel, why didn’t you say so the first time? Bring him in, we’ll take a look. We’ll at least put him through the Lodox and see if he’s got any bullets in him. Sheesh. Have a backbone.” And he hung up.

I nodded at the detective who nodded back. Not to put too fine a point on it, I felt like an idiot. First I had been bulldozed by Dr. Newton. After which I got bulldozed by the detective. Then I was shamed by Dr. Newton for being bulldozed in the first place when he was one that did the dozing. And on top of it all, Alexander was dead and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the human race had seriously lost out on an uncommon soul and no one knew it but me.

It was weird.

I took Alexander’s body to the morgue and dropped him off, the same as any other. But as I was leaving, I placed my hand on the body bag, feeling Alexander’s chest beneath the thick plastic. “I’m sorry, man. Better luck next time. I’ll talk to you later.”

I didn’t expect it to be true.

Let me explain.

I was raised by Charismatic, Evangelical Christians who were really into the whole concept of angels, demons, God and the devil. There was some disagreement regarding “ghosts” and other entities.  But the message was clear: Things that we couldn’t see were exerting influence over our lives and circumstances.

I didn’t question it and believed my crazy-ass mother when she would claim that any number of everyday annoyances were actually “spiritual attacks from ‘The Evil One.’” I mean, it seemed a little egotistical to believe Satan himself would take time out of his day to flood our toilet or give the dog ticks. If there is a malicious, universal enemy to the human soul, you’d think that villain’s time would be spent on big-ticket items like genocide and getting the Kardashian renewed for another season. But whatever. Believing in the supernatural seemed to offer her some sense of order- if good or bad things happened, it’s because something or someone was making them happen and the world wasn’t just random chaos.

The evil one has come for you…

My worldview has changed… since random chaos is pretty much all I see. I believe in cause and effect. I believe in a logical chain of events. But I also believe some shit just happens for no fucking reason. I’ve had to stand quietly by while grieving families and heartbroken friends ask me all kinds of existential questions about their loved one’s death. They want a reason… a good one.

I don’t try to answer such questions any more than I would try to drain the ocean with a tablespoon. But my general opinion is that there is no reason. People get wiped out just as easily as a squirrel can get hit by a car or a bee-colony can collapse. Every living thing on this planet is subject to forces bigger than itself.  And for the most part, those forces- disease, physics, entropy, death- don’t care if we live or die.  They’re busy barreling through the universe, dancing to their own tune and we may or may not be the unfortunate bug in their path. It’s nothing personal.

So, I guess I’m not sure if I believe in God or the devil anymore. I’m not sure if I believe in the metaphysical or a “spirit realm.” I’ve never seen a ghost, nor have I ever had an irrefutable “paranormal” experience. And I can’t help but think that if dead people DO hang around after they buy the farm, they wouldn’t bother trying to talk to living people. I mean… have you met living people? They’re total dicks.

That said….

Alexander followed me around for a while. I suppose I could say that I was haunted. When I spoke to his family about the death, they told me he was more or less an orphan who was raised by his aunt & uncle in pretty severe poverty. He never fit in on the Sioux reservation because he was gay and he cast himself into the big, wide world about a decade ago and they hadn’t heard much from him since. Hearing his story only tightened the hold his death had on my heart. I thought about him at the most inopportune moments. I held the image of his smiling phone-selfie in my brain.

How do you miss someone you never met? What the hell is up with that? I am the picture of dry stoicism on SIDS deaths. I have handled death scenes with multiple child fatalities with out blinking. But Alexander got to me. He stuck with me. Maybe he’s still sticking with me. I don’t know.

I have a lot of friends who are “Woo-Woo.” They’re all about the spirit guides and ancestors. A couple buddies claim to be mediums, another is a crack-shot with tarot cards. ALL OF THEM have something to say about my constant contact with the dead. One in particular says that the dead get distracted by me and attach to me rather than move on to their appointed afterlife. I dismissed the thought like the possessed toilet in my childhood home… until Alexander came along.

I finally had to ask someone… my friend Leesha. I suppose if anyone has otherworldly powers, it would be her. And I find her believable because she’s never tried to make money off of it and has no problem telling people things they don’t want to hear. That and she has an adorable southern accent. I approached the subject as delicately as I could as we were working out in the gym (yes… the gym).

“So… I’m in the throes of a mind-bending existential melt-down! Let’s do some cardio!”

“So… uh… So, I think I might have a passenger…”

Her eyes widened. “Oh my god… are you pregnant?”

“Jesus… NO. Not that kind of passenger. I mean like … a spirit or a ghost or something… I don’t know.” I was a little disappointed she didn’t immediately notice. I half expected her to greet me as I walked in the door and then say something like who’s your friend, here? As she gestured to the empty space beside me.

“Ooooohhh. Ok. Tell me all about it.”

The whole story came pouring out. Followed by a haphazard description of the completely unreasonable connection I felt with this guy… like I was supposed to know him, or we should have been BFFs but something went haywire and we ran into each other too late. And now I was weirdly mourning the loss of someone I would never have the privilege to know… and it made no sense. For all I knew, he might have been a raging asshole… or maybe I was the raging asshole and he would have hated me. Who knows?

Leesha listened intently. “I don’t think it’s anything bad,” she finally said. “I don’t think he’s feeding off of you or anything. I think maybe he just likes you. That can happen. He might just be hanging around for a bit to see what you’re up to and he’ll move on when he’s ready. If you want, you can perform some kind of ritual for him- to let him go or let him know it’s time to leave… I mean if he’s bothering you. I could do it with you…”

I went home and thought about it. I even researched burial and funerary rites for his Sioux heritage. But I wasn’t really in any position to kidnap his remains and then build an 8-foot scaffold in my yard to place him closer to the sky as animals consumed him, returning him to the cycle of life.

I mean, my neighborhood doesn’t have an HOA or anything but still.

“Get rid of that eyesore! It clashes with my topiaries!”

More than anything, it seemed like the most audacious act of cultural-appropriation EVER: Two middle-aged, blonde-haired, white women engaging in some ridiculous, craft-store, ceremony in an ignorant attempt to honor a Sioux guy that they never actually met.

“Ok… maybe not THAT BAD, but close…”

Ultimately, I figured… to hell with it. First of all, Alexander technically had been returned to the cycle of life. The maggots ate him… who were in turn eaten by ducks… who then scared the shit out of the police. So that felt as full-circle as one can get in this time and place.

Also, if Alexander wanted to hang around for a bit… if he wanted to ride the ferris-wheel a couple more rotations before he called it quits on this plane of existence… than I guess he could do it on my dime. If he was there he wasn’t hurting anything, just freaking me out a little bit.

That was a while ago now. I’m not overcome with thinking about him, which I suppose means that nasty little trauma-center of my brain finally released its stranglehold on that memory. But it could also mean Alexander moved on at some point while I wasn’t looking. Or maybe I was doing something really stupid and he was like, “Ugh… I’m done with this bitch.” But I do still think about him. And that makes me wonder if, in some bizarre, metaphysical way, he’s cruising through to check in.

But then I remember all of the Woo-Woo was squeezed out of my world long ago. I’m a nihilist. I’m a spiritually-bereft, white, American, government worker. I don’t actually believe any of this…

But if you believe it…

… tell Alexander I said “hi.”

Thank You For Being a Friend

It’s important to rest… that’s the rumor.

My training coaches swear that your gains come from resting after you work out. The bible says that even God rested after creating the world. I know people who go lay in salt-water isolation tanks when they need to rest. My husband meditates. People swear by “resting” and it sounds like a great idea… in theory.

(How do I get this guy’s job?)

I wouldn’t know from personal experience. “Rest” means almost nothing to me. When I say I’m “resting,” what I mean is I’m frantically scrambling to find something to do that feels rewarding and significant. In my world, “rest” means rattling a tin-cup against the bars of my own brain, pleading for a sense of fulfillment and completion that only comes from working myself to exhaustion. I don’t rest, I ruminate. Furthermore, it appears, “rest” is intrinsically tied to other concepts like “asking for help,” “leaning on trusted friends,” “slowing down” and “relinquishing control.”

Yeah… I’m no good at those either.

I guess there’s a whole mental-health revolution going on that calls this inability to chill-the-fuck-out, “anxiety.” But I grew up in the 80’s and mental health wasn’t a thing. Personal reflection and “self-care” were considered “touchy-feely” and were regarded with the same dubious disapproval as masturbation or eating more than 2 cookies after dinner. I remember my mother sneering that phrase: “touchy-feely” with an exaggerated eye-roll when I brought home a 4th-grade assignment called, “My Book About Me!” As the title suggests, it was a year-long project in which we wrote about ourselves- what we liked, what we hated, what we thought, how we felt. My parents thought it was the dumbest idea ever. They might deny it, but the lesson was clear: Nobody gave a fuck what I liked or hated. And asking a child what they thought or how they felt was tantamount to spoiling them with lavish indulgence. I wasn’t a person. I was a prop.

It really prepared me for government work.

As I’ve mentioned before, our shifts are 48 hours. We can sleep if there’s time. We can eat, we can go home, we can go to the gym. We work on call, but it’s rare we actually get to relax. When you’re not working an active death scene, you’re answering the phone, writing case files, drawing toxicology samples, etc. etc. It’s not uncommon to bust your ass for an entire day, and then bust your ass for an entire night… only to continue to bust your ass for ANOTHER whole day… and then bust your ass for another entire night. For really-reals, sometimes you work the WHOLE 48 hours.

When I tell people about 48 hour shifts, the response if often, “How is that legal.” And the answer is… I don’t know. Maybe because we never complain and we almost never “tap out.” I’ve only waved the white flag 2 or 3 times in the last 12 years. The last time I was too exhausted to continue a shift, I called my boss only to have him tell me that there wasn’t anyone to take over and I’d have to work another 5 hours before relief was available. Never mind the fact that he was sitting in the office surfing Amazon and eating Cheetos. Whatever. He was too busy “bossing” to consider the possibility that I might fall asleep at the wheel and crash our truck into a school bus.

(It’s fine… I can keep going…)

We carry on. I’m not sure how. Maybe because we generation x-ers are still tethered to the idea that you grind until you die because that makes you a good person. Maybe because after a certain point, exhaustion becomes non-sensical to the point of being downright entertaining. That was certainly the case on THIS particular day-

To be fair, this day was actually a continuation of a night that didn’t end so well. If you want to get caught up, feel free to go back and read this post:


(For anyone who isn’t prepared to commit to 2 posts in one sitting, here’s a recap: I had just spent the entire night on an uncommonly distressing suicide. I hadn’t slept in almost 24 hours and had just experienced a super metaphysical run-in with a hummingbird.) Everyone on the same page now? Good. Moving on…

I was just leaving that suicide scene when the pager went off. I was being called to an overdose on the other side of town. The news hit me like bird-shit falling on a dirty car: not ideal but everything was already such a mess that there’s no point in getting upset about it. My nerves were wrapped in a numbing blanket of static as I drove. I turned down the designated cul-de-sac to find myself in a decrepit little alley in a forgotten corner of our county. The houses were crumbling, the grass was dead, long-deceased cars lined the sidewalk. The uneven pavement was cracked and sprouting weeds from every fissure. Searching for house numbers, I almost bottomed out the truck in a pot-hole that was at least 8 inches deep and as wide as a bathtub. At the terminal end of the roadway, I joined my compatriots who were gathered in the driveway of a small duplex. There were two patrol officers, Detective Hirsch and a crowd of sniffling onlookers whom I correctly assumed were family members of the deceased.

“Hey Grace,” they all greeted me as I oozed out of the truck and stumbled toward them. I think I drooled out a semi-conscious hello. Without waiting for more, the primary patrol officer launched into the story. He figured it was probably an overdose. Our decedent was a 20-something girl who’s gotten tangled up with the wrong dude. The family received a rambling, disjointed phone call from this boyfriend earlier in the morning, something about how he was sorry. Fearful and confused, the girl’s brother raced over to her home and crawled through a ground-level window to find her, cold, stiff and partially nude… laying on her bed. Patrol already rounded up the neighbors and they had all testified that they’d heard the couple fighting last night. There was some banging, maybe a glass breaking. But this was normal. Not only for these two, but for every family on the block. The houses were wedged into adjacent lots and everyone was accustomed to hearing everything. So, when the ruckus had erupted, everyone followed the unspoken rule: unless you hear gunshots, you don’t get involved.

I considered this information, glanced around, then absently asked the officer why he thought it was an overdose. He shrugged and said something about seeing little baggies on the bed and floor next to her. I listened with half an ear. I was watching the family, clustered together protectively around a small, Hispanic woman.

Detective Hirsch noted my gaze and whispered in my ear, “That’s the mother,”

I turned to face him. I love Hirsch. We’ve really been in the shit together. My favorite memory of him is this one time when we were investigating a homicide at the local hospital. Some creep had decided to tangle with the wrong woman and had paid dearly for it. The two of them had been hanging out getting high with a mutual friend and in the early morning hours, the dead guy had decided to sexually assault this woman who was having none of it. Rather than submit to the rape, the woman had really owned her “no” and stabbed him in the shoulder. I’m guessing it didn’t seem like a mortal wound at first. But she’d managed to sever some large arteries. When the rapist kept torrentially bleeding, she and the friend threw the guy in a car and dumped him at the local band-aid station that was in no way equipped to manage life-threatening trauma. He had exsanguinated all over the ER floor. The volume of blood that covered the light blue tiles was astounding. The poor ER physician, who likely hadn’t seen anything like it in his life, had attempted to close the gash with some surgical staples. But considering the prolific nature of the injury, the end effect was kind of pathetic- “E” for “effort” and all… but it was about as effective as trying to dam a river with a screen door. Hirsch was with me as I, gobsmacked, surveyed the massive puddles of blood. Then Hirsch offered to help me put on some booties to cover my shoes as I waded into the swamp to perform an external exam on the body. It was quite the juxtaposition: me daintily lifting each foot at Hirsch knelt down and slid the stretchy surgical booties over my steel-toed combat boots. I’ve never felt so much like Cinderella in my life.

(Actual footage of that day… sans blood puddle)

So, seeing my “Prince Charming” on this, current death scene was a welcome relief I didn’t know I needed. Hirsch was with me, I could get through it.

I gestured for him to follow and walked to the front door of the dead girl’s place. Looking inside from the doorway, her one-room home was a disaster… a tricky disaster. Sometimes crime scenes aren’t obvious. TV would have you believe that you can spot the signs of a struggle because it looks like a tornado ripped through a room. But it’s tricky when you account for the fact that some homes ALWAYS look like that. I mean, how does a stranger look at someone’s living space and say, “Well… that pile of crap is perfectly normal… but THAT pile of crap is highly suspect!” Lots of people live in tangled nests of clothes, rotting food, overturned furniture and broken appliances. This girl was clearly a slob and her apartment gave the impression of only being slightly messier than normal. There were clothes all over the floor and dirty plates of rotting food piled on the countertop. Toiletries, electrical cords, discarded food containers and an index of other items littered every surface. But when we allowed the scene to sink in, the evidence emerged. We saw messes that couldn’t be lived around: A broken glass, a dumped out drawer, a freshly smashed bedside table. I also clocked some cleaning products, jumbled into a hurried pile by the door. Spilled jumbo cups of soda pop lazily rolled on the edge of a coffee table.

(For real, some people just LIVE like this)

I turned my attention to the body laying askew on the bed. She was in her early 20’s, naked below the waist and upside down on the bed. Her head lolled off the foot of the bed with long, black hair hanging to the floor. She looked fine. Eyes closed and face relaxed, she looked like she was sleeping. But leaning closer, I realized the truth- she was kinda messed up… No, she was really messed up.

Much like “evidence of a struggle,” people’s injuries can be subtle. It’s not all gushing blood and caved in heads. The play of light or the angle of view can drastically obscure your perception. The morning light seeping through her blue curtains washed everything in a ghostly pale hue. In that lighting, Hirsch and I looked just as dead as she was. But I squinted, tilted my head and realized her face wasn’t quite symmetrical. A shadow on her forehead was a little too dark. And as I ran my hands through her long, thick mane of dark hair, I felt large areas of swelling. I pulled my hands away and a smear of blood was on my gloves.

“Ummmm…” I mumbled to Hirsch. “Someone beat the shit out of her…”

(didn’t look like this at all…)

Right at that moment, the officer came to the door and called to us. “Hey guys? Family just got another phone call from boyfriend. He’s admitting to strangling her. We’re trying to find him now.”

Hirsch and I exchanged a glance. Thankfully, we had been careful not to touch anything. Because now the circus began. We tip-toed back out again and shut the door, leaving our decedent where she lay. A homicide meant a whole day of crime scene technicians, warrants and scans before we could go back in. The location of every last sock and make-up brush would have to be documented, marked, photographed, cataloged. It would be hours before the body could move.

I hadn’t slept in almost 27 hours.

Outside the duplex, the girl’s family stared their questions at me from a distance.  I consulted briefly with Hirsch and the patrol officer before they were both engulfed in phone calls to essentially everyone in the whole goddamned world: Judges, Sergeants, Crime Scene Techs etc etc. Sighing, I shook off my fatigue and approached the family with what I knew would be utterly unsatisfying answers.

I told them their girl had obvious(ish) trauma and given the new confession from her boyfriend, the police were mounting an extensive investigation. It would be hours before anything significant happened. And once the body was ready to be removed from the scene, they wouldn’t be allowed to touch her or even get too close. Evidence preservation was the top priority so we could prove who did this to her. I received silent, blank stares in return.

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

“So, it will be a… um… really long time. A lot of people will have to come here and do a lot of things. Seriously, like anywhere from 8-12 hours.”

“When can we see her?” This from the mother who was now wrapped in a blanket despite the summer heat

“I can’t say for certain, I’m sorry. There’s a lot that needs to happen in a very specific order and today’s Saturday so it will take some time to get everything together.” It was true. Getting all the players coordinated would be a nightmare. Half of them were probably drunk already. “If you’d like, maybe you can all go to someone’s house and we can call you with updates-”

“We’re waiting here.” The mother said with strict finality. She sat back in the chair and looked away. I glanced around at the rest of the family members. Every jaw was set with stoic resolve and their red eyes turned hard. If mom was staying, all of them were staying.

“Ok,” was all I could say… woefully off my game. Normally I could mojo a family into all kinds of more convenient decisions. But working a Jedi-Mind-Trick with my foggy brain that morning was like jumping rope with a sprained ankle. I might give it a go, but it wouldn’t look good. Walking away from the family, I informed Hirsch that whatever happened at the scene today, he could look forward to having an audience. He sighed.

Just to be clear, we never have anything to hide from a family. We know they want answers and we WANT to provide answers. But homicide scenes are incredibly stressful.  Usually some dick-bag news crew shows up and starts testing boundaries. The neighbors all have their camera phones out and recording.  Random lookie-loos stroll by and start demanding information. It’s not unusual for me or the cops to crack a joke just to relieve some of the tension. And joking, smiling or laughing in front of a grieving family would be catastrophically bad optics.

Not that it mattered for me, the pager was going off again.

The pager went off at least another 6 times that day, and I don’t remember any of the calls. I was on autopilot and the day is a blur. I can only hope I didn’t accidentally leave a dead body in a ditch or a car somewhere. Not a single death scene sticks in my brain, except one:

An elderly gentleman had died in his home. The guy was in his late 60’s and had a complex medical history. The death wasn’t suspicious or traumatic. Any other year I would have taken a phone report and released him to a funeral home without a second thought.  Except this isn’t any other year.  This is a global pandemic year and EVERY POSSIBLE COVID DEATH MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR! The officer on the phone told me that this guy had been suffering from the now-typical cough, runny nose, fever and body-aches. The decedent hadn’t wanted to see a doctor, so he simply stayed home and suffered until he collapsed in front of his son….who was ALSO sick. Paramedics had worked our decedent for a few minutes before pronouncing him dead and everyone had immediately fucked right off.

(“BYEEEEE! We’re late for our chili cook-off and Playstation tournament!)

Thing is- because the guy hadn’t actually been diagnosed with COVID by a medical provider, the medical examiner’s office was obliged to conduct a death investigation and make sure and test him for COVID so his death could be accurately recorded and categorized. Ultimately this is what we do. It’s our prime directive. Oh sure, we answer the phone, we hold hands with the grieving, we coordinate the efforts of funeral homes, organ donations, primary doctors, and police. BUT first and foremost- we collect data. We are free-range statisticians. More than anything, THE STATE WANTS DATA!

(“When you’re done with your scene investigation, we have some forms we’d like you to fill out…”)

I dragged myself up the stairs to the apartment door like an early Christian on my way to the lions: reluctant but resolved to my fate.  Maybe this would be the day I finally caught COVID. After a year and a half of sticking swabs in dead people’s noses, maybe it was finally my turn. The cop at the door greeted me as I drifted past him and observed the inert form laying on the living room floor.  As I crossed the threshold into the home, the air turned from warm and brisk to stale, moist and heavy as a moldy towel. Our decedent was a big guy and scene markers indicated an array of medical conditions that could really make COVID dig in like a tick. His ankles were soft with edema. An undulating wave of ascites rippled across his belly as I palpated his abdomen. The fingers were thick clubs- indicating a long-standing pulmonary pathology. I sighed as I took pictures. His death certificate would undoubtedly state that he died of COVID, I could practically smell it as I buried the long, slender swab in each of his nostrils and swirled it around 5 times. Maybe I should lick it… I thought absently as I inserted the swab in the test tube and broke off the end… maybe then I’d finally get sick and FINALLY have a day off.


After my physical exam on the decedent, I squared my shoulders and crossed to the hallway of the residence to speak with the son.  He was in his bedroom, unmasked and sniffling, sneezing and coughing to beat the band.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m the county medical examiner and I’m going to tell you what happens next.” He nodded and sneezed at me, not bothering to cover his mouth. “Ok… ummm…”- and I stumbled through the whole spiel, imagining tidal waves of disease washing over me every time the guy coughed or heaved out a weighty sigh. Despite my foggy brain and half-hearted death-wish, I found myself taking a step back. This had been the biggest danger, as far as I could tell. All this time during the COVID disaster, I wasn’t worried about the bodies or exposure to people who had actually DIED of the coronavirus.  But family members of the dead would lose all sense of themselves. The most ardent mask-wearer would begin slobbering all over me with their naked face when I showed up to their loved one’s death. Their grief trumped any mandate or warning. Over the last 18 months I had been a human Kleenex for innumerable mourners. No one worried about getting me sick.

I did my best to be sympathetic and supportive.  The son was obviously devastated and the combination of COVID with his relentless sobbing made him a swamp of bodily fluids. I think I might have shaken his hand, but I honestly can’t remember. I observed his grief with faraway interest. I recognized his raw suffering the way other people watch TV. I could see it happening, but I was beyond feeling anything. I distantly wondered if this was how psychopaths moved through life: watching with empirical interest while other people have emotions. Maybe I’m turning into a psychopath.

(“I’m sorry for your loss… I think….)

I excused myself and went out to the small landing in the apartment stairwell to get some air. I was dizzy, hot and having a hard time focusing. And upon exiting the sauna-like atmosphere, I ran directly into Officer Jordan who was just rolling in to the scene to say hi.

I love Officer Jordan.

The first time we met, we were on a scene where a woman had been found deceased after being MIA for almost a month. Obviously, she was beyond help, having died of natural causes in her apartment. She was in a state of advanced decomposition and the odor was as thick as cement. But that didn’t stop me and Officer Jordan from tearing that place apart in an effort to find the woman’s cat who had been trapped in there with her for all that time.  The poor thing was dehydrated, starving and barely drawing breath when we located him hiding behind the toilet in the master bathroom. Tears welled up in our eyes… partially from the smell and partially from the heartbreak at the cat’s condition. I couldn’t leave the scene investigation, but Jordan had bailed on the scene to personally drive the cat to the nearest vet… lights and sirens.  Then the two of us spent the next 3 days incessantly calling the vet’s office to ask if the cat was going to be okay. They ended up having to euthanize the poor kitty and both Jordan and I took that pretty hard. I got us matching lapel pins of paw-prints as a memento of the event.

“Hey, woah!” Jordan laughed as I stumbled into him and almost took a header down the stairwell. “Are you okay? I heard about the homicide. Sounds like a real shit show!”

I stared at Jordan for a minute and teared-up a bit. Out came the whole sordid tale of another night without sleep, another homicide, another COVID case and a dozen more deaths that I had dealt with on zero-sleep. I was a wreck… ragged to my very core.

“You need some coffee,” Jordan grabbed me by my elbow and started pointedly into my eyes. “I AM GOING TO GET YOU SOME COFFEE!”

I offered a feeble protest, but Jordan was already barking orders at the rookie officer that had been watching the door. “I WANT YOU TO DRIVE TO THE CLOSEST COFFEE SHOP AND COME BACK WITH THE MOST CAFFIENE ALLOWED BY LAW!” The rookie glanced back and forth between the two of us in confusion and alarm. He wasn’t sure if this was technically against the rules, but a field-training officer was giving him a directive and his daily evaluation was on the line if he didn’t follow it. The kid took off, leaving me and Jordan alone on the outdoor landing of the stairwell. I hung my head in a combination of shame and gratefulness. It was unprofessional to display this kind of weakness, but I was hanging on by a thread and Jordan could tell. Looking up, I caught a look at Jordan’s arm which bore a tattoo I had never seen before. Most likely it had always been there, but I didn’t notice. I stepped closer, squinting to get a better look and realized…

… it was a “Golden Girls” tattoo.

The hairstyles of each of the golden girls: Blanch, Rose, Dorothy & Sofia was tattooed on Officer Jordan’s arm, along with the phrase, “Thank You For Being a Friend.”

(Actual tattoo on the actual day…)

I burst out laughing. “Oh my God, is that a ‘Golden Girls’ tattoo on your arm?”

Jordan grinned. “Of course it is. That show is genius.”

“No,” I gasped as I laughed. “YOU’RE GENIUS, you’re my fucking hero, man. I almost didn’t make it today. Thank fucking god for you…”

I pulled out my camera and, against every scene investigation rule in the book, I snapped a photo of Jordan’s arm just as the rookie was returning with a 30oz cup of what equated to melted ice cream. I didn’t care. I was taken care of. I was seen.

As Jordan was walking me back to my county truck, we passed by a couple who was walking their tiny French Bulldog puppy. After asking for permission to pet the pooch, Jordan took several pictures of me rolling around on the sidewalk with the wiggly little dog who couldn’t get enough of trying to lick my face.

(Actual dog on the actual day…)

The rest of the day is lost to history. The next thing I remember, I was heading back to the scene of the homicide, having been told by detective Hirsch that the crime scene guys were done, the warrants had been signed, everything had been documented and it was time to go deal with the body.

When I pulled back in, the cul de sac was dark, except for the victim’s house which was awash in floodlights. The whole length of the roadway was packed with parked cars, presumably those of the decedent’s family as they all arrived to hold vigil in the front lawn.

I had to park almost 100 yards away from the home and traversed the unlit street to the house which was probably visible from space. I noted the collection of family had swelled to at least two-dozen, probably more. All of them were staring intently at the front door of the house where the crime scene guys were packing up their stuff. I’m almost done I told myself. I can knock out this scene, take the body to the morgue and maybe then get some sleep. I squared my shoulders and steeled myself for the family, the detectives and all of the questions I would be asked. I was almost there. Some of the family had caught sight of me and I could hear them murmuring to each other that I had arrived. It was almost time….

… and then the ground disappeared beneath my feet. I pitched forward as my ankle buckled and I collapsed into the bath-tub sized pot-hole (crater) that I had noted earlier in the daylight. The pot-hole was completely invisible in the blackness. What’s more, I had utterly forgotten it was there until I was lying it… having screeched “OH FUCK!!!!” at the top of my lungs as I tumbled down.

Time stopped, just for a second. I lay there in the pothole, staring upward at the night sky where a few stars were still visible over the ambient light of the police’s floodlights. It was the first time I had reclined in almost 36 hours and my body instinctively relaxed into the jagged, rocky contours of the crater. This is nice I thought briefly.  Maybe I’ll just stay here. The stars twinkled above me and exhaustion pulled me deeper into the hole as I willed myself to simply sink into the earth and never come out.

“Jesus Christ, Grace. Are you okay?”

Hirsch’s face appeared above me. He was unsuccessfully choking back laughter as he grabbed my arms and attempted to heave my crumpled form out of the pot-hole. “That was.. hawwwumm… That was… mmmph… that was really something…” Hirsch was joined by four other officers who were all gagging and gasping in an attempt to maintain a professional front for the bereaved family who had just heard me shriek profanity as I ate shit in the middle of the road in front of the neighbors, the police, God and everybody.

“Seriously, are you hurt?” Hirsch had gotten control of himself and was registering actual concern now. I writhed, turned and scrambled out of the hole with his help, gasping that I was fine. I was fine. I WAS FINE. I probably wasn’t, but the adrenaline and embarrassment were more effective than a pipe-full of meth in terms of waking me up. I straightened myself and took a few steps. The snarling pain of a freshly sprained ankle made me wince, but I was functional. And now, more than ever, I REALLY had to pull it together. I hobbled over to the family, re-introduced myself, apologized for the spectacle and went to work.

Of course, once we were inside the scene and in relative privacy, the officers and detectives erupted in muted peals of laughter. The overall consensus was that it was absolutely the funniest thing any of them had ever seen and I could expect to hear about it until the day I die. I’d like to say that I took it all in stride, but I don’t remember. What I do remember was the laughter dying down as I once again bent over our dead girl’s face and realized we had a problem: Bugs

Insects had been in and out of the door and window all day… attracted to the faint smell of early decomposition. The crime scene folks had been so busy with trace evidence, they hadn’t bothered to shoo them away. As a result, the early summer flies had unfettered access to the dead body and all of her orifices for roughly 12 hours. She was covered in maggot eggs. And in no uncertain terms, it was gross.

Her eyes, though open, were completely obscured by a thick layer of the white, miniscule pods. Her nostrils and the corners of her mouth were likewise clustered with eggs. While I had been forced to wait a whole day to process the body, nature had wasted no time at all. In a dozen more hours or so, those eggs would hatch and our decedent would rediscover her role in the food chain.

“Shit!” I spat. “Shit, shit SHIT!”

“What’s wrong?” Hirsch joined me as I surveyed the corpse.

“She’s covered in maggot eggs, man. She looks terrible. I can’t take her out there like this. Her family wants to see her.” Hirsch recoiled in disgust as I gloved up and began picking the sticky white masses out of her eyes and throwing them on the floor. I couldn’t get them all, they were incredibly tiny and stubbornly adhered to her skin and hair. I could only hope to get the biggest clumps and pray no one out there had good night vision. “Okay guys, here’s the deal. The family can’t touch her. We can wheel her out and they can stand 6 to 7 feet away and say goodbye, but if anyone lunges for the stretcher, we tackle them. Got it?”

The family wasn’t happy when I explained it to them, but they understood. Even though her dirt-bag boyfriend had confessed to strangling her, he could always change his mind and then we’d need uncompromised evidence to make sure the truth was told. It was a gamble. Many death investigators wouldn’t have let them see her for fear of one of them doing something crazy.  But I’m kind of a bleeding heart. The family had been waiting out there all day. How could I possibly deny them the chance to see their girl one last time before the autopsy.

It went as well as could be expected. They all kept their distance and cried. Some called her name, some screamed. Her mother collapsed to her knees and keened like a cold wind. It’s fine I told myself. I’ve done this before. Stand with your eyes averted and wait. Don’t say anything. Don’t try to comfort. Don’t try to make it better. Let them have their grief but don’t absorb it. Hold it together and keep your mouth shut.

I almost slipped into a dissociative stupor as I waited… for WHAT, I’m not sure. The family wasn’t going to stop crying. They weren’t ever going to tell me Ok, you can take her now. I think I just kind of zoned out. My conscious mind was done. It wasn’t until Hirsch stepped forward and whispered in my ear that I snapped out of it.

“Uh, Grace, I think you should go now.”

“Huh? Oh… right, Jesus… yeah ok.”

The assembled company of officers helped me load her into the truck and Hirsch escorted me to the driver’s side door, his face puckered with concern.

“Listen, I think you should probably file a worker’s comp claim. You went down pretty hard. And you’re limping.”

“NAH,” I spat. “I’m fine, this ankle has been fucked for years. I sprained it like a decade ago and it’s been a mess ever since. Don’t worry about me.”

“If you say so. Give me a call if you need help. You haven’t slept and I don’t want anything to happen.”

He scooped me into the driver’s seat and shut the door for me. I drove off, the cops, the family and the longest shift of my life in the rear-view.

Now, months later, I still think about that shift. For starters, no one who watched me fall into that pot-hole will let me forget it. But there’s more. As a young girl and teenager, I spent so much of my life wondering who was going to love me. I tied myself to shitty boyfriends and dysfunctional peers. I went to church and cheerleading camp and when that didn’t work, I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Renaissance Fair. I searched every extreme for a place where I belonged. Where I could be seen and therefore, finally see myself. As an adult, nothing has changed. I still stubbornly subject myself to impossible situations in the hopes that someone, somewhere will pat me on the head and tell me I’ve done well.

Charles Bukowski once said “There is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movement of the hands of a clock.”  I couldn’t agree more. There is a loneliness so great that you lose the capacity to feel your own body. You’re so divorced from your own welfare, your own feelings that you’re lonely for your OWN company- you’re lonely for your own presence of mind. You need the people around you to tell you you’re falling apart.  You’re burned out. You need to rest and maybe drink something. You need a pat on the head and a “That’ll do, pig.”

A lot of people wonder why I still do this job.  And I think it’s because in this line of work, I’m constantly surrounded by people who pay attention. That day was shitty, but I felt seen and held in a way I never experienced by my family, by churches I attended, by classmates or roommates or boyfriends or cliques. Say what you will about the cops, and the fire department drives me crazy, but their situational awareness is next level. They won’t let you go down alone.

I may not need this job, but I need people like Hirsch, people like Jordan.

Survival is a cup of painfully sweet coffee and bonding over a dead cat.

Love is getting dragged out of a pot-hole in the dark and a worker’s comp claim

An unexpected tattoo that reads:

“Thank You For Being A Friend.

(Actual photo of me, Hirsch, Jordan… and the French Bulldog)

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.

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!