The Truth of The Matter: Acting Out Part 3

When last we left our ignoble heroine, I was laying in bed, trying to sleep when my husband stumbled in. He had just let me know that there was a homicide in our jurisdiction and I was probably going to get paged to the scene in the near future. if you recall the previous incarnation of the acting out series, (https://deadmensdonuts.com/2021/04/06/the-truth-of-the-matter-acting-out-part-2/ ) I had just worked a gnarly day, and was hoping to sleep through the night. Alas it was not to be.

All thanks to the love of my life, who was just trying to be helpful. Jerk.

I kid. I kid. Mike really is great. Even when he tumbles into bed, telling me that I’m going to be called to a homicide scene at some point in the next 3 hours… he’s still great. He’s patient and thoughtful and kind…

But I’m not.

I’m not gonna lie. I have a mouth on me when I’m feeling saucy and it’s not a secret to anyone. Our office recently hired a new chief deputy medical examiner for our program. That’s right, I have a new supervisor. And he knew me for approximately a week before presenting me with a t-shirt that read: “I’M TOO CLUMSY TO BE AROUND FRAGILE MASCULINITY.”

You know, it’s SO important to feel SEEN by your co-workers…

So, compared to the kinds of atrocities I regularly visit upon my husband, I really have no room to be complaining about a little lost sleep.

Don’t believe me? Hold my beer and watch this:

It may surprise you to know that the medical examiner’s office only goes to the scenes of roughly 50-60% of deaths in our county. Years ago, I interned in a city that demanded scene investigations and autopsies for virtually EVERYTHING, but these days I find myself in a jurisdiction that happily gives its death investigators just enough rope to hang ourselves. Let me explain. At any given time, there is exactly ONE medico-legal death investigator on duty for a county that contains over 600,00 souls. While many deaths don’t have to be reported to the medical examiner’s office, we couldn’t possibly do a scene investigation on every death that DOES have to be reported. (I mean, we probably could if we had to, but no one is going to approve that kind of overtime.) So, what these deaths look like is this: The cops get to a scene, get a good description of what’s going on, then call the medical examiner’s office to report the death and the circumstances of that death. If there’s no suspicion or evidence to suggest the death is an accident, homicide or suicide, the deputy medical examiner will write up a brief case file and give their blessing to release the body to a funeral home. (There are a lot more nuances to these scenarios but that’s it, in a nutshell.)

This means that, quite often, the number of death scenes I have to go to during a given shift depends upon how well the cops do their job. If a police officer calls me from a death scene with an incomplete, confusing or suspicious story, I’ll veto the release and come out to the scene myself to make sense of whatever has happened there.

“You should probably come out to this one, I’m PRETTY sure it’s not a natural death…”

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s all we’ve got. I function in it the best I can. But it can be a little crazy-making when I’m already elbow-deep in work and some lazy officer calls with a half-cocked report that really leaves a lot to be desired. Now, I’m not saying that sometimes these officers do shitty work on purpose because they want me to come and take the investigation off their hands… actually, that’s EXACTLY what I’m saying. Sometimes the officers do shitty work because they’re hoping I’ll come and take the investigation off their hands.

Knowing this, I recently employed a new tactic, hoping to encourage more thorough work from the boys (and girls) in blue.

The idea came to me a few weeks ago when I was buried with paperwork and the pager kept going off, heralding more and more death scenes. For a while, I would tell dispatch that I would give them a dollar if they told everyone on a death call to just keep doing CPR until my shift was over. But since that wasn’t working, I upped the ante.

“Hey, listen…” I had said to the officer who had just paged me with another death scene. “I’m really dying today. I have a ton of cases and I really don’t need another complicated story. So I’ll tell you what, if you can make it so I don’t have to come out to this scene, you can punch Mike in the dick.”

I was referring, of course, to that officer’s co-worker and my darling cop-husband. If you recall, Mike and I met on the scene of a death and our relationship has been both the delight and curiosity of the entire department. I say “curiosity” because when Mike and I first got together, apparently the entire police force was asking him if my home was decorated with torture devices and skulls.

I could hear the officer perking up on the other end of the line when I made him this offer.

“Really?” he asked

I shrugged. “Sure.”

“Okay!” he responded. Then he proceeded to give me perhaps the most concise and complete scene report I’ve ever gotten from an officer. He practically counted the cracks in the sidewalk in front of the dead guy’s house. I deemed the death releasable. The funeral home came and got the body. The officer and I wrote up our reports and we all went on our merry way. I was so pleased with how the whole scheme turned out that I used the same tactic a few more times before my shift was done, telling officers that they could punch my husband in the dick if they did a good job reporting their death scene.

In my defense, I knew I was totally joking. I don’t presume to have authority over Mike’s dick, even though that is a common assumption about the husband/wife dynamic. While we’re absolutely monogamous, our marriage isn’t necessarily “traditional.” When asked, we’ve compared our union to that of a couple of feral cats living in the same dumpster. We come and go on our own schedules and sleep together every now and then. We love each other but we certainly don’t answer to each other.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Mike came home a few days after that evening and confronted me.

“Did you tell Gardner that he could punch me in the dick,” he demanded as he dropped his gear and put his hands on his hips.

“What?”

“Did. You. Tell. Deputy. Gardner. He. Could. Punch. Me. In. The. DICK?”

“Oh… Jeez. Maybe? Probably? Why, what happened?”

And Mike launched into his story. By his description, he was hanging out at the precinct, talking to the guys. All of a sudden, Deputy Gardner ran up beside him and gave him a very enthusiastic junk-fist right to the nuggets. Then Gardner ran away, yelling over his shoulder: “YOUR WIFE SAID I COULD!!!!!”

“Oh my god,” I snorted. Then I told Mike the etiology behind the attack.

“Jesus, babe! How MANY people did you give permission to punch me in the dick?”

“Ummm, Five? Six maybe? I’m really not sure.”

“I have to worry about five or six people just… spontaneously punching me in the dick?”

“Calm down,” I said, trying to choke back laughter. “I never told them you weren’t going to hit them back!”

“Christ.”

On the upside, only one other deputy has cashed in on his reward for a death-well-done. And I’m pretty sure it didn’t do any permanent damage.

All this simply to say, comparatively speaking, I really can’t complain. Mike has never told anyone they have free rein to assault my genitals in order to make his workday easier. And he really thought he was doing me a favor when he warned me there was a homicide coming down the pike. Maybe it really was a favor. After all, I wasn’t filled with rage and anxiety when the pager went off at 6 a.m. That ship had already sailed. I was already awake and waiting for it.

“Hey Grace,”

It was my good buddy, Detective Labrecht, on the line when I called the flashing phone number on the pager. I love Labrecht. To say that he and I have been thorough it together is an understatement. He and I have been shoulder-to-shoulder, on our knees in blackberry brambles, picking up pieces of a weathered skeleton that turned out to be a missing young woman who died of exposure in the woods. Labrecht and I were also together on a scene in which the “dead body” sat up and started talking to us. (She wasn’t dead, she had simply been “pronounced” by someone who was shit at taking pulses.) Hearing his voice on the line made the call-out a little easier. Death is always more fun when you do it with friends.

“You have a homicide,” I said to him, more a statement of fact than a question.

“Sure do, all the preliminaries are done and we’re ready for you to come do your thing.”

“OK man,” I yawned. “I’ll pull myself together and see you soon.”

Mike didn’t stir at all as I lurched out of bed and quietly dressed in the work clothes I had laid out the night before. I stopped at Starbucks for a quick jolt of caffeine and arrived at the scene a few minutes later: A better-than-average hotel in the big-tech part of town. I was slightly surprised. Most hotel deaths happen in seedy, little, no-name holes- the kind that rent rooms by the hour and no sane person would walk across the floor barefoot. This place was nice… or at least nice enough to have working smoke alarms.

I pulled into the parking lot and quickly spotted the nest of police cars at one end of the building. I parked nearby and scooted under the crime scene tape, pausing to tell the roster officer who I was and why I was there. I was directed in a side entrance and into an open hotel room that had been converted into a base of operations.

“Hey Grace!” Labrecht called from the couch of the suite. “Come on in and let us brief you on what’s going on.”

I greeted the other officers and detectives.

“How’s Mike doing?” a few people asked.

“Oh, he’s good.” I casually responded. “He’s tied up in the basement with a ball-gag but I let him out once a week so he can call his mom.”

Some of the officers sputtered with shock, but the ones I’ve known for a while just chuckled and kept talking. As it was told to me, our decedent was a young woman who was in one of the rooms across the hall from our makeshift headquarters. Labrecht escorted me back into the hallway and gestured through the open door and there she was, laying face-up on the carpeted floor of a better-the-average hotel room, where things like this aren’t supposed to happen.

I silently took the scene in from the doorway, noting the dark pool of blood beneath the decedent’s torso. Resuscitation equipment was scattered all over the floor. Bright yellow crime scene placards punctuated certain items: a bullet casing here, a cigarette lighter there.

“So… just so you know,” Labrecht was saying. “These other rooms…” he gestures toward the two closed doors in the bank of rooms in the hallway in which we were standing, “… they have people in them, other hotel guests.”

“What, you mean like they’re still in there?” I asked.

“Sure are,” Labrecht shrugged. “Once we figured out they didn’t have anything to do with our homicide, we asked them to stay put if it was at all possible- basically, if they decided to leave their rooms, they wouldn’t be able to come back until we’re done. Legally, we can’t hold them in their rooms if they want to leave. But we also can’t have them going in and out of the scene.”

I glanced at the closed hotel doors, noting that each of them had a little peephole in them. I had absolutely no doubt that at that very moment, curious eyes were pressed against those peepholes from the inside looking out. This was the kind of stuff you only got to see on TV, and here, the occupants of these hotel rooms practically had an all-access backstage pass to the entire investigation. In fact, the doors were set into the hallway at an angle, so while I couldn’t be sure, I suspected our uninvited audience could actually see right into the room where our dead body lay. I pointed at one of the peepholes and looked askance at Labrecht.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know. We were thinking of putting sticky notes on there or something. No one has any.”

Irritated, I glanced back at the peepholes. It was somewhat reminiscent of the nosy news cameraman from the night before. Once again, I don’t blame people for their curiosity. But I was about to handle the still-warm body of an actual shooting victim. And while the cops and I make jokes and tease each other mercilessly, being present at these moments is earned. You have to prove that you know how far is too far, you know where the joking ends and you know that, in reality, this is no laughing matter. You don’t get to sit and soak up the scene of a violent death just because you happened to get a particular hotel room.

“Hang on a second.” I dropped my scene bag to the floor, intending to pull out a sharpie and just layer some permanent marker over the little glass eyes. But after digging for a minute, I had a much better idea. My hand had closed over a little plastic bag full of dental hygiene items that I had put in my jump-bag a few eons ago. It’s not uncommon for us to go all day without a break and for about a month there, I had been inordinately concerned about my teeth. Of course that phase had passed, but the dental kit had languished, unused in my bag… until now.

I pulled out the bag and removed the travel-sized tube of toothpaste. Opening it, I squirted a liberal dollop of Crest Whitening Formula onto my index finger and smeared it over the glossy, round eyes that stared out from the hotel rooms.

actual scene photo

“There!” I said. “All better! But Labrecht has to lick it off when we’re done!”

“We’ll call the fire department and make them do it…” he clapped back.

Predictably, about 2 minutes later, the occupants of these rooms poked their heads out, saying that they wanted to leave now. So the investigation briefly ground to a halt while we escorted these concerned citizens out the front door of the hotel.

All things considered, the rest of my shift went off without a hitch… which is probably a good thing. It kind of sucked staying on the scene a good 2 hours past my off-time and then having to write up the whole thing on my own time. But that’s not actually the issue.

I don’t know.

The death was a gunshot wound. She was young and by all accounts, it sounds like the whole thing was a stupid accident: a bunch of kids goofing around in a hotel room, getting high and fucking with a gun when it went off and hit our girl right in her center mass. I tried not to do it, while I was conducting my external exam on the scene, but I couldn’t help myself. I looked into her glassy, dilated eyes and imagined her last moments- everyone screaming or crying. Her falling to the floor, probably shocked… maybe in pain. Who knows? Who knows if in that moment she wasn’t just so confused she didn’t feel a thing. I wondered if she knew she was dying. I wondered what she saw. I wondered what she felt? She probably thought about her little toddler daughter, the pictures of whom we found in her phone.

I bet she thought: This can’t just be it.

I mentioned all of this to my therapist, with whom I actually had an appointment that same day. And it felt really weird to just walk straight from a homicide into a therapy appointment with no decompression time in-between. It was like going from your lover to your wife without even pausing to take a shower. Or maybe going from a blasting site to a beauty pageant. Going from screaming to silence.

It felt scary to turn inward with all of my amour still on… and to sit in my therapist’s warm, colorful, womb-like office with blood on my shoes.

I’ll admit it, I freaked out a bit… probably because the juxtaposition was too much. But also maybe because I still had a 27 year-old mother’s ghost clinging to me, asking me what happened, where she should go next, what happens now.

Maybe there were tears.

But I’m certainly not going to admit it. Not me.

I’m a brash, smart-mouthed, quick-tongued hot-shot…

And this shift… these deaths… don’t even come close to what’s really bothering me.

NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.

Stay tuned, I’m almost ready to talk about it.

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:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-family-allegedly-sold-thousands-bottles-bleach-marketed-covid-cure-n1265244

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…

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out Part 2

Where were we?

Oh right…

(I could have modeled for this picture, it looks a lot like me- check out this artist: Rob Bowyer massivefaceart.com)

Anyway, when last we were with our hero (me) I was uttering my favorite tagline-

“Fuck.”

If you recall, I had just driven a nosy news cameraman out of a death scene like Jesus Christ driving the money-changers out of the temple.

Something like that… but he has better hair.

I was standing over a dead homeless guy who didn’t have any identification or belongings on him. He also didn’t have any teeth, shoes or socks and I had no idea what to do since it looked like we didn’t have access to a mobile fingerprint machine (Horay for defunding the police!)

You know what, rather than have me muddle through a recap, you can just read my last post here:

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out- Part 1

Moving on.

I found myself in something of a conundrum when it came to identifying this dead guy. The officers were already texting pictures of his face to other cops and asking if anyone recognized him.

“Okay,” I said, shaking off my dismay and resolving to carry on. “Here’s the plan. Let’s load him into my truck and take him to the closest funeral home. I’ll call the crime scene people and see if they can give me some direction with fingerprinting him. I’ll also call the on-duty sergeant and see if he can help us at all.”

More than anything, I just wanted to get this guy off the street and into a well-lit room where I could get a good look at him. He might have had tattoos or scars under his clothes that would help us out. He was also wearing walking casts (otherwise known as ortho-boots) in lieu of shoes and I hoped he might have his ID or some other significant paperwork tucked into the padding of these medical devices. Speaking of, the fact that he wore these boots was helpful. He had to have gotten them from a hospital, which meant he had been registered and discharged. SOMEONE had this guy’s name, date of birth and medical history. I just had to figure out who.

Fashionable AND functional!

As planned, I launched a few frantic phone calls as I drove to the funeral home. Predictably, the crime scene people ignored all of my communication, even when I sent them this delightful little text:

Will you PLEASE come and fingerprint this dead guy for me?

Shockingly, the addition of a hairless cat didn’t make my entreaty any more tempting to my colleagues. And the only suggestion I had gotten from the on-duty police sergeant was that I should do my best to fingerprint the decedent myself and then take the print cards to the crime lab the next day and hope someone was there to run an AFIS check on them.

“But doesn’t anyone have any of those mobile fingerprint machines? I could swear you guys had them.”

“Nope,” the disappointment was heavy in his voice. “Well, technically we have a whole mess of them sitting in our property and evidence room, but as far as I know the entire county discontinued the program. For a while the transit guys had them- but now…” his voice trailed off. It had been great while it lasted. When we had an unidentified body, we could call for an officer with the AFIS machine and they’d come to the scene and scan the dead person’s fingers. With 10 minutes and a good wifi signal, the machine could produce an ID and rap sheet for anyone in the national database. It was pure magic… but also a pure magic no one in administration wanted to pay for. Now we had a property room full of expensive door-stops and no magic except whatever I managed to conjure up with nothing but curse words and my own rage.

I sighed.

“Okay, well… we’re going to get a better look at this dude at the funeral home and see if we can find anything that might give us some direction.”

“Okay… I guess give me a call if I can do anything more to help?”

I was too irritated with the circumstances to say goodbye. I was tired, hungry and realizing that my options for identifying this dude were shrinking like styrofoam in a fire. Getting him unloaded and undressed at the funeral home didn’t offer much hope. He was completely free of tattoos or significant, identifying scars (except for the previously mentioned mess of track marks and non-specific scars on his arms. But those were hardly distinctive since most homeless drug addicts display these same markings) Again, he had no teeth so dental wasn’t an option (not that it often is). I tore his ortho-boots apart in the hopes he might have squirreled away his ID in there, but no dice. The only unique thing about him was the fact that the ortho boots came off to reveal our dead guy had undergone bilateral foot surgery sometime in the last few months and the stitches were still there. It was like he’d been born on the moon and fallen out of the sky.

“Well fuck,” I said again, turning to the officers who gazed back at me blankly, waiting for some direction. “Okay. So we know this guy has been to a hospital. We found him midway between St. Joseph’s and Kaiser so here’s what we’re going to do. Take pictures of his surgical sites and his face, take them to St. J’s. I’ll do the same and take them to Kaiser and we’ll see if anyone in the ER remembers him.”

It was a haphazard plan, but one based in experience. Back when I was a paramedic we were on a first-name basis with every homeless person in the city. Due to their lifestyle/circumstances they were susceptible to any manner of medical emergency: overdoses, assaults, hypothermia, catastrophic illnesses. Not to mention the fact that sometimes they just wanted to sleep indoors so they would flag down a cop or ambulance and claim they had chest pain. A lot of ER’s have to ban these “frequent flyers” because they can fill up every bed in the department in a matter of hours on a cold night, leaving no resources available for actual, life-threatening problems.

The officers and I had just raided the fridge at the funeral home for snacks and drinks and we were gearing up to sally forth into the night to procure an ID when the sergeant called back.

“Who’s you favorite cop EVER?!” he demanded of me… which is kind of a trick question since I’m married to one. But I was in a bind so I went ahead and threw my husband under the bus.

“Ummm… you are?”

“You bet your ass I am! It just so happens that I went to the police academy with the on-duty sergeant in *next county over* And I pulled probably the biggest favor OF MY LIFE. He’s sending a couple of officers over with an AFIS machine.

“NO SHIT!”

“None at all!” I could hear him, beaming with pride over the phone. “They’re about a half hour away. I gave them your number so you should be hearing from them when they’re close. And we owe somebody BIG for this.”

He was right. The county that was generously loaning us 2 officers and an AFIS machine had over 200-and-counting continuous nights of ANTIFA protests. Their city was being torn apart at the seams and they were severely understaffed and probably hating life in a way that I couldn’t even fathom. But here they were, coming to my rescue with a magical, expensive door-stop that actually WORKED.

To be fair, they probably couldn’t wait to get out of their county…

When the promised officers arrived, it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing their feet. I greeted them at the door with maniacal cheer and immediately offered them the funeral home’s entire stock of cookies and mixed nuts. If there had been champagne, I would’ve uncorked it and sprayed it all over the ceiling, I was so excited.

They were understandably, a little weirded out by my enthusiasm at their arrival. But I couldn’t help it. I was giddy with relief at the thought of getting my decedent identified and wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated them.

At first the AFIS wouldn’t take a print off the dead guy. But I fixed that by wrapping his thumbs in warm, wet, paper towels. This is also how we unlock dead people’s finger-print phones as well. It seems, phones require a warm fingerprint and AFIS machines feel the same way. So that’s a trade secret I guess… you know- should you ever have need of a dead fingerprint.

Anyway, once the officers had a usable print, they went back to their car to plug the machine into their computer, warning me before they left that it was always possible our guy wasn’t in the system. I nodded like a grinning bobble-head and offered them another package of trail mix, gushing that I understood and I was just happy that they showed up to help. They excused themselves and I glanced over at the local officers who were staring at me in astonishment. It appeared they were utterly amazed at my transformation from a surly, disillusioned monster to a cooperative, charming hostess. Little did they know that I was raised by a Boston debutante and no one can maintain appearances like a bourgeois housewife. As far as I can tell, I was born to serve hors d’oeuvres as the world burns.

Can I interest you in another sparkling water?

We had been told it would take about 15 minutes for the AFIS machine to render a verdict, and my nerves crawled with the agitation of the wait. I stood in the vehicle bay of the funeral home, vibrating and twisting my keychain around in my hands until finally the anticipation proved to be too much. My decedent was laying on a prep-table in the vehicle bay as I was moving him to the cooler when our fingerprint saviors showed up. I started hopping around, first on one foot, then the other, shaking my keychain in time with the imaginary ticking in my head. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” I silently prayed. My hopping looped into a wide circle around the decedent as I tried to discharge the nervous energy. One local cop had gone back to his squad car to write up reports, while the other stood in the corner, watching as I rotated around the dead body.

“What are you doing?” he finally asked.

“I’M PERFORMING A DANCE TO THE FINGERPRINT GODS! WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING?” I shouted

And with that I began waving my arms over my head in dramatic swirls, shaking my keys, jumping and twirling as I circled the body. “You should join in! It might help!”

He didn’t.

All the same, a few minutes later, the visiting officers came back into the funeral home with wide grins. We had a hit. The AFIS machine displayed the driver’s license photo of our dead guy, clear as day. And listed along with his name and date of birth, was an array of arrests for criminal trespassing, drug violations and theft. Even better, our dead guy had an incredibly bizarre last name which meant a next-of-kin search would be a damn sight easier than if he was just any old John Smith.

Jackpot. We were saved.

I fell all over myself thanking our guests and sent them along with a virtual cornucopia of soda pops and munchies. It was well past dark and inching toward bedtime, but I was convinced that I’d be able to get this guy sorted out and the majority of my paperwork done before my shift ended.

In a matter of hours I was cozied up in bed, sleepy and satisfied that my upcoming days off wouldn’t be choked up with unfinished reports or unreturned phone calls. My husband was working late so I was luxuriously spread out over the entirety of the mattress when he stumbled in. It was about 3 am, 5 hours to shift change and I’m pretty sure he thought he was doing me a favor when he grunted to me as he threw himself into bed:

“There’s a homicide. The detectives are going to be calling you in about 3 hours.”

3 hours.

(brief side note- it’s pretty normal for the detectives to wait to call the medical examiner when they’re on the scene of a homicide. Since I’m investigating the death but not the crime, I don’t really need to be present for all of the crime scene photographing and fingerprinting- which can take HOURS. They usually only call me when the body is ready to be moved.)

I did the math in my head. 3 hours put me at 6am. Shift change was at 8am. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that if you’re going off shift, you only have to loosely handle anything that happen the last hour of your shift. Meaning from 7am on, anything complicated or lengthy (like a homicide) would be held over for my incoming co-worker.

But they weren’t going to be calling me at 7, they were going to be calling me at 6. This homicide was all mine.

“Fuck.”

Stay tuned for Acting Out, Part 3- The mintiest finger in the west!

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out- Part 1

I misbehave.

It’s what we do when we’re upset and we don’t feel heard. As far as I can tell, voiceless rage is the song of my people here in civil service. Especially during the big-fat-global pandemic/civil-unrest/economic-disaster that isn’t nearly as much fun a zombie apocalypse would’ve been. While the rest of the populace indulges in unbridled anarchy, someone still has to keep the electricity on, the water running, the criminals jailed and the drive-through’s open. Perhaps most of all someone has to keep the dead bodies from piling up in the gutters.

It’s me… “someone” is me. I’m still clocking in every goddamned day. It’s armageddon and I haven’t gotten to throw a single Molotov cocktail.

The end of the civilized world totally blows and I’m not feeling particularly civil about it.

We don’t have enough PPE. The medical examiners are being buried under an ever-growing list of tasks that aren’t really our job, but no one else is in the office to do them. Administration wants to cut our wages. The homicide rate in our county has tripled over the last year. And any complaints to our supervisors are met with perhaps the most infuriating response ever:

“Everyone is having a really hard time right now.”

No shit.

I’ve never understood why hearing about other people’s suffering is somehow supposed to make me feel better about mine. People in hell wanting ice-water doesn’t really have anything to do with the fact that we’re overworked and underpaid. But apparently, it’s the only comfort we’re being offered right now.

So I misbehave.

My husband does too. He’s a cop and he’s exhausted with never-ending hours full of frustrating bureaucracy and hostile communities. He’s struggling to survive his shifts without getting sued or shot. But no one really listens or cares so during daily briefing he’ll start knocking things off desks like a pissy house cat.

I’m a little more vocal… and probably crazier.

These last two shifts I’ve really taken it to new heights, though. And I’m taking everyone with me. I just don’t give a $%^& anymore.

-INCIDENT #1-

For the most part we’re told not to mess with the media.

Pissing them off is a bad idea. With everything that’s going on in American society right now: the protests, the outrage, the cancel-culture and the desperate press to find someone else to crucify, you really don’t want to get on the media’s bad side. They can circulate all kinds of horrible claims about you and your ability to do your job and people will believe them. All it takes is one snarky comment on your part and some clever editing on theirs. The masses could be calling for your head on a platter in no time. So rather than fight with them, cops just ignore them. News crews show up to film a gnarly car accident or a dead hiker found in the woods. So long as they don’t get too close, the public information officer will give them a statement and law enforcement will just pretend they’re not there.

Thing is… I’m not law enforcement. And I hate the media.

Their disregard for professional ethics nauseates me. I understand that they have a job to do and the public craves information. But a lot of camera crews and reporters around here have breezed right past “informative” and crashed right into “exploitative and vulgar.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived on a death scene to find cameras rolling and hungry young reporters eagerly babbling about the, “tragic happenings”. And I wouldn’t care too much, except that these people have no sense of the repercussions. While they always claim that they’re not “filming the body”, they have no problem filming the dead person’s car… or their address. As soon as this footage hits the airwaves, we have family members blowing up our phone because they saw their loved one’s car or house on the news. THAT’S HOW THESE PEOPLE ARE INFORMED OF THEIR LOVED ONE’S DEATH. It shows up on TV, or on fucking Facebook before we can get a uniformed officer dispatched to respectfully notify next of kin. But the media doesn’t care about respect, they care about ratings. And they’re not above making shit up to get them. I once had a scene where a married couple was found deceased in their home. It was a pretty weird situation which took some time to thread through. When the news crew asked for details, we basically told them we were still working out what had happened. So, in lieu of any actual facts, the news crew went ahead and made some shit up. They broadcast that the husband had killed the wife and then himself… which wasn’t true at all. The wife had died of an aneurysm and the husband was so devastated when he found her dead body, he killed himself. HOWEVER, when the truth came out, the news folks didn’t bother to correct themselves. Why should they? They got the dirty, titillating story they wanted. People watched and believed what they were told. A few days later, though, I had to talk to the couple’s son when he called and demanded an explanation for why the whole world believed his father killed his mother.

Once more for the people in back: I had to talk to him. No one at the fucking news station had to answer for their mistake. They didn’t care.

So, when I was called to a dead guy on a sidewalk just off a highway in my county, I was none too pleased to see a cameraman, posted up about 50 yards away, filming the whole thing. It was a busy stretch of road and the cops had done a good job of blocking the dead guy from the passing cars. But they couldn’t do a damn thing about this network-news dirtbag who was gobbling up footage with his fancy-ass camera.

Admittedly, I was already in a mood. I’ve been reeling from a whole other death scene I was on almost a month ago- a death that completely overturned my beliefs about my job, my county, civil service and humanity. I’m still working out how best to write about that situation. So, for now, lets’ just say some bad shit happened and I was in a mood.

As I greeted the cops, I looked down the hill at the camera guy and snarled, “Who the fuck is that guy?” The cops glanced over at him and shrugged.

“Channel 4? Channel 12? I don’t know.” The older officer worked his jaw as he spoke. “We’re more or less on lock-down when it comes to dealing with the press. Law enforcement is shit right now in the eyes of the world so we have to be super accommodating to those guys… no matter how much we want to tell him to go pound sand.”

I felt my scalp tighten as my lips drew back from my teeth in a sneer. Normally, I take my cues from the police and just ignore the press. But not this time…

Oh fuck…” I heard on of the officers gasp and I spun on my heel and marched down to the camera guy.

As soon as I was within barking distance, I let loose with, “Hey, who are you?”

The camera guy looked me up and down. “I’m with Channel 12.” He glanced past me at the dead guy’s inert form on the sidewalk. “Don’t worry,” he offered smugly. “I’m not filming the body.”

They always say that and they always are. But they’re trained to say “I’m not filming the body” because they know we have no way of disproving this statement. Then they can get away with hanging around for as long as they want and filming whatever they like.

I turned around and looked up the hill. All I saw were two nervous cops standing over a dead guy who was loosely covered with a plastic sheet. I turned back to the cameraman. “Well, what ARE you filming then?” I demanded.

He stuttered. “Uh… the scene?”

“The scene IS the dead body,” I snapped. There was no arguing with me. He was filming two cops and a dead guy. It’s not like the dead guy was in a spectacular car accident, or there was a house fire in the background. I stared hard at the camera man who clearly wasn’t blessed with an overabundance of wit. He was working his mouth in a vain attempt to re-navigate his response. The old, “I’m-not-filming-the-body” angle had been out-played and he didn’t have anything else in his arsenal. I let him flail for a moment before delivering the fatal blow: “I’m going to have to ask you to LEAVE.” I said with flat finality.

We locked eyes for a hanging second. I saw him consider an argument or two- before shuffling forward to take his camera off the tripod and kick-stones back to his van. I turned, squaring my shoulders and making sure he got a clear, un-rumpled shot of the words “MEDICAL EXAMINER” printed across the back of my coat. He just got served and I wanted him to know by whom. Call my office and complain if you DARE, I silently willed him. And as I made my way back to the body, I mentally quoted one of my favorite movie lines ever:

I haven’t got a thing to lose… That makes me dangerous.”

“What did you SAY to him?” the cops gasped as I rejoined them at the top of the hill, getting ready to carry out the examination and disposition of one unidentified, deceased homeless guy who bought the farm on a local sidewalk.

“I told him to leave.”

They exchanged glances as I peeled the plastic sheet back. Our dead guy was in rough shape. His leathery skin was a tangled map of track-marks and scars. Both legs were encased in plastic walking casts but he wore no socks. I could see his cold-nipped toes sticking out the heavy padding of these “ortho-boots” which were serving as shoes. His pants were held up with a plastic bag which had been twisted into a fraying twine belt. He wore just a t-shirt. No coat or jacket. He had a few coins in his pockets, but no ID. No papers, no belongings. I took a peek- he also didn’t have any teeth.

We had no way of knowing who he was.

“Hey guys,” I called out to the officers. “Do we have any of those portable finger-print machines?”

They shook their heads. “The whole county had to discontinue the program. There isn’t a portable fingerprint machine for 40 miles in any direction.”

“Well, fuck.”


This concludes episode one of “The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out”. Join me next time to hear all about my increasingly volatile behavior as my frustration with work reached a fever pitch.

You want a teaser?

Ok.

Further shenanigans included me dancing around a funeral home at 2 in the morning, waving my keys over my head like a tambourine in an effort to identify this homeless guy…

And

The unauthorized application of toothpaste in an unorthodox fashion on the scene of a homicide.

Stay tuned.

Letters From the Front: The Truth of the Matter.

So… here’s the thing.

There has been a lot of misinformation out there- a lot of conjecture and even more speculation. If we are living in the “Information Age”, I think 2020 probably should be dubbed- “The Year of Over-Information” And 2021 is already setting itself up to be “The Year Every Asshole Decided to Make Their Opinions Known Online.” But that doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily, and probably won’t look good in the history books. I’m imagining the conversation now:

“Grandpa? Do you remember ‘The Year Every Asshole Decided to Make Their Opinions Known Online?'”

“I sure do, kiddo. Everyone knew what was going on, and yet NO ONE knew what the fuck was going on. It was a very confused time. Nothing like today- thank goodness for the invention of fact-checking shock-collars!”

“Wait, you mean back then people could just post whatever they wanted online?”

“They sure could, little buddy. But we learned our lesson! Now, you get 10,000 volts right to the jugular if you try to spread unsubstantiated hearsay. I tell ya, it’s a GREAT time to be alive!”

“Tell me again about the 2020 riots, Grandpa!”

So, I suppose I’m just another asshole, making my opinions known. Except for the fact that if you’re reading this, I’m YOUR asshole… or rather, I’m one of your assholes. And for some reason, you’ve decided to listen to what I have to say. So, before I get fitted with a fact-checking shock-collar, I’m gonna go ahead and tell you what I know.

This is the truth of the matter-

COVID-19 numbers are being grossly miscalculated.

Hang on to your butts, people. Because this is the real deal coming right from the grim-reaper’s scythe.

In my county, the medical examiner’s office is this weird little abortion of a program. We’re the janitors of public health. We’re vitally necessary and yet no one wants to actually see us at work. They’d much prefer if we just staggered in after everyone else went home. As a result, county administrators have never really known what to do with us. For a while we were part of the Vital Records department… then we got shifted over to EMS. Most recently, we were absorbed by county epidemiology which is probably our best fit. Not because our function has a lot to do with county epidemiology, but rather because (much like the medical examiner’s office) county epidemiology is populated by overqualified smart people who like to ask uncomfortable questions. Voila! A match made in cubicle-purgatory!

Anyway, the other day the chief county epidemiologist handed me a list of all the people who had allegedly died of COVID in our jurisdiction since March of 2020. She explained to me that this list had been produced by the state health department and she wanted to double check the numbers. However, as the county epidemiologist she didn’t actually have access to our state’s death certificate database. This meant she was unable to views these people’s death certificates and verify whether or not they had actually DIED of COVID. (Side note here- I have no IDEA why the county epidemiologist wouldn’t have access to the death certificate database… but that’s government work for you: A whole lot of rules- about half of which make sense. ) Anyway, she asked to me to check this COVID death list against the actual death certificates of each person.

(It’s okay. All pandemics end eventually. Sooner or later we’ll run out of people)

“I want you to tell me if COVID-19 actually appears anywhere on these people’s death certificates.” she instructed with grave severity.

I didn’t have much going on that day and the county epidemiologist is my goddamnned hero so I buckled right down. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you this, but what I found was a little unnerving. Of the names on her Covid-19 death list for our county… about 2/3 of them listed the coronavirus somewhere under “cause of death”. The other 1/3… were a total circus. Some of the deaths were due to car accidents or heart disease and COVID was nowhere to be found. A few of them weren’t actually deaths in our county so I don’t know how they made it to our list. Some of the death certificates didn’t have ANY cause or manner listed yet because they were recent enough that the signing doctors hadn’t filled them in yet. Still others didn’t have a death certificate at all- as in… no death certificate in our state, let alone our county.

When I presented my findings to the county epidemiologist, she nodded grimly.

“Shit, that’s what I suspected.”

And when I asked her what she meant, she explained:

“Public Health isn’t actually confirming that these people died of COVID. They’re looking at the COVID cases and assuming that anyone who tested positive for COVID and then died in the following 3 months -MUST HAVE died of COVID. So even if those people were bludgeoned in their beds by a stray asteroid, they’re till being documented as COVID deaths.”

“Oh… shit…” I murmured.

“Right?” she nodded.

So there you have it. COVID deaths are being OVER-reported.

Now, here’s where I feel I should pause because I can hear a bunch of you hollering things like, “Conspiracy!” “Agenda!” “REVOLUTION!” Put on this shock collar and sit the fuck down. Because the truth behind these skewed numbers isn’t what you think.

I recently ran across Hanlon’s razor- which reads: “Do not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

And I think the best place to apply this little slice of wisdom is in the realm of government. Yes, sometimes the government is malicious… but more often it’s stupid. The American government is incredibly inefficient and riddled with flaws and selfish pricks who think they know better than anyone else. Having worked for this county for over 10 years now, I can say with great authority- this miscalculation in COVID deaths is stupid. Clearly, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and both hands are missing their thumbs. Our county, our COUNTRY does not have the time, staffing, infrastructure or general intelligence to mastermind a bake sale, let alone a global pandemic. So calm down, all you Qanon whack-a-doodles out there. Keep your tinfoil hat on and keep reading.

COVID-19 deaths are also being UNDER-reported.

Having done death investigation for over a decade, I can tell you that there are LEGIONS of people out there who never go to a doctor for ANY reason. The only reason they have contact with any medical establishment at all is because they’re dying of a well-earned heart-attack and someone called 911. I know this because when these people die, they come across my desk. So believe me when I tell you that innumerable people out there have COVID and are not seeking out testing or treatment. They feel a little under the weather and decide to take a few swigs of NyQuil and sleep it off. Some of them survive, some don’t. And the ones that don’t… well… they might get an autopsy. This autopsy might include a post-mortem covid test… but neither of those procedures is guaranteed, nor are they altogether accurate. I’ve heard wildly varying reports on the reliability of post-mortem COVID tests. And autopsies aren’t a silver bullet. I’ve eye-witnessed plenty of autopsies in which all that could be said was: “Well- they weren’t murdered. *shrug*”

(“Well… I’m not sure if he died of cholera or dysentery, but on the upside, we’re wearing fabulous hats…”)

But that’s not the half of it.

The global pandemic is claiming thousands of lives of people who were never infected at all.

In the course of my work, the up-tick in ALL deaths is sobering and extreme. People are neglecting to take their prescribed, life-saving prescriptions because they don’t want to risk COVID exposure by going to their doctor or pharmacy. People are cancelling things like breast cancer screenings or colonoscopies for the same reason. People can’t go to dialysis because dialysis centers are petri-dishes for all things contagious. I had one guy who was a paraplegic who needed to get his wheelchair cushion refitted because it was shaped wrong and giving him pressure sores (decubitus ulcers). He couldn’t get in to the wheel-chair specialist because their office was shut down. He ended up dying of sepsis because of the resulting infections. These deaths aren’t listed as COVID deaths- but the pandemic is still to blame.

On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has placed a mighty strain on the mental health of our population. Every problem feels 10 times worse right now. We are all suffering in different ways and not all of us are dealing with it well. People who were managing their unfortunate coping mechanisms well enough before are now circling the drain. I mean… I realize we’re all having a rough time because movies and concerts aren’t happening right now. But you know what else isn’t happening?

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings…

Group therapy for trauma survivors…

In-person counseling appointments…

I recently went to a scene where a 26-year-old managed to drink herself to death in the space of 9 months. She and her partner had been polishing off a handle of Vodka per night. When I asked the partner why, she basically said the two of them had been numbing themselves against the excruciating drone of idle depression. Their school was cancelled, their jobs were cancelled. What else was there to do but drink?

My last shift, I had a man die by self-immolation. That’s right. The mother-fucker lit himself on fire. It turns out he had been laid off and wasn’t paying his mortgage. A family member had co-signed on his house so their credit was ruined as well. Dude had been trying unsuccessfully to find a job and finally just said “fuck it.” He went out to his garage with a gas-can and a book of matches, right after checking to make sure his life-insurance policy was up to date and covered suicide. Again- not a COVID death… or was it?

(“Dude… haven’t you heard Amazon is hiring?”)

Perhaps last of all are the random acts of violence. Our collective grief and frustration is so acute that people are acting out like toddlers who need some applesauce and a goddamned nap. Domestic disturbances are at an all-time high. People are getting in fights because they’re bored and pissed off and don’t have any means to discharge all that energy. They’re fighting their spouses, their kids, their friends, the cops etc etc etc. All too often, someone ends up dead.

“But what does it all MEAN?!?!?” I can hear people asking. “Pandemic deaths are being both OVER-REPORTED AND UNDER-REPORTED! Who’s screwing up and WHO’S TO BLAME?!?!”

NO ONE!

EVERYONE!

If nothing else, it means the human race is one big organism. The actions of everyone on the planet are interconnected and everything that we do in an effort to make things better is taking a toll that we never considered. It’s the action and re-action, the push and pull, the uncounted cost.

And it’s not malicious… it’s just stupid. People are doing their level best and it’s just not good enough.

But, running around with a fistful of hate and a mouthful of accusations isn’t slowing down the death toll- I can tell you that first-hand. And I’m talking to every side in every fight- News-flash, assholes, your bull-shit, self-righteous, violent extremism hasn’t saved any lives.

Look, tomorrow is Inauguration Day here in the United States. My law enforcement husband has asked me to stay home so he doesn’t have to worry about me inadvertently getting wound up in a demonstration/riot/whatever-the-fuck. My friends on the riot squad are making a list and checking it twice- not because they want to, but because they’re going to have to try to make sense of it all when the Molotov cocktails start flying.

Could we just not do this? Could we take that energy and apply it towards helping one another survive this shit show? Maybe take a breath and realize that we’re ALL triggered and traumatized. Maybe we all need a snack and a hug more than we need to punch someone in the face?

Maybe just put down the fucking bottle of vodka, America.

Get it together.

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-BTW- if you still need a laugh-

When I was running this whole blog post by my husband, we riffed for a while on the “fact-checking shock-collar”. He thought it might be funny to have an implant placed in people’s butts that would give them a jolt when they spread erroneous lies.

“You mean… like… a fact-checking anal-stimulator?” I asked him.

It was then that we discarded the idea because there would be some people who would walk around lying all the time… just for fun.

More so than usual.

All The Mules in Moscow

“Hey Grace, were you serious about volunteering for the wet lab on Monday?!”

I almost fell out of my chair with excitement when I saw this message. Not only was I serious about volunteering… I would have paid cash-money to be included. Finally! I first heard about the “wet lab” years ago as a paramedic and, much like high school prom and the ever elusive “house-party”, I never expected an invitation. I wasn’t cool enough. I was never cool enough

But life was different now and I was AWESOME! Or, at least I felt awesome as I replied to the police lieutenant’s email: FUCK YES I was serious about volunteering, more serious than a felony DUI!

For those of you who don’t know, a “wet-lab” is a law-enforcement training exercise. The cops serve some “volunteers” ridiculous amounts of alcohol and then practice road-side sobriety tests on them. Back when I was a paramedic, I always heard rumors about wet-lab shenanigans and longed for an invitation. The local cops would get all of their favorite paramedics liquored up, run them through the drunk-driving paces and then give them a ride home. But back then, I wasn’t anyone’s favorite anything. As an insignificant satellite character in the paramedic department’s eternal melodrama, the drunk-fairy always passed me by when handing out summons to the wet-lab.

Just you bitches wait until I have my own BLOG! I’ll show you…

—————————————————————————————-

So when Lieutenant Justin Meeker posted the Facebook call for wet-lab victims, it felt like a second chance to finally be one of the popular kids. I was the medical examiner! Everyone loved me (or they pretended to so I wouldn’t enlist their help in moving dead bodies) I replied PICK ME! PICK ME! PICK ME!

And he did!

So, let this be a lesson to all of you- NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!

Consequently, the following is a blow-by-blow account of my experience as a “wet-lab” participant. Also known as: “I Finally got Invited to the Party


-8 a.m.-

I have gotten off shift after working the last 48 hours. I have 6 hours before I have to be at the cops’ training center. This is great as I have a shit ton of prep-work to do. I have to plan very carefully because I’m really not a drinker and a solid night of inebriation could derail my next 3 days. I go to the gym and preemptively burn off a few hundred calories that I’ll be re-consuming later. In good/fucked up news, I handled a brutal suicide scene on my shift- so I already feel like drinking. Yay.

-12 p.m.-

I have sent all the emails and done all the cardio. I take a shower and apply all my typical night serums and retinol creams so I can just fall into bed when I get home later. I eat a large lunch of chili and cornbread so I have some staying power and don’t tap out after one cocktail… like I normally do. I also aggressively hydrate then dress in sweats so I don’t feel compelled to remove layers of clothing as the evening progresses and I inevitably decide that my jeans are uncomfortable.

-2 p.m.-

My friend comes to pick me up and take me to the training center. I don’t want to drive because I’d have to leave my car and an Uber would cost at least $50. She drives me to the training center and we discover the police department’s “training center” is a ragged, concrete building in a back alley across the street from a trailer park. It’s surrounded by a rusty chain-link fence and appears abandoned. My friend doesn’t hide her concern as we double-check the address and she insists on waiting in the parking lot until I am safely inside. I think about all of the “defund police” campaigns and wonder if the next “training center” will be a cardboard box in the fire-department’s parking lot.

Once I am inside, I tell the dude at the front desk that I’m there for the wet-lab. “Lucky” he says and escorts me to a small conference room where there will be shenanigans… I just know it.

-2:30 p.m.-

I have to sign an array of releases, promising I won’t drive home or keep drinking when the exercise is over. I also confirm that I have no medical conditions, nor am I an alcoholic. As I sign this paperwork, I am introduced to Ken. Ken will be intoxicated along with me. A couple of sober people will be mixed into our ranks later on and when the time comes, we will all be presented to the student officers for evaluation and they will have to determine who is drunk enough to be arrested. They’ll do this without the help of a breathalyzer, though the officer pouring our drinks will be intermittently checking our blood-alcohol with a breathalyzer. They want to make sure we’re good and loaded by the time we’re let loose upon the students.

I volunteer to fight the officers and scream insults at them while threatening to sue… in order to make this exercise as realistic as possible

They decline my offer.

They also tell me I’m not allowed to climb anything (or anyone). Furthermore, we were supposed to be seated in chairs without wheels, but someone screwed up and all the chairs have wheels. So please, they say, don’t do anything crazy.

I look at Ken and tell him he doesn’t know this yet, but we’re going to arm wrestle.

-3:00 p.m.-

Lt. Justin starts us off with doubles. I’m drinking Moscow mules while Ken drinks Cape Codders (vodka & cranberry) We were asked ahead of time what we liked and Justin has provided. He even brought me a copper mug and straw for my mules. I feel important. Then he tells me that I’m not allowed to keep it and his wife made him promise to bring it home. I feel slightly less important, but the alcohol helps.

We flip on the TV in the conference room and begin watching The Hobbit.

I fiddle around on my phone. This is boring. I wonder how I’m going to survive being in this room for another 5 hours.

Justin and Ken talk about cover bands.

-3:30 p.m.-

Justin checks my progress and says I’m not drinking fast enough. Neither is Ken.

We drink faster.

-4:00 p.m.-

I’m done with my first double mule. Justin pours me another. I realize that someone has turned off The Hobbit and now we’re watching Southpark. There is a dancing duck named “Jeffy” in this episode. I’m worried about Jeffy’s welfare, given Southpark’s reputation for carnage. Justin and Ken are still talking, but it’s faster than before… in fact, they’re talking super fast. I can’t follow them

Southpark is actually really funny and, much to my completely irrational relief, Jeffy the duck survives the episode, though lots of people die. This prompts me to start telling jokes about suicide. Justin and Ken think I’m hysterical but the sober people in the room look a little worried… and jealous.

-4:30 p.m.-

Justin says we’re still not drinking fast enough. His voice is really loud.

-5:00 p.m.-

Justin pours each of us another drink. Ken asks me my opinion of the George Floyd shooting… seeing as how I’m a medical examiner and all. Justin makes a choking sound and yells at us to stop. Then he hands each of us a bag of chips, presumably to distract us from talking about politics. One of the instructors from next-door (The class is going on next door?) pokes his head in and tells us to keep it down, I throw my bag of Doritos at him.

More Southpark

I really like Ken.

-5:15 p.m.-

I am undeniably drunk. But when Justin gives me the breathalyzer, he informs me that I am “only a .04”, HALF the legal limit. Ken blows a .03. we’re both flabbergasted that we’re nowhere near LEGALLY drunk. Justin pours us more drinks. We toast to our ineptitude at getting wasted and slam our beverages. Then we eat all my husband’s beef jerky that I stowed away in my bag

-5:30 p.m.-

Ken and I decide we’re going to be BFF’s and this is the most fun we’ve ever had in our lives.

We FaceTime my husband so I can introduce him to my best friend. My husband asks if that’s his beef jerky we’re eating. I say “NO!” and hang up.

-5:45 p.m.-

I am showing Ken videos of myself in my trapeze class. He’s amazed that he never knew his best friend (me) did trapeze. Justin scolds us to keep drinking. Being a public servant is very demanding.

-6:00 p.m.-

Ken has to go to the bathroom… I howl “Nooooooooo!!!!!!” and tell him he’ll “break the seal“ and then have to pee every 5 minutes. He goes anyway. Then I realize I have to pee as well. They get an unoccupied officer to walk me to the bathroom so I don’t wander into the street or fall over. He gives me his elbow, all-old-fashioned gentlemanly style, and I crookedly saunter to the restroom. As we walk the hall, I notice we’re walking by the classroom where the student officers are learning about drunk people. They all turn to look at me as I parade by… and I start snorting and hacking as I try to control my uncontrollable laughter. I sound like I’m coughing up a hairball.

I get back to our conference room and Ken and I high-five because we’re awesome.

-6:30 p.m.-

Ken and I are laughing… I’m not sure at what, but it’s super funny. Justin checks our levels and tells us it’s “go” time. Once again the officer offers me an arm and I undulate to my feet, wobbling like an inflatable dancer at a used-car lot. Ken and I exchange a meaningful farewell glance as I am escorted into the next room and propped up in a chair.

Justin uneasily observes from the doorway. I understand his hesitancy. Although I promised him I wouldn’t intentionally terrorize the recruits, I have a reputation. Where I used to simply force new officers to help me roll dead bodies from their backs to their bellies, I recently stepped up my terrorizing game. My latest death-scene-shenanigans involve telling trainees to determine how long a person has been dead by testing the elasticity of the eye. When they ask me what that means, I instruct them to press their thumb into the dead body’s eye-socket and let me know how long it takes for the globe to spring back. It’s total bullshit. I made it up on the fly one night when a couple of deputies asked me to give some customized hell to a hot-shot trainee whose confidence overreached his capabilities. As expected, the trainee flinched and balked at my directions. Everyone had a pretty good laugh at his expense before I relented and told him he didn’t have to poke any dead people in the eye. Since then, the “eye thing” has been my most requested number. Other popular acts involve commanding “probies” to stick their fingers into the bullet-hole in someone’s head, or insisting that they tell me the dead person’s zodiac sign. And so maybe Justin’s concern isn’t totally unfounded. Still, I promised I would behave. And I meant it when I said it.

But that was a long time ago.

6:40 p.m.-

The first trainee comes in. The test preceptor at the door tells him to treat me like any person he’s just pulled over. The trainee looks at me like I’m the final boss of a video game. And I know myself well enough to know that I’m regarding him like something I might batter around a little bit before I eat him. He’s scared of me.

He should be.

He starts reading “the spiel” off a pocket-guide that helps him remember each step of the standard road-side sobriety test. Knees locked like a nervous groom and shifting his weight from foot to foot, he reads the cues in a flat, wooden tone. Despite my earnest desire to be a cooperative subject, I start tittering. He reminds me of a kindergartner reciting the pledge of allegiance in front of his class. I’m so drunk that I feel acutely aware of everything. I notice the design on his t-shirt, the frayed hem of his jeans. I notice his beard stubble and how he laced his shoes. Empirically, I know that intoxication doesn’t heighten your senses. But I can understand how people come to the conclusion that they can drive. Because right now, I feel like Sherlock-fucking-Holmes. When he tells me to imagine a straight line stretching out in front of me that goes on forever, I start laughing and gasp out. “That’s a really long time!”

-7:00 p.m.-

The testing continues. I am confident in my ability to walk in a straight line and stand on one foot… except for the fact that I keep listing as though I’m wandering along the tilted deck of a sinking ship. After a couple of tries, I get it together and I am capable of executing both of these tasks with no trouble. As an active person, my proprioception and physicality is pretty well honed. My drunkenness is not so apparent in my movements, but it’s definitely obvious in my attitude. I’m a lunatic. As each new officer walks in, I demand to know their name and what agency they work for. They tell me and I narrow my eyes. “I’ll do your test,” I tell them. “But understand I’m going to remember this when you and I are on the scene of a death…” Then I assault them with sarcastic comments throughout the exercise. I inform one officer he looks like a 12-year-old. I inform another that I have a cyanide tablet in my tooth in case I’m taken by “zee Russians”.

I have gathered a crowd of on-lookers at the door. They are snickering as the preceptor asks my latest victim if he would arrest me, had this been an actual road-side test. The cop-ling laughs and says, “Oh yeah, Absolutely.”

“GOOD CHOICE!” I slur as I go to high-five him. He raises his hand to high-five me back, but I miss and end up slapping him in the face. The preceptor tells him to note in his report that, “-subject was unable to execute a high-five.”

-7:30 p.m.-

In walks my first and only woman trainee. I have a flash of empathy for her. I certainly know what it’s like to be the only woman in a room full of hyper-masculine dude-bros. I’m tempted to go easy on her, but I discard the thought almost as soon as it stumbles through my addled brain. Sooner or later she’ll have to learn that she’s going to take an inordinate amount of shit in this job… probably more than any of these guys. No one is going to give her any breaks because she’s a girl. Quite the opposite.

Like all the men, she introduces herself and reads off her pocket-guide. When she gets to the part that says, “look at the tip of this pen” she holds her pen in front of my face. I’m supposed to follow the pen with my eyes as she moves it from side to side. But instead I just snatch it out of her hand and throw it across the room. She blinks at me for a split second and then smoothly shrugs and says, “Ok, look at the tip of my finger…” I look and see that she has a little smiley face drawn on the tip of her finger. I laugh with delight. Not only was she unruffled by my infantile petulence, she also had an alternative plan ready to go. I proclaim, “The Force is STRONG with this one!” and I don’t give her anymore shit. Her smiley-face-finger-tip has earned my respect.

-8 p.m.-

The sobriety tests are winding down but I am sticking around for an extra duty. One of the Drug Identification Experts needs to re-certify, which is to say, he needs to run me through the test they give someone who is clearly intoxicated, but a breathalyzer indicates an absence of alcohol. In order to do this, I have to be moved to a different, “private” room with the expert and his preceptor. No one trusts me to walk, so instead someone pushes me in my roller chair into the other room, I raise my hands over my head and holler “WHEEEEEEEEEEE!” as I go. I wave happily at Ken as he’s walking a straight line for a trainee. Then I snag a traffic cone off a table as we pass and I state it’s my “emotional support cone” since I’m going to be alone with these two guys and I find law enforcement officers incredibly intimidating.

Heh.

The drug identification test takes another 30 minutes. The expert-guy has the most calming and cordial demeanor I’ve ever seen. He’s so chill I want him to be my dad. I perform all of his tasks to the best of my ability and at the end, I have no idea how his assessment went, but I really want him to like me. I hope I made him proud. If anyone could teach lessons in de-escalation, it’s this guy.

-8:30 p.m.-

Our service to our community is over. Ken and I are both starting to sober up but our enthusiasm for this whole production is undiminished. When his elderly father comes to pick him up (we’ve both been required to secure a responsible driver to deliver us home) Ken and I hug goodbye and his father shrugs in confusion. Ken tells Justin that if there is ever another wet-lab he expects for both of us to be invited… because we’re awesome.

I asked a couple of my circus friends to come get me, one of whom is a professional hand-balancer. I announce this to Justin and the few preceptors remaining when my ride arrives. Justin looks like he just wants to go home, but some of the others demand a demonstration. Despite the fact that she’s stone sober, my friend obligingly perform a series of physics-defying poses, while balancing on her hands. They load me up and do a donut in the parking lot before peeling out and zooming off. It’s probably not the most reassuring exit ever, but I think my friend is kind of excited to execute some risky driving moves right in front of police officers.

I don’t remember the ride home.

But a week later, when I send Ken a friend request on Facebook, he accepts.

I knew he would. Ken and I are BFF’s and he wouldn’t do me like that…

…not for all the mules in Moscow

-fin-

My First Crucifixion

“You’ve got a bunch of people attached to you. Do you want me to do a clearing and get rid of them?”

I never know what to say when he asks me this.

I was talking to Peter, a dear, true friend of mine who is a doctor as well as a… a… um… an empath? An energy worker? The correct term eludes me, but he talks to me a lot about “light” and how I manifest the divine feminine.

And I mean… not in a creepy way. Many very “spiritual” men have propositioned me, offering a 2nd chakra alignment, (meaning they intend to fuck the enlightenment out of me). But Peter’s interest in me has never been anything so vulgar.

Honestly, I’m not altogether sure what to make of his interest in me. We’re kindred spirits for certain. We met back when I was a paramedic, working in an urgent care clinic during my internship with a medical examiner’s office. He was a physician. We slogged through grueling 12-hour shifts together and found considerable relief in one another’s sense of humor. For example, I used to engage in interpretive dances in an effort to pass the time. These dances always involved an array of handy props: I.V. poles, neck braces, clip-boards, you name it. Peter tells me that the first time he ever saw me go pirouetting through the clinic waving a pair of ace bandages over my head, he thought to himself, “Oh, thank GOD, someone normal works here.”

As we became better friends, Peter allowed me to perform any number of procedures which were decidedly not in a paramedic’s scope of practice, but still super fun. I don’t care what you’ve heard, stapling someone’s scalp back together is a total kick in the head

Ka-chink Ka-chink Ka-chink!!!!

————————————————————————————————————-

Also, as we became better friends, Peter began letting me know that his talents extended beyond the corporeal realm and he also engaged in energy work and … stuff.

I say “stuff” not to be disrespectful, but rather because I flail at describing what, exactly, Peter does. I just know that every now and then, he calls and says he senses I’ve got some undesirables lurking about my person… souls that I’ve picked up from a death scene like cat hair or bed-bugs. “It’s perfectly normal,” he tells me. “You work with the newly dead. AND you work with souls who were pretty violently ripped from their bodies and they’re confused. It makes sense they would attach to you. You’re a pretty bright light and you’re there to restore order.”

Anyway, Peter always asks for permission to “clear” the hangers-on and I always give it. He has also “cut-cords” that energetically tethered me to a couple shitty ex-boyfriends. He has asked me afterward if I felt better and I suppose I did to some degree. To this day I don’t feel weighed down by those memories or characters anymore. But I’m a hardened skeptic. A cancer diagnosis paired with an Evangelical Christian upbringing will do that to you.

I’m not sure if you know this, but I was raised in a SUPER-Christian home. We didn’t handle snakes or anything, or reject modern medicine. But the gravity of my “inherent sinful nature” and a constant need to atone for it always simmered on the front burner of my developing brain. It made for a heavy childhood, thick with guilt and obligation.

On the one hand, I don’t hold anything against my long-ago spiritual teachers. I understand that they were doing their best for me. But on the other hand, some of the things they taught me ultimately equated to a primeval sense of cause and effect: If something bad happened to you, you probably did something to deserve it. And even if you didn’t, what right did you have to question the will of God? If God wanted you to have cancer, it was your job to find the lesson he was trying to teach you. Obviously, cancer was God’s way of trying to get your attention. So be a good girl and listen for his voice in the midst of your suffering.

I listened.

I heard the rattling and buzzing machine that fired deadly radiation at me.

I heard my ex-husbands beeping computer as he buried himself in video-games, leaving me to navigate the labyrinthine corridors of modern medicine, alone.

I heard the silence from friends and family members who called either rarely or not at all.

And I came out the other side of cancer with the distinct opinion that if “God” existed, he either couldn’t help me… or wouldn’t.

But believe it or not, I didn’t really hold it against him. The same way I wouldn’t hold it against a tidal wave that annihilated my home, my city and everyone I know. How can you be angry at a force of nature? Why bother getting pissy with physics? Not a single feverish prayer or spirited hissy fit stops fate from handing out some truly raw deals.

Of course, I haven’t gone completely atheist. But I regard the God of my youth the same way I regard many things: I don’t not believe in him.

When Peter said my soul had seen thousands of years on Earth, I didn’t not believe him.

When my palm-reading friend looked at my hand and told me I had “someone riding with me”… as in a guide or defending spirit. I didn’t not believe her.

When my shaman-in-training co-worker told me that my spirit animal was a tiger and it would help me through cancer treatment, I didn’t not believe her.

But I also don’t entirely believe them.

Still, I have to admit my Judeo-Christian upbringing has helped me out here and there. Most recently, my years of Sunday-schooling helped me figure out a particularly mysterious cause of death.

MY FIRST CRUCIFIXION

(professionally speaking)

I’m sorry, I know this is incredibly sacrilegious- but a friend sent it to me recently and I couldn’t help it.

———————————————————————————————————-

Very little enrages me as much as waking up to a beeping pager in the dead of night. Local law enforcement knows this and I’m pretty sure they draw straws to determine which poor bastard has to call me with a death report. This night was no different. After the pager pulled me out of a dead sleep, I called the flashing number and, with scathing derision, asked the officer what the fuck he wanted.

“Hey Grace. We have a dead guy here… he’s hanging.”

“Ok,” I grumbled. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. It’s a suicide, right?”

He hesitated. “Ummm… no? I don’t know. He’s hanging by his arm.”

“His arm?”

“Yeah.”

I shrugged, hanging up. Suicide or accident, it didn’t matter. I still had to ooze into some clothes and stagger my way to the scene.

When I got there, I realized it wasn’t a house or park or any of the typical places where people hang themselves. The scene was a massive, empty warehouse. The building had, at one time, housed one of those enormous, big box stores. But it had been vacant for a couple of years, save for being rented by a pop-up costume and accessory store-front that arrives with Halloween and is gone by November 1st. The parking lot was silent and deserted as I approached the darkened edifice. The pavement was cracked and full of weeds. The parking-lot flood lights had long been burned out and the decrepit desolation reminded me of a post-apocalyptic zombie flick. Only a single vehicle was noted: a van, parked in a far corner of the lot; obviously positioned there in an effort to avoid detection. I crept my county truck around to the freight entrance of the building where I found several police cruisers and an un-marked detective’s unit.

“What the hell?” I barked at the officers as I threw the truck in park and jumped out. “The dead guy is in there?”

“Yeah!” They called back. “Weird, right?”

“Hey guys?” I heard a hesitant, echoing voice warble out from inside the slightly open garage door of the freight entrance. “Is that the medical examiner? Are you guys coming in soon?”

“Who is that?” I asked.

They exchanged looks and one of the officers almost giggled. “That’s our recruit. He was the only one small enough to get under the garage door. He’s in there with the body.”

“He’s alone in that warehouse with a dead body?”

The officers snickered. “We gave him a flashlight…”

“That’s fucked up, you guys.”

They shrugged. “Somebody had to do a standby with the body until you got here. He’s fine.”

“He doesn’t sound fine.”

They shrugged again. “You wanna go under the door or up the dumpster chute?”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” I muttered as I hopped up on the loading dock and crawled, army-style, under the garage door. As I got up, I first noted that there was a relieved-looking officer standing before me, agitated and fidgeting with his flashlight. I also noted that the warehouse was cold, quiet and stagnant as a tomb. The entire expanse was an empty linoleum floor that seemed to stretch on endlessly before us. I squinted into the blackness and thought I saw a pale, ghostly shape suspended in mid-air in the far corner of the building.

“Is that him?” (as though anyone else would be dangling from the ceiling in there…)

The officer nodded and the others outside called in to us, saying the fire department had just shown up with some tools to cut the doors open. I barely heard them. With the officer (who looked like he was about 12) by my side, I approached our decedent. He was hanging, just like the officers had said. His feet were about 6 feet off the ground and he was maybe another 6 feet from the ceiling. But there was no ligature around his neck. As reported, the dead guy appeared to be hanging by one arm. Specifically, it looked as though he was hanging from one hand. With the flashlight, I could make out a length of wire, looped tightly around and crushing his left wrist. The wire passed behind him and was also looped across his shoulders and down to his right hand. But there was nothing across his throat and no indication of strangulation.

On the floor beneath him was a tangle of wires and a large toolkit. Above him hung a maze of piping and air-ducts.

“What the fuuuuuuuck,” I murmured.

“He was stealing the copper wiring, it’s actually pretty valuable,” the young officer told me by way of explanation. “His girlfriend was outside in the van. She says they got here around 7 a.m. and he came inside. She fell asleep and he wasn’t back when she woke up. She couldn’t see in the windows and just wandered around for a while until she called a friend. The friend boosted her into the garbage chute and she found him like this.”

“Yeesh…” I muttered. Crawling in the barely-open garage door was bad enough. But I couldn’t imagine crawling into the near-complete darkness to find your significant other, dead, hanging from the ceiling. It was gruesome and undeniably traumatic. “How the hell did he get up there?”

The officer pointed. “There’s an access ladder right there. It goes up to that trapdoor to the roof. He probably scaled the ladder then crawled outside the cage and just sort of crawled on to of the pipes to get to the wires.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like a hanging. He’s tangled in the wires but nothing is actually around his neck. Don’t touch him. He’s probably an electrocution. And stay away from all the wires. We don’t know which ones are live.”

Just then, the fire department tumbled in the door with a loud crash. They set up a couple of floodlights, which helped with viewing the scene, but also made the whole tableau look that much more like a haunted house display. The fire department was pretty gung-ho about cutting him down and getting the hell out of there. But both the police and I insisted on calling the local power company to make sure the power was completely shut off to the building.

This meant another 30 minutes of waiting for the on-call electric company employee to drag himself out of bed and brave the abandoned-building wasteland along with the rest of us. When he got there, he shuddered with disgust at the inert body hanging from the ceiling. But he looked downright horrified when he took in the chaos of the electrical room. Our decedent had made a glorious, tangled mess of the place. All of the electrical boxes had been smashed open and lengths of wire were stripped from the wall-anchors and lay, strewn on the floor. Electric-dude (as he shall henceforth be known) started pulling all manner of gadget out of his kit and fiddling around with… stuff.

After a few minutes he announced that he had to go outside to the electrical box and … do whatever it is he does… out there. While we were waiting, the officers and I prowled around the gutted mega-store, observing the damage our guy had done before meeting his end. In the back hallway, locked doors had been kicked in. Ceiling panels hung askew from their brackets and more wire lay in piles beneath smashed holes in the walls. Aside from the recent damage, the floors were stained and sticky. Paint was chipping and beautiful people with grotesque, billboard- smiles, grinned down at us from the peeling advertisements on the walls. All of us squirmed at the hollow echoes of our voices in the expansive void. The emptiness was darkly oppressive and unnerving, especially since the only illuminated corner of the building featured a suspended corpse.

“So, here’s the deal-” The electrical guy’s voice boomed towards us as he came back in. “As far as I can tell, the electricity to the building is off and has been this whole time.”

The cops and I exchanged a look.

“Are you sure?”

He stuttered for a moment. “Well, there’s still a very slight charge to the box, but nothing lethal. It looks like everything has been off for a while.”

“Okay… but are you sure there’s no electricity in those wires? I don’t want all of us to get electrocuted trying to get that guy down.”

His eyes flipped from me- to the cops- to the fire crew- to the dead guy- back to me. “I’m pretty sure…”

This was good enough for the fire department. They seemed bored with the whole production and quickly set up a ladder and looped a harness over the pipes in the ceiling to create a pulley system. I held my breath as one of the fire crew scrambled up the ladder and looped the harness around the decedent’s torso. The rest of the fire crew heaved on the loose end of the rope as the ladder guy quickly snipped the wire loose with a set of bolt cutters. I held my breath, waiting for an explosion of sparks and a surprised cry from the fire-fighter as 100,000 volts of electricity ripped through his body

But nothing happened. The other fire-fighters held the harness line taut as the suspending wire wrapped around the dead guy’s arm released and they gently guided him to the floor.

Once there, I began painstakingly examining his body for signs of trauma. Electrical injuries have a reputation for being evasive and subtle: a white spot on the thumb and a corresponding blackened smudge to an ankle. Of course other times, these physical markers dramatically display themselves as a charred limb or scorched digit- with layers of skin peeling away like barbecue. However, the blemishes I had been eying on our decedent’s body from a distance turned out to be common scrapes or even dirt. What I had initially been certain was an entry point for a lethal electric charge was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill laceration which was probably about a week old. Furthermore, the way the wiring twisted around our dead guy indicated he had been attempting to alleviate the pressure on his tangled left wrist by wrapping the wires around his right hand and lever himself out of the merciless loop that suspended him between heaven and earth. If he had been electrocuted, there would have been no attempt at escape, he would have been dead almost instantly.

Unable to find the expected culprit, I stood up from the grimy concrete floor and regarded our decedent in confusion. It was possible I was missing the entry and exit points for an electrocution due to the poor lighting, the layers of grimy clothing and the pressure of an audience. Even as I regrouped, the fire department started bubbling over with suggestions and speculations. Maybe he had died of a heart attack and that’s what caused him to fall. Maybe it was an overdose- like he had hit the crack pipe or something just prior to ascension.

There goes my hero…

———————————————————————————————————-

Maybe it was the word “ascension” that caught my attention.

Or maybe it was the fact that our guy was pale and thin… with a beard and straggly, shoulder length brown hair. His arms were splayed out to either side at shoulder level and he looked almost peaceful- kind of like someone I used to spend a lot of time with.

“Oh my god,” I gasped. “You guys… he was crucified!”

The cops and firefighters all looked at me like maybe I had hit the crack pipe. Crucifixion? I imagined them all thinking. No one jammed a crown of thorns on his head and nailed this guy to a post. I scrambled to explain as the realization filled me with triumphant excitement. Finally, my years in religious-school purgatory were paying off!

You see, in addition to filling little children’s heads with self-loathing and shame, many Christian schools also subject students to incredibly graphic descriptions of Christ’s crucifixion. I suppose the idea is to impress upon them the extent of Jesus’ suffering to pay for mankind’s sins. Subsequently, I learned the pathology behind crucifixion at such an impressionable age that I could never hope to forget it. Most people think that crucifixion victims die of blood loss or exposure and that’s a fair assumption. The torture rituals surrounding crucifixion are brutal enough to cause death long before the main event actually takes place. But here’s the thing- anyone who manages to survive the floggings and beatings until they’re nailed to a cross actually dies of positional asphyxia… that is to say, they suffocate.

Your lungs don’t inflate of their own accord. Put simply, air gets pulled into your lungs when your diaphragm (a big, flat muscle that’s stretched across the bottom of your ribcage) expands downward, creating a negative pressure gradient. Without that muscle, you couldn’t breathe on your own. Furthermore, the muscles between your ribs (your intercostals for those of you feeling scholarly) assist in breathing. And these muscles are like any other muscles in your body. They are subject to fatigue if they’re over-taxed. When someone is suspended by their arms for an extended period of time, (either stretched to the side or over their heads) the diaphragm is stretched and has to work extra hard in order to expand enough to pull air into the lungs. The intercostal muscles also put in extra work to enable the mechanics of breathing. If a person remains suspended for an extended time, all those muscles eventually give up. It’s a grueling and painful death, gradually losing your air as you dangle. A lot of images of crucifixion show a little wedge at the feet, upon which the victims could brace themselves as they awaited the inevitable. It’s debatable if this little wedge was actually a thing. It’s also believed that the victims’ feet being nailed to the cross also supplied a certain amount of support. But according to history, if a crucifixion victim managed to hang out for too long, surviving the elements and the injuries, people would get bored and the powers that be would command for the victims’ legs to be broken. This action would eliminate any remaining hope that the victim would be able to hold a position in which their respiratory muscles could function. Fully suspended, they would be dead in a matter of hours.

Just like our decedent.

Following the story we were being given, The decedent had gone into the warehouse around 7 a.m. He had managed to get some demolition and thievery done before climbing up to his perch and then falling, probably grabbing at the wires on his way down. Which explains how he ended up wrapped up in the wire in the first place. And there he hung. It wasn’t until 11 p.m. that the girlfriend began wondering in earnest where he was. Then another hour went by as she summoned a friend to help her gain access to the dumpster chute. All told, our guy had likely been suspended by his one arm for at least 12 hours. Possibly up to 16.

More than enough time to slowly suffocate.

I told all of this to the gathered assembly with excited glee. It was an incredibly unlikely death, and an even more unlikely discovery. As far as I knew, not one of my colleagues had ever come across a crucifixion before and I couldn’t wait to tell them.

Of course, no one else shared my enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. I was so excited about figuring it all out that I kind of forgot to consider what this meant for our victim: an excruciatingly slow, torturous death. The cops and firefighters all gazed at me in horror as I chuckled and beamed in exultation, congratulating myself for my own acumen. And it didn’t occur to me until I was driving home, that when the decedent’s friends and family called and asked their favorite question, the one friends and family always ask: did he suffer, I was not in a position to offer my usual response. Typically I say either No, he didn’t, or I don’t know. In this one instance I knew the answer. It had been drilled in to my brain from the moment I was first able to babble the lyrics to Jesus Loves Me.

Yes, he absolutely suffered.

His death was probably indolent and terrifying… shadow-like, creeping up the walls as the light faded from the windows and his breaths came shorter and shallower.

It was probably awful.

The thought sat on my lap and stared at me as I drove home from that scene. I felt heavy… I felt haunted. And I guessed that if I ever had any “spiritual hangers-on” I definitely had them now. Intrusive thoughts and vicious little pictures played themselves out in my head. I couldn’t stop imagining him, hanging there, waiting to die in the dark… alone.

I thought about calling Peter and asking him to do one of his “clearings”-whatever that means. I don’t know if he sits cross-legged in a quiet room and imagines brushing cobwebs off of me or what. But it was still early, I didn’t want to wake him. Then again, I also didn’t want to carry the spiritual/emotional/metaphysical residue of this death into my home. I didn’t want to track this shit into the living room. I didn’t want to lie down in my bed while my ghostly thoughts laid down next to me and stroked my hair as I tried to sleep. I didn’t want my brain-monsters watching me shower.

When you become a medical examiner, or when you begin working in healthcare, you’re generally required to take classes that train you to properly clean up after medical emergencies and such. It’s usually called, “blood-borne pathogens” or something equally unimaginative. You’re also trained in the proper use of “PPE” or “personal protective equipment”. There are guidelines and laws and documents governing how you keep yourself safe and clean. But no one tells you how to sanitize your mind. How do you peel the images off your brain? How do you rinse the existential ennui from your spirit and scrape the demons off your shoes before you accidentally track them through your life?

As the sun rose, I stood in my front yard, staring at my house. I couldn’t go in… not yet. I had to do something…something to pry the evil eye off my back. I couldn’t bring that death home with me. Not that one.

Earlier in my life, I would have prayed. I would’ve sung a hymn to myself and asked Jesus to cleanse my mind of melancholy and phantoms. As a child I used to plead with God to remove the monsters from my closet. Then I implored him to ease my way through high school. Later I begged for confidence, a job… a husband… But, I don’t know, asking Jesus to help me stop thinking about a guy who got crucified kind of felt like asking Jack Daniels to help me stop drinking.

Not really his wheelhouse.

So I decided to wing it.

I stepped off the sidewalk and on to my front lawn (less a lawn and more a tangled mess of weeds and under-watered grass). I kicked my shoes off and delicately placed each bare foot on the ground. I stared at my toes and willed the earth to soak up the darkness I had absorbed during the night. I willed the sorrow away. I tilted my head back and took a deep breath of the chilly, pre-dawn air. I smelled dew mixed with grass and the faint, saucy sweetness of my rosebushes nearby. I said his name, addressing him directly. I told the crucified dude that I was sorry for what had happened to him, but he wasn’t allowed to come home with me. I told him he didn’t belong here anymore. I told him to move along.

And as I opened my eyes…

… there was my 80-year-old neighbor and her dog, standing on the sidewalk, staring at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

She didn’t say anything, just watched as I hastily pulled my shoes back on and adjusted my massive, black work bag on my shoulder.

“Hi Karen..” I mumbled as I retreated into my home, leaving the stubborn spirit of one, recently dead, crucifixion victim on the front lawn, hopefully to follow her home instead. After all, Karen lives alone and is a much better hostess than I am, judging by the banana bread she baked us last year.

When I talked to the dead guy’s family, they didn’t ask too many questions. I think when I explained the mechanism of his death, they drew their own conclusions about how unpleasant his final hours were. Life went on, uninterrupted, and the next time I talked to Peter I half expected him to warn me that I had a whopper of a restless spirit skulking around and stinking up my aura. But he didn’t mention anything. I can only surmise my half-assed little “ritual” must have worked.

Cool.

It’s a satisfying feeling, knowing I can clear my own atmosphere. Because let’s be honest, Peter’s a doctor. He’s got all kinds of other shit going on. And Jesus… well, I’m not too sure what Jesus is up to these days but I want him to know I’ve got my business handled.

I fight my own battles-

and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

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.

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

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)

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

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-

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout