Unfortunate Truths

It’s a little bit like hanging up-side-down by your knees…. which is something I actually do quite a bit, believe it or not.

I take fitness classes in which I am required to hang up-side down on a bar in order to do hanging crunches.  And the first time I approached this particular exercise, I remember thinking, “How hard could it be? I see people hang up-side -down by their knees all the time.” Not really, of course.  But as far as activities go, hanging up-side down by your knees isn’t as out there as, say, chewing your own toe-nails… or dressing up like Darth Vader and riding around town on a unicycle while playing the bag-pipes (which some guy actually does in Portland, Oregon.  They call him “The Uni-piper” and he has his own Facebook page)

Anyway, my point is, Hanging upside-down by your knees doesn’t seem that weird and it doesn’t look like it hurts, but it does… it really, really does…. at least at first.

I remember feeling as though someone was pressing a branding iron to the backs of my legs.  That’s how much it hurt.  But after I’d been at it for a few months, it really didn’t bother me anymore.  People told me that I had killed all the nerve endings in the area where my knees hit the bar from which I would hang.  They said that repeated exposure to the exercise had somehow caused my body to adapt and rearrange itself so that I was magically immune to pain in that area.  I disagree.  The exercise is no more or less tolerable.  It still hurts like a bitch, I’ve just come to accept the pain.  I’ve come to expect it.  I think the real difficulty in it was the surprise… my caught-breath astonishment at how fucking much my legs hurt the first time I did it.

There are things you come to know… unpleasant things.  And the first time you learn them… that first, irrevocable stab of understanding that enters your consciousness…it’s brutal.  You swear that you’ll never find a way to reconcile yourself to the reality of what you’ve just encountered.  But you do somehow.  It doesn’t make the experience any less awful, but you find ways to endure it.  The horror becomes commonplace.  The discomfort becomes tolerable… even normal.  I suppose you can get used to anything, really… except maybe catastrophic blood loss- THAT tends to get worse the longer it goes on…

As a medical examiner, I’ve had to modify my worldview to accommodate the ugly realities of our species and society.  In particular, there are four unfortunate truths that I’ve forced myself to stomach and then digest. And I’ve done it so often, that these truths… these unfortunate truths… they hardly even register anymore, until they do.  This past shift, one unfortunate truth flew at me with such force and ferocity, that I couldn’t help but flinch.  But I’ll ease you into it first

 

UNFORTUNATE TRUTH #1-

There are a terrifying number of licensed doctors out there who really have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

I know this because I talk to a lot of them.

Often, when people die “unexpectedly” (which is to say, they weren’t in hospice or under a doctor’s care in a hospital) we at the medical examiner’s office will contact the dead person’s physician and ask them to sign the death certificate.  We don’t do this with every death. Obviously if there’s anything suspicious about the death, we will go through the motions of doing an autopsy and so on… But in cases where someone has obviously died of natural causes and there’s honestly no realistic possibility they could have died of anything else, it’s perfectly reasonable for the state to decline jurisdiction and ask the decedent’s doctor to sign the death certificate, listing their known health problems under “cause of death”.  For example, if an eighty-nine old woman with a history of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, lung cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease passes away in her sleep at her nursing home- all her autopsy is going to show is that she had heart disease, strokes, diabetes, lung cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, when I call the doctors of these dead folks and ask them to sign the death certificate, they’re always utterly astonished and confounded, like it never occurred to them that such people actually die.

“Goodness, I can’t sign her death certificate!” they sputter, as though I just asked them to cut off their own ears or drown a puppy.  “I wasn’t there! I couldn’t possibly know what she died of!  You need to do an autopsy!”

“Well,” I typically respond, “Her medical record says that you saw her for a check-up last week, and at that time, you prescribed six different medications…”

“Well, yes… but that’s different… she was fine last week…”

I really have to question exactly what state of health these doctors refer to as “fine”.  Because unless I’m mistaken, that woman was, reliably, an eighty-nine year old with a history of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, lung cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease when that doctor saw her last week.  If she was a twenty-six year-old marathon runner last week then her doctor is absolutely right… we would need to look into that.

 

UNFORTUNATE TRUTH #2-

It’s unbelievable how many bat-shit crazy people are wandering the streets of America at any given moment.

Seriously.

And I don’t just mean your run-of-the-mill “unresolved-issues-self-harming-isn’t-ready-for-a-long-term-relationship” breed of crazy.  I’m talking “receiving-transmissions-from-Jupiter-straight-jacket-electro-shock-therapy-bleeding-walls” CRAZY. I mean… after all…. the Uni-piper

Lock your doors, people.  I’m not kidding.

 

UNFORTUNATE TRUTH #3-

A lot of murders go unsolved… A LOT.

Of the homicides in which I’ve been involved, about half of them are still dangling out there… with their tattered lose ends fluttering in the chilly breeze of uncertainty.  Oh, sure… the police might know who DID it, but proving this person’s culpability and then finding that guy can be a real… fiasco. Generally, unless the perpetrator’s identity is REALLY obvious and that person is immediately available at the time of the investigation, there isn’t a lot of hope.  I think that I’ve been on about five or six honest-to-goodness murder scenes in the last four years, and of those, only two guys were ever caught- and those guys were only caught because they were both still at the scene when police showed up.

One guy kicked the ever-loving shit out of his girlfriend, then tried to convince the police that she had fallen in the shower.  It would have been a plausible account if he had followed-up the shower story with something like:  “And then she went out and got run-over by a train”.  because her body looked like… well… it looked the way you’d expect someone to look who had just been beaten to death.

The other guy shot his girlfriend and then unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  The dim-wit put his gun under his chin and then tilted his head back and pulled the trigger.  Notice the whole, “tilted his head back and then pulled the trigger” thing.  Because in this sequence of actions… that’s where this ass-hole made his non-fatal mistake.  In tilting his head back, he effectively moved his brain out of the line of fire.  He succeeded only in completely demolishing the structures of his jaw-bone, lost about half his teeth and splattered his tongue all over the ceiling of his kitchen… all of which is actually a good thing- he’s going to need all that extra space in his mouth when he goes to jail and has to start sucking people’s cocks for survival.

Hmmm, was that too graphic? Well, I can’t help it.  I just lose track of my manners when I’m discussing domestic violence… speaking of which… now for the main event.

 

-UNFORTUNATE TRUTH #4-

Men kill women.

This isn’t a profound revelation, I know.  But people seem to forget that unfortunate truth throughout the course of their daily lives.  Or rather, men do.  As women, I don’t think we ever really forget it.  The edges blur a bit as the issue falls out of focus… only to be brought back into stark clarity when the morning news trumpets that another douche-bag decided that some woman deserved to die because she married him… or because she didn’t marry him… or because she wouldn’t put out… or she put out for the wrong person… all kinds of explanations are offered all the time- as though anything could possibly be an adequate justification for murdering your wife, or girlfriend, or crush, or co-worker, or mother, or sister, or neighbor, or whatever.  Because the subset of unfortunate truth #4 is that men kill women who know them.

It’s incredibly rare that a woman will die at the hands of a complete stranger who may be lurking in the bushes on her walk home from the grocery store.  Sure, things like that happen, but not with the terrifying regularity of women being murdered by someone that she willingly let into her life.  We lock our doors, we take kick-boxing classes. we stay in groups, we carry weapons…. but none of these things are generally helpful against the real threat: the men in our lives.

Now I know that someone out there is going to accuse me of being a paranoid man-hater… but I’m not. I actually face these facts with utterly impassive logic and conviction.  Of all the things that could end a woman’s life- being murdered by a man she knows is simply a… well.. it’s an unfortunate truth.  In a study done by the Violence Policy Center (a national non-profit educational organization that conducts research and public education on violence in America)regarding the deaths of women in 2011, the following information was disseminated:

  • For homicides in which the victim-to-offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims (1,509 out of 1,601) were murdered by a male they knew.
  • Sixteen times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,509 victims) than were killed by male strangers (92 victims).
  • For victims who knew their offenders, 61 percent (926) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers

If those statistics don’t scare you, maybe this one will…

In my career as a medical examiner EVERY murder that I’ve investigated in which the victim was a woman- the killer was ALWAYS someone she knew… ALWAYS.

I just got home from my shift…  one in which a 34 year-old woman was shot, point-blank, four times by her ex-boyfriend as she was moving her stuff out of their once-shared apartment… the one I’ve already mentioned in which he killed her and then attempted to kill himself and succeeded only in blowing his mouth all to hell.  It was a rough ride.  And when I come away from such scenes at work, I can’t help but do something that I’m sure many women have done- especially after we hear stories like that one.

I couldn’t help but wonder which of my male acquaintances would most likely murder me.

… or which ones could have… an ex-boyfriend with some insidious misogynist leanings… a neighbor who stared too long… a co-worker who would throw shit when he was upset… any one of them.  If given the right set of circumstances… adequate opportunity and motivation…  Such personalities populate our lives, how would we ever know?

Because as much as people like to say that such a thing could never happen, it HAS, it DOES.  People who you’d never think could or would do such a thing…  we don’t see them coming.  No woman invites a man into her house, her life, her heart, her bed… with the suspicion that beneath the surface, he’s a roiling whirlpool of barely contained menace.  But sometimes, he is.

In the midst of these musings, I ran across a website this morning.  It chronicles the messages of men who abuse women on internet dating sites when these women fail to respond favorably to their attentions.

In one interaction, a woman politely tells a cyber-suitor that she doesn’t want to go out on a second date with him.  He responds by saying that “girls now they have too much freedom, that’s the issue” In another episode, a woman declines to meet with a cyber-suitor because the two of them live too far away from one another.  “You’re a passive aggressive cracker-ass bitch.  Fuck you and go to hell you bitch-ass cunt”  he replies, followed with, “Hope karma hits your bitch-ass hard for wasting my time.” Still another prince charming approached a possible conquest with a friendly enough greeting, and when she didn’t respond after 20 minutes, he came back with:  “Stuck up bitch, I would beat the shit out of you.”*

That’s when I noticed I still had a streak of the shooting victim’s blood on my sleeve.

This is the truth of a woman’s existence.  It’s astonishing to me that guys still don’t seem to get it… the threat that we face by simply existing.  And it ‘s also a god-dammned fucking shame to me that, unless we want to cloister ourselves up in thick-walled buildings with moats around the perimeter and bars on the windows, this threat is the price women pay for doing business on planet earth.

Normally, I’m fine.  I don’t let it get to me as a rule.  I don’t live in fear.  I don’t wander from one interaction to the next, constantly on the lookout for the murderer who lurks, unseen, in in the forest of people with whom I surround myself.

It’s just… man… today that second x-chromosome is feeling pretty fucking heavy.

It’s more than unfortunate.  It’s disheartening.  It’s tragic.  It’s an outrage

… but it’s the truth.

 

 

*BTW, if you’re interested in losing your faith in humanity like I did today, you can  find more of these internet dating gems on “Bye Felipe” via Instagram.

 

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