Thank You For Being a Friend

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

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

(How do I get this guy’s job?)

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

Yeah… I’m no good at those either.

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

It really prepared me for government work.

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

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

(It’s fine… I can keep going…)

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

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

https://deadmensdonuts.com/2021/10/07/a-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-job/

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Actual footage of that day… sans blood puddle)

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

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

(For real, some people just LIVE like this)

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

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

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

(didn’t look like this at all…)

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

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

I hadn’t slept in almost 27 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(WOOOOOHOOOOO!!! I HAVE COVID!”)

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

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

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

(“I’m sorry for your loss… I think….)

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

I love Officer Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

… it was a “Golden Girls” tattoo.

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

(Actual tattoo on the actual day…)

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

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

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

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

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

(Actual dog on the actual day…)

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus Christ, Grace. Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Shit!” I spat. “Shit, shit SHIT!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Oh… right, Jesus… yeah ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unexpected tattoo that reads:

“Thank You For Being A Friend.

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

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