The Point in the End

Things have changed.

I know many people disagree, but it’s true. Even in the last few years, I’ve seen a radical shift in attitudes and behaviors. It gives me some hope. People are getting it.

Hazing, hostile work environments and sexual harassment are still vicious cancers that persistently eat the heart out of civil service. But believe it or not, now-a-days is actually an improvement over what I went through.

Emergency service jobs were much worse 15 years ago, back when I was an itty-bitty paramedic-girl with less-than-no-idea of what was coming. And I’m not referring to the inevitable psychological toll of working in emergency medical care, although EMS is a rough ride in the best of times and anyone who says otherwise is getting high on their own supply.

No, I’m talking about the flagrant abuse I suffered at the hands of my co-workers.

I won’t bore you with the whole story, but suffice to say that when I was a paramedic student, I was sexually harassed by my field-training-teachers during the hours that I worked on the ambulance with them. When I went to paramedic school administration to ask to be moved to a different ambulance shift, I was pressed into “tattling” on my perpetrators. I knew things would go badly for me if I told. Back then, a woman’s ability to take that kind of treatment was viewed as a badge of honor. Crying “Uncle!” meant I was a traitorous wimp- unworthy of the great brotherhood that was para-medicine. It would put a target on my back, but the administrators promised I would be “taken care of” and I “shouldn’t be afraid.” My perpetrators received a minor slap on the wrist, and then they flagrantly spread rumors that I was a lousy paramedic. They claimed I made up the allegations so their unfavorable assessment of my performance would be eradicated from my record.

No one in administration believed them, but EVERYONE on the street believed them with a vengeance. And regardless of what I did right or wrong- regardless of how I behaved or how hard I tried… my name was mud. Anyone could make up any rumor about me and it would be propagated without mercy or question. If any of my coworkers got reprimanded for anything, it’s because I turned them in to the supervisors. If there was a beef with the police or the fire department, it’s because I started it. I lived in a bleak dimension of ostracism and isolation, hated on every side with no means to redeem or extricate myself. I mean, I could get along fine with a paramedic partner for a 10-hour shift. We might have fun, we might joke and laugh. But the second another person entered the equation, I was dog-shit again. No one wanted to risk the social ramifications of admitting they liked me.

The loneliest little metal box in the world

It was hell.

And I know how my perpetrators justified their behavior: “Some people just don’t fit into the culture.” or “If you can’t take the heat…” or “She did it to herself…” – All of which are pathetic justifications for toxic group-think. In reality, it was a classic, Jr. High School drama: a couple of deplorable people (with better social standing than I) started a shitty rumor to deflect their guilt… and everyone believed it. I was screwed. I held on for a couple of years, convincing myself that my ability to tolerate being spit on by my co-workers was some kind of virtue. But I hit my limit and quit. I traded living patients for dead ones and went from a partner situation to a solo one. As a medical examiner I may deal with several other professional agencies throughout my day, but ultimately I’m alone… where it’s safe.

Because fuck people. We’re the worst.

Nine out of ten species agree, Homo-sapeins are total dirt-bags.

My friend, Chris, had his own hazing/hostile workplace environment when he was in the Marine Corps in the early 2000s. While he certainly doesn’t shy away from talking about his experience, I know he hasn’t told me everything. I only know he suffered a great deal under the authority of his “superior officers.” They did things to him that later got them court-marshalled when they repeated these acts on other recruits years later.

But things have changed.

Hazing is viewed as a crime. Retaliation against whistleblowers is a million-dollar law-suit. It’s a kinder, gentler, professional world with, still, a long way to go. But it’s weird for people like me and Chris. We have a hard time sympathizing when someone loses their shit because a co-worker inadvertently called them by the wrong pronoun. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support the betterment of working conditions everywhere and I believe personhood of any kind should be respected and celebrated. But considering that both of us, on the regular, feared that our co-workers might try to kill us… Well… experience has skewed our perspective.

Furthermore, despite his trauma, Chris still believes “initiation rites” are valid and important. But, he’s pointed out these practices have to have a point, and they have to have an end. They can’t just be endless, sadistic abuse for the sake of cruel amusement. The person running the gauntlet needs to benefit from it in some way and understand that it won’t last forever.

There’s a very thin line between “initiation” and “hazing”. It’s such gray area that most police, fire and EMS agencies won’t allow any type of baptism-by-fire or proving ground at all anymore. I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, I certainly don’t think anyone should have to endure the crucible that Chris and I withstood. But I also don’t think participation trophies should be given out in the form of badges, guns, ambulances or fire-trucks. Not everyone should do these jobs, not everyone can. And no one is more aware of that fact than the people DOING THESE JOBS.

Administration can claim that they have all kinds of hiring requirements, but anyone can behave themselves on paper. It’s not hard to pull off a moral compass and a thick skin during a 45-minute-long interview. But a lot of people want to be cops who should NEVER BE COPS.

For example…

Almost 15 years ago I was engaged to a narcissistic sociopath who I like to call Dickbag. Long story short, Dickbag and I were 3 months away from our wedding. We had a venue, a caterer, invitations, the dress… the whole goddamnned dog-and-pony-show. But one morning I found out he’d essentially been living a double life. The whole time we dated, Dickbag had another girlfriend who was under the impression that she was in a monogamous relationship with him and that they, too, were headed to the altar soon. Oh… AND she had a kid who was stoked as hell to have Dickbag as a step-dad. And he didn’t confess these matters due to an attack of conscience. I caught him. The wedding was called off, he ended things with her and we attempted counseling for a few months before I came to terms with the fact that this fucking guy was a disaster on a deeply fundamental level. In the smoky aftermath of our defunct nuptials, he lost his job and toyed with the idea of applying to be a police officer. He even went so far as to ask me to be a character reference for him.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I remember my astonished incredulity when he broached the subject. I’m not certain of my exact wording. But I recall saying something about how I wasn’t comfortable testifying that he could make solid, life-altering decisions for himself, let alone anyone else. He looked wounded, then said something about me being “so full of unforgiveness.”

The disconnect from reality was astonishing… like having a severed head ask you to scratch his foot for him.

It’s a hard but important thing to realize your own fallibility. I don’t trust anyone who can’t take criticism and can’t absorb the idea that maybe they fucked up. And I don’t trust any cop who hasn’t looked at themselves at some point in their career and considered the possibility they may not be cut out for it.

Of course, these days recruitment numbers are so low that every douche-bag who ever drunkenly watched an episode of COPS at 3am is getting their shot at the real thing. Many people who have no business wearing a badge are being inflicted on the public. And their field training officers- the truly exceptional cops who are charged with training them- are being told retention is priority one. No matter how ill-suited a newbie might be for the job, keep training them until they graduate the program. Don’t yell, don’t criticize too sharply, don’t tease, don’t threaten and DON’T FAIL ANYONE. “Probies” are to be handled with the tenderest-touch at all times. Across the board, police officers are being told DON’T PICK ON THE RECRUITS.

“If you do good on this arrest, you can have a juice box!”

That’s where I come in… because I’m not a police officer. And sometimes these wiggly little cop-lings need a swift kick in the dick.

As a deputy medical examiner/medicolegal death investigator, part of my job is to acquaint other agencies with our policies and operating procedures. Often, I’m called to a death scene by a brand new police officer who has literally, NEVER SEEN a free-range dead body. It’s up to me to march that officer through a death investigation, performing my various job-tasks while at the same time describing what I’m doing and why to a wide-eyed novice who CAN’T BELIEVE I just jammed my fingers into the dead guys mouth. For the most part I’m happy to do it because I think death is super interesting and I can talk about it all day. I try to go easy on the recruits and take time to explain things like post-mortem changes and visible patterns of injury and disease. But sometimes I get a little squirrelly and go off book. Sometimes I can’t help myself and I have to have a little fun at a recruit’s expense.

Especially in the presence of…

…DILDOS!!!!!

Dildos are a sad fact of my job. I see LOTS of them because when someone passes away unexpectedly, we have to stampede through their life, trying to figure out what killed them. And it’s during these searches the dildos come out… as well as the porn, the drugs, the fuzzy hand-cuffs, the blow-up dolls. You name it, I’ve pulled it out of someone’s bed-side table. And let’s be honest, law enforcement and I try to maintain some professional decorum, but that shit is funny. And we are very much in the habit of taking pictures of such items and sending them to our co-workers. In fact, I have it on good authority there is a photo of me out there somewhere, holding up a floppy, pink rubber vagina with a quizzical look on my face. I had just pulled it out of a drawer on a scene and wasn’t sure what it was.

I was so innocent back then…

Anyway, I totally paid that shit forward.

I was on the scene of a suicide with the sheriff’s office and there was a new deputy recruit. Some dude had killed himself in his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom and as I was walking the new guy through the investigative process, I noted that the decedent had opted to shoot himself in the head while sitting on a futon in the corner. And beneath this futon was a milk-crate full of dildos. And when I say “full of dildos,” I mean there was a veritable cornucopia of sex toys.

It was too good to be true. All of the civilian witnesses had vacated the scene and I was left with an audience of two detectives, two patrol deputies, a chaplain and a dispatcher who was there on a ride-along. The recruit had been instructed to follow me and accede to my every whim. He was obediently glued to my side with eyes like dinner plates as he took in his first violent death scene. On the one hand, I felt for him. Seeing your first gun-shot wound to the head can be *ahem* a heady experience. (sorry). Not only are the visuals a bit disturbing, but also you never forget the odor of fresh blood mixed with a playfully sweet smattering of brain matter. I could have gone easy on him but, come on… dildos.

“So,” I said to him as I knelt down next to the body and motioned for the recruit to do the same. “We want make sure we don’t get too distracted by the big-old hole in this guy’s head and miss other injuries.”  The recruit swallowed hard, never taking his unblinking eyes off the decedent’s gaping cranium as he knelt down next to me near the futon.  “We need to check his chest and abdomen for trauma,” I said evenly, never missing a beat as I reached into multi-colored, rubber sex-carnival in the milk crate. “But we also want to examine his hands and arms for defensive wounds, and here… hold this.” I thrust a 12-inch purple monolith into his hands. He took it without even looking down. Keeping stride, I continued. “We’re also going to take a look at the palms of his hands to see if he’s holding anything or if there’s anything under his fingernails. Hold this.” I handed him a purple dolphin, followed by a floppy, green samurai sword. Maybe the third one put the whole ruse over the top.  He glanced down and gave a little shriek as I quickly shoved 3 more sex toys into his arms. It was at that point the assembled company exploded into laughter and someone snapped a picture with their cell phone.  To his credit, the recruit laughed along with the rest of us and in a few weeks, he completed his field-training module with flying colors. Now, years later, every time he sees me, he happily recounts the time I “handed him all those dildos.”

More recently, I was on the scene of a hotel suicide and a recruit became inexplicably flustered when I asked him for the name and phone number of the person who reported the death. I’m not sure what the detectives told him about me before I got there, nor do I know what his field training experience had been thus far. But, clearly, he expected to get skewered if he gave the wrong answer.  So he engaged in the unfortunate coping mechanism of answering questions without actually KNOWING the answers.

Upon my query, he looked like he was facing down a firing squad. “Uhhhh… ummm…” he frantically scanned his notebook. “Her name was… ummm Grace.”  

I cocked my head at him. “Ok…” I responded carefully. “Go on.” 

He glanced back at his notebook and listed off “Grace’s” number.  The detectives behind the recruit snickered as I sighed.  “That’s MY number and MY name is Grace,” My voice dropped this little fact on him like a Looney Tunes piano.

“Oh.. ummm… sorry…” He fumbled around with his notebook, even more flustered than before, flipping through his scrawl and trying to get his tragic life together. I took a step forward, reeled back and THWACK!  I didn’t “slap” him so much as I issued a hard re-set to the back of his bald head with my hand. 

The detectives gasped and the recruit blinked, speechless.  I glanced up at the detectives who, judging by their expressions, didn’t know if they should high-five me or call a supervisor. “What?” I challenged them, “Are you guys gonna arrest me?”

“I didn’t see a thing.” One of them coughed out.  As for the recruit, he shook his head and turned to me. “Thanks,” he said. “I needed that.”

I’ve abused other police- both recruits AND veterans alike.  I’ve made them draw vitreous from dead people’s eyeballs for me (a feat achieved by sticking a syringe into the eye and then pulling the plunger out while the eye deflates like a tired balloon). I’ve forced them to hold an umbrella over me to shield my delicate Scottish skin from the sun on out-door scenes (I’m actually Hungarian). I’ve bull-dozed them into smoking cigars with me on decomps in order to suppress the smell.  But I’ve also pulled recruits aside and told them they’re doing fine and they just have to endure the training process a bit longer.  I’ve praised them to their field trainers when they’ve really had their shit together.  I’ve EXHAUSTIVELY marched them through the investigative process, even when I was pissy and tired and didn’t want to bother. Throughout all of these antics, I wouldn’t say I ever crossed the line of becoming downright ABUSIVE. I mean, sure, I did slap that one guy in the head, but he thanked me afterwards so it doesn’t count.

But then again, I have to admit there WAS one time I really let loose on a cop- or rather two times…

My husband has a female friend.  And as he and I were dating, his female friend became MY female friend.  Her name is Sara and she’s awesome.  For a brief period of time, Sara was dating one of Mike’s co-workers. I’d call him Dickbag, but it’s already taken.  So… how about we call him TFC for “THIS FUCKING CLOWN.”

Sara met this fucking clown on a dating app. She showed me his profile and in the description he stated that he was separated from his wife and the divorce was imminent -which was the first red flag. In some of his pictures he was in uniform with the police agency’s name clearly visible -which was the second red flag. I’m not sure how other cop-shops operate, but around here administration really isn’t cool with officers cashing in on their badges in order to score some tail.  They don’t like the liability involved if the dude starts misbehaving, resulting in a big fat campaign about shitty cops doing shitty things to women online. In fact, posting a picture of himself in uniform on a dating app would have been grounds for an ethics complaint, a review and possibly a termination.  And even though we didn’t LIKE that this fucking clown had hooked up with our friend in this way, she was super enthusiastic about him so we bit our tongues and sat back to see what would happen. 

It didn’t take long. A couple of weeks maybe.

I don’t remember where I was, but Mike called me and said that he and Sara were at a local bar and I needed to join them, post-haste. 

When I arrived, Sara was sloppy drunk and Mike was infuriated.  As I approached them, she caught a glimpse of me over Mike’s shoulder and tumbled off her bar-stool.  She staggered over and threw he arms around me, choking back sobs. “TFC isn’t getting divorced…” she whispered in my ear. “He NEVER was..” the statement skipped in her throat like a record. I guided her back to the bar stool and the whole story dumped out. TFC had been very hot-and-cold with Sara, always wanting to hook up, but then disappearing for days at a time.  He would go on and on about how difficult his situation was… what with his two daughters caught in the middle of this divorce and all the property to split.  He didn’t have an actual timeline yet, but it would be over soon. Then he and Sara would be free to pursue a future together.

And while Sara was painfully hung-up on him… she’s also no dumb bunny. TFC didn’t have social media accounts, but you better believe his wife did.  And it didn’t take Sara long to find them.  And that’s how Sara found out the truth.  TFC and his wife were still very much together and blissfully happy according to reports.  The times that TFC hadn’t been available to Sara, it was because he and his wife were taking long weekends at the beach for their anniversary, or attending their daughters’ soccer games.  Sara waved her phone in my face as the tear-streaked story ran on.  When she had attempted to confront him about his lies over text- including screen shots of his wife’s facebook- THIS FUCKING CLOWN abruptly vanished.

Mike’s typically jovial face was a steel mask of tension as I turned to him. “I didn’t know,” he said, answering my question before I asked it. It was clear he blamed himself, but neither Sara nor I did. The sheriffs office is a big place, as much as everyone knows each other’s business, it’s impossible to know EVERYONE’S business.

My outrage was already a growing thing- a building cloud of anger, blacking out rational thought as I groped for a suitable course of action. Slashing his tires or setting his house on fire crossed my mind. But not with any real intent. Mike and I knocked around the idea of calling in an ethics complaint to administration, but Sara showed us that TFC’s dating profile had already been scrubbed of any law enforcement references or photos (which was all administration would care about). I wanted to contact his wife, but Sara asked me not to… possibly holding out hope that this would all prove to be a misunderstanding. And since it was her broken heart, I let her govern our responses… as unsatisfying as that was.

THIS FUCKING CLOWN never contacted her again, never acknowledged his behavior. He just skittered away like a spooked cockroach. The whole mess really destroyed Sara. But in a little while, she was back on the dating merry-go-round. She’s about to get married, actually… to a pretty goddamned awesome detective in a neighboring jurisdiction. When we hung out the other day, I brought up TFC and had to remind her who he was. She had completely forgotten him.

But I never have.

I believe the saying goes something like this: “There are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes.” For the law enforcement officers in my county, there’s only one certainty: “Sooner or later, you’re going to end up on a death scene with me.”

I could wait.

Eventually, THIS FUCKING CLOWN had to start paying down his debt to me and mine. But it had slipped my mind until I heard someone say his name on the scene of a brutal 3 car pile-up. He was taking lead on the accident report which meant that he was standing close by, watching as I pulled a mangled body out of a driver’s seat through the sunroof and laid the deceased individual on the roadway. Maybe someone, somewhere told him I was fun to work with, because TFC stepped up to me chuckling. “Wow!” He grinned. “I could never do your job!”

I straightened up to my full 5’10” height (6’1″ in boots) and leveled a flat stare at him.

“That’s because you’re a fucking pussy,” I spat with a careless shrug… making sure it was loud enough for everyone within a 10-foot radius to hear.

Now, I don’t normally say things like this… but in his case, I was willing to depart from my fiercely held aversion to gendered insults. Because when you really want to fuck with someone in front of their own demographic, you need to know their culture and speak their language.

The surrounding officers did not disappoint. A collective gasp rose from the gathered company, followed by a snicker, a chortle, then a rainfall of laughter.  A couple of officers gave the obliging: “Duuuuuude!” or “Daaaaaammnnnn!” TFC shifted his weight from side to side, uncomfortable but trying to play it off. He attempted a weak smile and shuffled away to do something else. I congratulated myself on a successful first strike and went back to work. Sure, he had no idea why I had just eviscerated him in front of his co-workers, but the goal was for him to suffer, not to understand. And to be honest, I wasn’t going to give him any more explanation than he gave Sara. 

The following day, TFC was on another scene with me. This time, some dude was found deceased in his home by a friend. Nothing about it was suspicious, but the scene investigation was still mandatory according to state law.  And when I walked into the home, This Fucking Clown was standing in the front hall, awaiting my arrival.  I sighed as though the mere sight of him made me weary and I barely acknowledged him as he rattled off his report. My indifference seemed to unnerve him even more than my abuse the day before. Every word was a stutter, every gesture was a fumble. I rolled my eyes and groaned at each disfluency. When he started dropping everything he picked up, I let loose. “Jesus Christ!” I snapped as his pen slipped from his hand for the third time. “What the hell is your problem? Get your fucking life together!”

He blinked and picked up his pen as the other officer in attendance snorted. Making some excuse, he walked back out to his car to pout and I didn’t see him again for the rest of the call.

Later on, Mike told me that he’d done a little recon on his own and discovered that This Fucking Clown had a habit of illicit bullshit. In his previous police force, he had gotten a dispatcher pregnant and had to high-tail it out of town in a desperate attempt to save his marriage… allegedly. It was just a rumor, but given his behavior with Sara this wasn’t exactly a last-chapter revelation.

Asshole.

It’s been two years. I haven’t run across This Fucking Clown again, but I have no intention of easing up.  Maybe the next time I see him, I’ll just flat-out ask him if he knows why I hate him so much.  Then I’ll tell him that one of his conquests is my friend and I have a blistering disdain for serial cheaters who abuse my people. And I mean… ALL my people.

Because it’s not just about Sara’s broken heart, TFC’s unsuspecting wife or whatever woman he descends upon next. This Fucking Clown makes everyone look bad. The last thing our county needs is some over-sexed man-baby with a badge, sticking his dick into an agency-wide scandal. Administration won’t do anything about it.  The Sergeants won’t do anything about it.  His fellow deputies CAN’T do anything about it, which means it’s up to me to let him know someone’s on to him.  And keeping with my friend Chris’s theory about hazing, I have both a point and an end:

The point being I’m no longer tolerating shitty behavior in what I consider to be my house

And it ends when you‘re gone.

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.

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.