Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Things Within

I have a number of friends and readers who are First Responders or Law Enforcement, at all levels. This one is for them, for a time of year in which things can be as difficult as they are joyous.
- Brigid

The place was small and starting to show its age.

The town itself was nothing more than one small living plant among an acre of weeds, robbed of vitality by the economy, its young eaten by the big cities. As I draw nearer to this modest, neat farm, I notice all the homes around here empty, grass overgrowing. Two have Obama/Biden signs still withering in the wild lawn, others with some children's toys abandoned in the grass as they left in a hurry, the only witness to their departure, the bitten and fruitless stalks of corn from this summers drought.  I notice the small things, it's what I am trained to do.

A few hours after daylight, I approached the house, a cluster of pines shouldering the fence, drawing the whole walkway into darkness, while in the distance a dog barked futilely, without enough effort to scare away even a lone redhead. When I first pulled in, there was no movement, no light turning on, just the faint, cold and constant illumination of a cold morning. Then the small movement of a curtain, someone looking out.

They were waiting for me, looking out the front window at the sound of the vehicle. The people who lived here would look as if they'd been born there, with the home somehow built around them, bright eyes in parchment skin, hands roughened by a lifetime of hard work. They would answer the door, not with deliberation but with patiently unassailable and unflinching weariness.

I stepped around a pile of wood at the edge of the driveway, there with a sign "self service firewood" with a pot to put your money in and take what you needed. This is a home of people that trust.

I did not come for firewood. I came for something else, to be the confirmation of news would make any hardship they'd suffered in the past, pale in the light of something much worse. I would stay only as long as I had to, for there are always questions for which the answers I can not yet give. Questions that wait for me, still waiting to be asked.
This is never easy. In my heart was a whirl of emotion, tears held in for too long, held in further. I wanted to look them in the eyes and just get it over with.  In an effort to compose, I looked into their home, seeing a simple cross on the wall, a black bound book on the table.  These were people who likely have a belief that honor and promise and salvation lay between the pages of that book. People that believe the vindication of their will and faith would be more than what I am about to tell them.

I then looked past them, out into the acres of a life. Land that they held on for the sole purpose of leaving it to to family, looking into the bright comedy of late Fall that hid laughing beneath the dying green.  But my face did not show this. My face showed only it's own pouched darkness beneath the eyes from being awake for 22 hours, mouth held firm, as if by doing so I could hold in the words, somehow take them back.  But I can't.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

You hear the words on TV uttered by people like I, and no matter where it comes from, it sounds trite. Speaking of a person who's living face you've not seen, and whose name you only learned from a blackened piece of plastic,and perhaps a dental record, the words don't seem real. The words are hollow and spoken as if from a cue card. It's not what you wish you could say. For that would be words in which you could somehow articulate the encompassing sense of despair and anger, despair at the loss of someone whose remains forever fly upon the tragic and inescapable sky, his ruin. Anger because in another life, in another time, he might have been a neighbor, a lifetime friend.

There are never proper words, words themselves are deceiving. Taken out of context in a a journalists reports, a hastily written text or email, without the emotion or the eyes, truth becomes lies, and dreams the truth. Words are only that, words. Without the feelings behind them they are only inky blackness. I can only hope that the inadequacy of these five simple words will confirm our humanity and somehow bestow on the trite repetition, its real meaning.

"I'm sorry for your loss". The wrong words, words that should have stayed on a page of a script, hidden from anyone other than their author.

I see it in their eyes, they know this as well, and surprisingly the man reaches out to grasp my hand, bearing stoically the fields of their devastation, reaching out to me in mine. It is not a handshake of welcome, for I am not, but it is a handshake that confirms we are alive, with duties that still must be done.

I am as brief as I can be, and leave them in their silence, the only sound an old retriever in his dog run, pacing on whispering soil, his ears bobbing as he goes to and fro, sensing as animals do, that something is irretrievably wrong.

There are no words for this either.

Grief is a strange beast, never showing quite the same face twice.  It burns sometimes like a rapacious cauldron flame, sometimes catches us like silent, frozen breath. Even as it fades away it stays with us, leaving scars upon us as even the coldness retreats.

I back slowly out of the driveway, retreating like a glacier, leaving deep ruts in my wake, marks on a life that will be there til time ceases. Around me, farms, barns, fences, where people built and clawed and grew, raising families, doing what they could to hold back the wall of wilderness and death.  It was a battle not without cost in life and property, that lust for life that is not lust, nor even movement, but simply that unfettered stability called freedom.

Now it simply stands, cornfield skeletons, stark, broken, flowing away as I leave. Places that once seemed vastly impenetrable, diminish as the clouds weep, growing smaller and smaller, swallowed up by tears. I leave slowly and as quietly as possible, never looking back, because to do so would be to lose what semblance of control I still had.

As I leave, I look out across the way, to a vacant house, in which someones dreams were foreclosed. We go into life eyes open, running wild. We make it through our teen years, driving like idiots and taking inordinate chances. Still in our 20's we don't worry about financial loss, death or even taxes. We vote for the slickest campaign slogan, we scarf down food that's bad for us. We are still young, We have so much time left, the rest of our time, with years ahead, all pretty and shiny and new. We still have dreams. Of love and trust and living a wide open life that others will accept. We don't understand.

I didn't at first either, bounding into life and love with a pocket full of primers and a knife large enough for any bad news. There was nothing but being alive, in being in love, of buying that dream of believing in good, even as it left you black and blue.  But with the years comes truth, and soon you know that life isn't always safe, and you take the risks, knowing in the risk that you are truly alive, to do what you are afraid of, to love strongly and free, is to be truly alive.

It's better to be afraid than to cease to breathe.
Those of you that are young, when you are past 40, you will understand. For just like love, life is a risk, never a possession. With that risk comes loss, with loss comes understanding; that happiness is more than the embracement of that which possesses the possibilities on which you can establish the structure of your life, it is something within yourself.

So I go on back to do what I do, even if it comes with long hours, limited quality sleep and the concessional body bag. It's a full life, one that comes full circle even if I sometimes wish to get off the ride for a moment. At the end of the day I would leave behind the tools of my work, clothes discarded in bio hazard bags, whatever bright smile I had on my face as I started the week, disposed of already. I hope those people are coping. For myself, I cope the best I can.

I'd  slept probably 7 hours in two days. I can't remember when I last saw a comb or my cherry lip gloss. I will go home to sleep, but not right away, first sitting with a small glass of whiskey in a room where the moon can not reach, then dialing the phone to hear the voice of the one that is not my anchor, but my center.

But for now, there is still work to be done.

I look into the mirror, under harsh florescent lights, into green eyes that have seen much of human nature, need and frailty; eyes that have sometimes seen too much to utter the words that come easily here.

I look at the reflection and speak to it ever so softly.

"I'm sorry for your loss."


Ajdshootist said...

You write so well about loss that it brings tears to my eyes,thank you for your gift of compassion. AJD

Just My 2¢ said...

Amen, sister. Tragedy never takes a holiday.

Old NFO said...

That is the hardest 'duty' there is... And no real way to explain what happened that will give any comfort at all.

RonF said...

My dad ran a Scout camp for a number of years. Twice he had to call up a young man's parents and tell them that they needed to come to camp to identify their son's body. I get real hardass about safety rules and such with the kids and their parents, because I never want to have to make that call.

RonF said...

How the heck can they train you to do that - to tell people this kind of thing? It has to be brutal.

Sherry said...

My heart goes out to you. I often wonder how you do the tough things you have to do at times.

jocostello said...

Ron, I don't believe one can be trained to do that kind of thing. It requires compassion and empathy. I suspect that one must be raised to do it. Clearly, Brigid(God bless her), was raised to accept the responsibility to do her work and is blessed to be able to move the hearts of her readers.

I pray we all have a wonderful Christmas and share that wonder with our families.


John Costello

BePrepared said...

Sadly it can get worse. Everyone knows everyone here. Everyone knows what truck their loved one drives, with it's color pattern and bumper stickers.

Although mangled, relatives know a victim's car and I can't stop them from seeing the vehicle. I HAVE to stop them from rushing the scene to see their loved one as mangled as the truck. Screaming, crying, physically threating me, they want to see their loved ones. I know the feeling, *I* would want to know about the person I knew drove that truck, however I have HIPPA and the department's lawyer to think about. I tell them things they don't want to think about at the scene, "Yes m'am that might be your husband but I can't let you see him" is translated as "I really don't want you to see him as torn up as he is..."

Trauma to human flesh can be seen and dealt with (CISM), however dealing with relatives on a scene can fry some nerves.

I've found that I can only assign ppl to "the line" who have dealt with a close death already. They are cold, "No m'am, can't let you through even if it is your house...", yet they have a look in their eye that says "I'm sorry."

I enjoy my EMS and FD work. I've lost as many as I save yet I'll do this until I can longer drive to a scene.

Because someone has to.

Six said...

Thanks Brigid.

Earl said...

Nice to have met you when the world was wonderful and bright, nice to keep reading your blog as you make sense of the dark times, when you have to keep going, so many scars to make one beautiful in the soul.

Brigid said...

ajdshootist - thank YOU for understanding why I write such things and responding.

Just my 2 cents - it's actually busier this time of year, part of why I posted it.

Old NFO - I know we all must pass, hopefully our passing won't involve C4 and a case of big box mart frozen chicken pot pies :-)

RonF - there is no training, normally I don't even do it, other uniforms do, but it happens, better me than the local news.

Sherry - my Mom was the deputy sheriff, she dealt with drownings and accidents and abuse of the worse kinds, but still came home, gave my Dad a deep kiss, made cookies and laughed, oh how she could laugh.

jocostello - thank you Sir. And if that is a new grandbaby in the photo, congratulations!

BePrepared - yes, someone has to.

Six - I've not been reading much lately, so have missed your last couple of Sunday posts, but know I'm thinking of you and Lu and wishing you the best Christmas.

Earl - I'm normally the goofball in the group, as you probably figured out. Such dark times are part of the duty, they carry with them, certain reflections there are no getting around. I write about it, I pray,occassionally I have to testify in front of suits, I sleep, then I'm back to goofball.
Hope you get out here again soon, if Frank is short on space you and your bride are welcome to stay here.

AussieAlaskan said...

"I'm sorry for your loss" - you are one of the good ones, Brigid. Keep doing what you do.

Nina Bookout said...

You have eloquently described the task, the duty, the honor, and the pain of first responders. And the helplessness they feel when bringing the news they do. And the helplessness we all feel in the face of tragedy.

Sometimes it truly is the simple sentence you said so clearly. And sometimes it is just the presence and the feel of empathy.

All I can say is ... Thank You

Brigid said...

AussieAlaskan - thank you too, for reading, for visiting and your always kind words.

Nina - Welcome! And thank you. I know when I post such things some will be going "where's the bacon" or "oh Lord, she's in one of those dark moods".

Good, bad, it's all part of life and I blog about all parts, which we all perceive, hold and manage.

I have no regrets, such tasks aren't often, but I know I am there to conduct them for a reason.