The banter, the edge of laughter destroyed. “Sarge, A two week old infant not breathing…” I recognize the address. The dispatchers look at me, as they had been facing me while I told the back story of a call I just went to. “Are you going?”, someone asks. I was halfway out the door as I said yes.
Sometimes I move so swiftly despite the gear on my hips that I surprise myself. I am already tearing down Martin Luther King Jr. Way. I am mindful of the intersections even in spite of the lights and siren. No use if I don’t get there.
“Control, S6. I’m approaching 97…” I make a high speed turn onto Russell Street and nearly lose control of the car. I care not. When I reach Oregon Street, I look west expecting to see other lights. No one is there yet. I park and leap out, forgetting to turn the ignition off and grab my keys. Later, I criticize myself for that.
An older woman is standing on the top of the steps of the old home. I take the steps two and three at a time till I meet her gaze. “Where are they?”, I ask, breathy already. “This way”, she answers. I follow her. She is not moving fast enough but I respect her lead. I am alone. I await the calm that greets me in crisis. The Zen. The place that I find to face fear. This fear I have never met.
I reach the doorway and stop short. I have to soften my energy, slow down. I see a small room, a bedroom, a mattress on the floor fashioned as a bed. The baby is lying on her back. Mom is kneeling at a distance on the bed. The distance is profound. No touch. She is overcome by…fear? No, it has to be terror.
The baby is tiny. My vision blurs when I look to her tiny face. A form of emotional, spiritual protection, I imagine. I widen my eyes and things come into focus. Oh nooooo. She is so tiny, too tiny. I drop to my knees and start whispering….”Hi little one.”
I hear Mom sobbing, speaking, but I can’t understand her right now. I lean as closely as I can to the baby’s face. I want to be ever gentle. I instinctively hold my breath.. I don’t want to confuse hers with mine. My cheek, the hairs that I know are there, just barely touching her sweet small lips. No, no breath.
I pick her up, cradling her head in my palm and fingers. She is warm, her hair delicate. I balance her body on my forearm. I feel so large. I don’t want to hurt her. I cover her mouth and nose with my lips. Little puffs, puffs, puffs. Life, Please. I start those little compressions, but am aware that they don’t feel the same as others I have done. She is soft, warm. I become aware that others are there, but I don’t look to see who it is. My own heart is fluttering, my body tingles with urgency. Please… “Come on sweetheart, ” I say between the puffs. “Come back little one.” I talk to her.
I am talking to myself. Where is the calm? What is happening to me? Have I met the demon, kneeling in this room, cradling purity, touching innocence? “Please, little one. please.” I realize that I am begging God.
The paramedics break the spell. They tear the silence, my whispers that could have been silent as well. “Is she breathing?! Anything?!” “No,” I concede. One of them scoops her from me and I am overcome with remorse, grief. His hands are so big. She is dwarfed by his hold, but I know he is as soft as he can be. I look to them as they say, “We are out, let’s go.” I chase them down the stairs. “Where are you taking her?, I ask. “Children’s (Hospital)…” he says as his voice trails off. I am left alone once more.
I take in air, but it is not filling me. I am anxious. The calm never came. I stand in the street paralyzed.
I have to take charge. Oh, please not me, not now, I think. The tears rise to my brow and are stuck there. I begin to feel the pain of a headache coming on. Officers are looking to me for…guidance?
I want to take to the middle of the street and scream. Look skyward and ask why. I knew the baby was gone, lost, dead. Why me, why now? what lesson, what punishment, what does the pain mean?
I don’t feel sorry for myself, but I need to know…something. Meaningful? Can there be that – in this?
I learn that the baby is indeed dead. Now I must tell her. I could leave it to someone else, and yet, I make that my role, almost always. I think of the other times, older people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters – natural death, suicides. I leave each one changed in some way. An infant, an infant. What words, what language fits here? Mom is sitting in a kitchen chair. I ask her if she is cold.
“Can I get you a jacket, sweater?”, I ask. “Yes,” she answers through the tears. “It’s gray.” I rush up the stairs and look for gray, gray. A gray sweatshirt is crumpled in a corner of the bedroom. I take in the faint rose colored blood on the sheet, the “binky”, the blue plastic baby wipes container still on the bed. I grab the sweatshirt and head down. “Thank you,” she says. Oh, where is the calm. Mary, the calm.
I touch her shoulder as she sits. I had warned the other officers there that I would be telling her. “You’re little girl is gone.” I chastise myself inside as the words do not seem right, right, none of this is “right.”
Dammit. I have seen this reaction before. The anguish, the collapse, the loss of……Only she feels the depth of her grief. I am merely a voyeur. I feel disgusting. I stand still for minutes, then walk outside. I spit and spit. I spit death. despair. loss. dreams never realized. squeals of joy. I spit like I have never. The blood still in… in there. I can’t rid myself of it, all of it. I want to cry, but the place is not here, not now. Where did the calm go?