Stuck Somewhere in The Middle

Children Facing Death General

Community had called because she was weeping in public and appeared to have wet her pants. When a man stopped to check on her, she told him that she had no reason to live anymore. She wanted to die. The caller estimated her age (or was it a dispatcher typo?) at 92 years old. 

I am a worst case scenario peace officer. Over the years, I do “what if” scenarios as I am driving around. What if someone jumps out from behind that dumpster with a machete? Shotgun? I then do visualization and practice in my head as to what I will do and say. Yes, I have practiced verbally to myself in the patrol car too. 

So I am off to a welfare check of a suicidal 92 year old. I certainly don’t want to tackle an older person even if she is about to dash into oncoming traffic. Or grab her too hard even if it is for her safety …or would it be ? Does she have an organic process taking place? Dementia maybe? Just really sad? I could definitely digress regarding experiences with older community members. 

I find her on a busy part of Downtown Berkeley sitting next to a bank. Definitely not 92. She’s taller and bigger than me. She looks pretty able bodied. She has a purse and other bags around her. She has layers of clothing. She is suicidal. “What if…?!”

I often feel a friction on patrol. It comes on when engaging individuals on calls for service. It is the friction between sensitivity and suspicion, compassion and questioning, “What if” and ….?

I begin to speak with her and she has tears streaming down her cheeks. She is recently homeless. Her family stole her Social Security. She had a dog that she left in St. Louis when she visited over the holidays. She has no reason to live anymore. Some community members are watching our interaction.

The friction starts. What is the truth? Does she have a weapon in her purse? Is this a suicide by cop? My sensitivity and compassion have always been a big part of who I am. They have only deepened over the years in doing this job. But there is that friction again. For as much compassion as I may have, I just can’t make assumptions in this work. 

Some veteran officers will tell you that they can gauge individuals. It comes with experience. Yes, I have those instincts too, but I won’t let my guard down. Never underestimate small children or older people. They can kill you too. The gun will kill you regardless of the hands it may be in. 

I am actively listening and watching her hands. I stand casually with my gun side away. I remember that even if a quarter of what she is sharing is true, she has reasons to cry. 

Silent Night

Children General

A much welcome break. Two weeks of vacation. On paper I am off duty, but in my head, not so much. 

We are in San Francisco for Holiday Tea and an overnight stay. I always try to unplug. I tear at the cord. I wrap it around my hands and yank with as much strength as I can muster. 

I was doing pretty well taking in the gingerbread house and the holiday wreaths. I stared at all the lights and stood by the enormous tree and smiled for too many photos. At bedtime, I whispered to my daughter as the others fell off to sleep in the other big bed. I was devising strategies to slow her mind down from all the excitement.

Then the sirens started. It was nearly midnight. We were 18 stories up. It was a beautiful clear, cold night. More sirens. I imagined the possible crimes below. The homeless man and woman who had been shot and killed the previous night. I imagined the overdoses. The purses torn from women’s shoulders as they left the theatre. The smashed car windows tourists would find when they returned from dinner. Then I worried for the officers, heading further into the darkness. 

I close my eyes. I suck in the air and exhale as slowly as I can. I take in the sweetness of my daughter’s breathing. She is finally in deep slumber. I need that too. The sirens fade off. It has been much harder of late to unplug. Perhaps my yanking strength has dipped.

Calm Never Comes 

Children Facing Death General

2006   
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?