August 21st, 2017

Percolating #1

General

I switched my coffee spot last week. I do this periodically. Why? Well, there are a few reasons, none of which necessarily have to do with the quality of the coffee or the customer service. That is an absolute necessity. 

First as a cop, I don’t want to be too predictable. I do know I am a creature of habit. A woman of ritual and routine, but as a peace officer, why make myself an easy target? Especially in these times when the uniform represents so much of the negative, has generated so much rage, frustration and grief. (Insert additional adjectives here x ) 

My afternoon coffee is a ritual. It is the routine that often lifts my spirit. Naw, not talking fatigue or caffeine here, but sure, those have bearing. 

I like the familiar, the getting to know the baristas, the afternoon greetings, the possibility of the unexpected encounter. Encounters seem inevitable in this work. I also have come to enjoy the surprise.

The surprise shows itself in those moments when I say hello with a smile when someone is looking at me in line.

The usual responses go something like this –

“Who me?!” (As he or she looks over a shoulder) 

“Did I do something?!” (Palm of hand against the chest) 

“Is there a problem, ur officer.. Or is it Sergeant? (While holding the iPhone or Andriod up to record me) 

“Is my car parked ok?!” (Looking nervously at a metered space or the parking lot) 

“Was I talking too loud on my phone?!”(after saying, “Hold on a sec” to the individual on the other end, but conspicuously holding the phone out so the person can hear the exchange) 

“Do we know one another?” (Tilting a head and often squinting to read my name tag) 

The list of reactions and responses could fill a month of posts.  (I will elaborate by adding more another time) 

Most assume that they are trouble for something or just can’t imagine that a police officer has any reason in the universe to talk to him/her. 

“No…”, I reply. “You were looking at me, so I thought I would say hello.” “Would it be ok to give your daughter, son, dog a sticker?” Lately, the exchange may generate a worthwhile conversation or in some cases, pure annoyance.

The man on the phone continues, “Yea… just some cop trying to look like she is nice…” The woman ahead of phone man whips her head around to face him, “Sir, can’t you just be civil?”

Oh no, I haven’t even ordered yet. 

You must come along now

General

The fog was blowing through the neighborhood as it often does in the Berkeley Hills. As I park, I wonder how raccoons got in the shower stall. I popped the trunk and grabbed the “come along”. I have gotten some considerable crap from colleagues for using PC language. A City of Berkeley Animal Services Officer (aka Animal Control Officer) had told me that the catch pole was actually called a “come along.” I will leave it alone and get on with the story.


The door to the home was ajar and as I climbed the front steps, an older man appeared in the doorway. He spoke before I had a chance to introduce myself. “I have told the house cleaners to secure the wIndows. They are dears, really, so they were just trying to freshen the air, I’m sure.” He continued, his speech becoming more rapid, “I didn’t know who else to call. I had such a fright! Please come in, come in. The other officers are this way.” 

I stepped over the threshold and surveyed the room. Impeccable. The floor was covered with beautiful Persian rugs. The thought of walking across them with my work boots (God knows what was stuck in the tread at the moment) made me cringe. 

We got to the bathroom and the officers turn to me, one shrugging and the other trying not to laugh. There they were. Three raccoons busily walking around on the tile floor of the shower stall stopping once in awhile to look at us through the glass. 

Ok. Here to solve a problem. Raccoons barricaded in shower. Trapped in shower? What page of policy or procedures covers this? Actually, these kooky calls make the work challenging. We could lock these buggers in there for the night, hope they climb back out the way they… Wait they can’t climb tile. Did they tumble in? One after the other? Like I was saying, solve the problem. 

Over the years,  we have had these gray wool blankets to give to the homeless on cold nights. I always took a few. I fetched them from the trunk of my patrol car and headed back into the house. My plan was to crack the shower door, slide the come along/catch pole in, get the first one, pull it out of the stall without letting the other two out to wreck havoc in the terrified man’s clean fancy home… Insert breath here — then place the squirming, screaming animal on the homeless blanket. Then the catch pole officer and the blanket officer would dash, drag and slide as fast as they/we could over the wood floor, the Persian rugs, then up and over the threshold and down the front steps where we would set the raccoon free. 

We would do this three times. We’ll be out of here in no time. Sure, Mary. Think again. The raccoons kept tucking their chins. Had they been through this before? Were they smarter than we thought? I would dangle that wire loop at the end of the pole close to one of their faces and… Tuck. Try the other raccoon. Tuck. Hover over the group. All Tuck. You gotta be kidding me. I started to laugh. Then I snorted. Yup, a big snort. A pig snort. (pun intended) You know it. That noise that happens when you certainly don’t plan for it or expect it. After awhile, one of the officers said, “They are messing with us. Don’t ya think?!” Yes. This will be a test of wills. Of patience. Of perserverence. We had no choice. This community member was counting on us. We took turns. We changed roles. We tried different angles with the furry tuckers. It took us far longer than expected, but eventually the three raccoons ran off into the night. 

As we were bidding good night to the homeowner, one of the officers suddenly ran off. He returned out of breath. “I almost forgot to close that bathroom window!” “Oh my…imagine.”, the man said. 

Yes. Oh my. 

Sticks, Stones, Bottles & Bricks #2

General

Better than the Alternative


Did I forget spit?

A voice in the high school crowd yells “Killer Pig!” Whoever it was is wedged in the group as some laugh and others hold up their iPhones. I imagine they are hoping to capture an officer’s (my) profane reaction or maybe my patrol car screeching to a stop. I offer the unexpected. I smile and drive away. 

I have always tried to share to my team that words can’t hurt us. It is the hands. Watch the hands. It’s the guns, knives, fists (Insert all weaponry here >>> x) Don’t forget that the majority of those we meet are in some sort of crisis. They are full of rage, grief, fear, anxiety… (Insert range of emotions here >>>x )

I feel I don’t lose much to allow someone to vent at me. I know I have avoided many a fight, resistance or a few melees. Maybe even a few sticks, stones, bottles and bricks. Did I mention spit? 

In recent months, perhaps due to the current national climate about police officers, seems individuals or groups feel more confident to yell at me as I move about Berkeley. Maybe because of my longevity in the job or lack of sleep or not enough sustenance or not wearing sensible shoes or my pants feel a bit tight today or… Ok, ok, I digress… I notice that certain things that community members utter under their breaths or shout across the street do hit some sensitive spots in me. No, I don’t shed my humanity and don a uniform of… (Insert generalizations of cops here >>>x) 

I loathe being called ignorant or uneducated. I spent valuable time and considerable money to get a college education. In fact, at one time, my agency was the only one in the country that required a 4 year degree. We all know that a BA or BS, MA, JD or PhD doesn’t necessarily equal smart. It’s not just that. I pride myself in being a life long learner. I read. I write. Hey, I even do arithmetic. 

I also despise being labeled a killer. Sure, I have squished a spider or two over the years. I have eradicated snails from my gardens. I do pray that I get through my career without shooting anyone. Yes, I have come close a few times. Most officers I know and talk to hope they too are never in the position to take anyone’s life. 

I am not an uneducated killer. 

Sticks, Stones, Bottles & Bricks #1

General

I try my darnedest not to swear, curse or use profanity when I am working. I am generally not a big curser. There are those moments when…well, things happen.

The woman who owned the home was clever enough to lock herself in the upstairs bathroom with her phone. She called 911 after she heard glass breaking in her dining room. 

In recent years she lived alone, so she lined her windowsills with small figurines, colored bottles and assorted glass bowls filled with marbles. If someone climbed in a window, surely;

1. The  clink, crash and smash would alert her. 

2. Or better yet, the intruder would back out and run away.

We had the house surrounded. The beat officer and I were at the front door. The dispatcher was relaying what the homeowner was hearing. “Now she hears what sounds like scampering in the dining room.” Scampering?! If I wasn’t so focused, I may have laughed. All of us could hear this burglar moving through the downstairs maybe trying to find an escape. We watched as the knob of the door began to turn. Oh this was dramatic. Oops the peephole in the old wooden door may have given us away. The knob stopped turning. I heard noises to the side of the house. I ran that way just as a male leapt out the dining room window onto the grass. He fell momentarily, then headed to the fence. His fall gave me a tiny advantage. I ran after him trying to say something intelligible on the radio. “Stop! Police! ” (By the way, this rarely works.) This guy was motivated. He jumps onto the metal fence and starts to climb. I reach out and all I can grab is the back of his tee shirt. “Get down you (here is where the profanity comes in) “Get down you Mo***r F**c*r!” I pulled and the guy’s shirt ripped off like one of the Chippendales.” (This reference would be lost on some of my younger team members now.) 

I tossed the shirt aside and grabbed the back of his pants. (I will have him unclothed in no time! Naw…) It was time for a dog pile. All of the officers came dashing over and knocked both the suspect and me on the ground. 

When we stood him up, I recognized him as a prolific burglar. This was a fine team effort and a safe success.

As I walked to my car to get some wipes for the grass stains on the palms on my hands, I saw them. The small crowd of neighbors gathered across the street. There they were all lined up in bathrobes and slippers, some carrying stuffed animals. Oh sh*t. 

A woman spoke first, “We heard someone yelling. It woke us up and well, is everything ok?!” My head was spinning. I started to formulate my explanations for MF’ing. Oh, this is going to suck. I ambled over and asked if they wanted to know what happened. “Oh Yes.”

They moved in closer as I explained how the burglar was inside and… Their eyes widened as I edited for the kids and added some flair for the grown ups. Phew. No mention of any name calling. A lesson – you never know what might come out of your mouth in the heat of the moment and you never know who is listening. 


A Bit of Night

General

 
I was reminiscing about working overnight yesterday. Maybe because I was stuck in traffic at 1:30pm trying to get to a call. Seems as if every street in Berkeley has orange cones on it, heavy equipment backing into the roadway, detours and workers holding signs – “SLOW”. I can’t drive my patrol car any slower. I am at a complete stop. 

Once the line of cars starts to move, the car in front of me appears to get the all too familiar “Oh No… There is a police car behind me.” I am now dangerously close to going on a tangent about how people drive when a police car is nearby. 

Back to the hours of darkness. I generally try to negotiate things that are challenging for me. That goes for people too. I find the endearing qualities, so everything is easier to negotiate. 

Working graveyard shift, or dogwatch as our department calls it, has its advantages (this is where some of the endearing qualities kick in) During the more silent times at night, I would find gems. There are the places in west Berkeley where the smell of baking bread fills the air. I would sit across the street from the kitchens and watch as the bakers, donning paper caps, were kneading or filling pans or fashioning dough into shapes. 

There are a couple foundries where the huge doors to the warehouses stay open and the bright light of welding splits the night. A forklift or two might zip by me. I respect the hard, hot work and know that I couldn’t tolerate it. I’d wonder where all theses large strange pieces of steel were going. Maybe they were off to creating cityscapes and bridges or holding back the rockslides along some piece of coastal highway. 

If I climbed to the hills, I could take in the city from above. I’d sit and marvel at the beauty of it. The lights, the silence, the deceiving calm. 

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?

Namaste

Facing Death General

  

We found him at the kitchen table, his head against the wall. If his reading glasses hadn’t knicked the side of his face when his head came to rest, he may have looked as if he was asleep. 

His wife of 30 years repeated the same thing over and over, “He so loved his books. He often came to bed late after he read for awhile. I should have checked. I should have checked. I should have checked.” Her grief was suffocating.

The first moment she collapsed against me, I wrangled between my safety and her comfort. It is impossible to predict the reactions when death suddenly enters their lives. The anger. The guilt. The “I can’t go on. I can’t live without ____…” That might spark an impulse in her to grab my gun and shoot herself in front of me. Sounds nuts, I know, but this job is nuts. 

She holds on to me as I ask gently if there is anyone I could call for her. Wrong question. She wails. Her body goes limp, her weight sliding down the front of me. Her knees hit the wood floor. “My daughter. Nooooooo. She is 8 months pregnant. It was his first grandddddd childddddd….” It is only going to get worse from here. I am starting to sweat. 

I guide her to a bench in the hallway. She has covered her face with her hands. She is alternating between silent disbelief and sobs. Every once in awhile she crosses her arms in front of her as if trying to muster composure. I imagine her inner voice. “There are things that must be done. People to call. Arrangements to make.” I sit beside her and put my hand on her arm. The opposite wall has an array of frames with photographs. I recognize her in one of them. The man beside her on the beach looks like her husband. They are smiling at me. Great spot, I think…but where else do we go? The memories in that photograph will now take on new meaning. 

Animals Matter

General

I never hunted as a child or adult. No slingshots, bows and arrows or Super Soakers. Wait. Pretty sure we didn’t have those kind of water guns when I was little. The Girl Scouts didn’t have badges for dealing with deer that attack community members and their small dogs.

 Wild turkeys blocking traffic, swarming bees, raccoons in the shower… With no veterinary or wildlife training, little to no resources to call upon or tools to use, I have approached these calls for my service in earnest, problem solving the best I can. There have been many firsts for me in my job. 

Death Marks The Spot (2004) 

“S6 from Adam ___, Channel 2.  S6 go to 2…”
Oh Dread. I had seen the call holding on the MDT. Animal matters. I can’t stand them, and why does this officer always have to call me??! Composure, Mary. You are supposed to be in charge. In charge. I worry about that on the way over too. Some calls I take my time to drive the distance. Not the exigent ones, not the gotta get it done quick ones, mind you. Just the ones I have the time. The responses in which I am called upon to make an uncomfortable decision. This would be one of them. I just need an extra 30 seconds to think.

The animal was sitting in the middle of the road. Some soul had placed a construction clapboard barrier in front of the animal to shield it from cars or oncoming traffic of any sort. That was kind of ’em. It took me a few seconds to scope out the officer who was standing in the shadows nearby, as far as he could reasonably get from the animal and still be doing “his duty.” This is going to be great, I thought with sarcasm.

Me – “Hey.. Oh, It doesn’t look too good, huh?”
Officer – “Nope Sarge. He’s been bleeding out of his mouth.” 
This officer drones. He has that kind of slow, deliberate voice that makes you want to jolt him, and get him to react. 

Me – “Did you try to nudge it a little and see if it will walk away?”

Officer – “I’m not getting close to that thing. It probably has rabies or something.”
Super. He’s afraid of it. The frustration at my impending decision, the creature’s inevitable doom was
compounded by my officer.

Me – “Noone says you have to touch it. Just see if we can coax it out of the street.”
He stands there and glances at me, then at the animal and back to me. All right, I get to take charge.

I walk over to get a closer look. I hadn’t been real close to an opossum in a long time, infact in the moment; I was trying to remember how to spell it. He/she was hunched over, deep red blood dripping steadily from the mouth, the pool on the asphalt growing. Ugh. I take out my ASP (expandable baton) and get as close as I was comfortable. Hmmm. What if he/she lunges at me suddenly. Isn’t that what they do? Play dead? I am spooked now. Super.

I started to be a teacher, a trainer, a mentor. A Sergeant. Here are our choices. I began to process out loud. “I’d prefer if there was a way that it could leave on it’s own power and curl up somewhere and die if that’s what it is going to do.” I hear my own worry. I used IT when I spoke to the officer. The he/she was in my private thoughts, my private process.

He/she wasn’t moving anywhere and gave me a low hiss or growl, although that may have been my imagination. I scanned the neighborhood and thought of the eventual crack in the night, the piercing blow to the quiet. I got the catchpole from my trunk, reacquainted myself with it so I was ready and headed to the animal. I slipped the noose easily over its head as I had made the loop real big. Then I cinched with trepidation till it was just about snug. The opossum started to resist, fight even, and I knew I had to cinch it tighter or my plan was for naught, and my officer would witness my failure. I tightened it. Was he/she choking? Aw geez, this is awful. Keep it together, Mary. This is a task. I had no idea of right and wrong. All I could feel was pain, remorse, my own pain for being in this position. As he/she tussled against the rope, I looked about for a safe spot to dispatch this animal. Just say shoot, will ya?! Sometimes our PC (politically correct) Berkeley language sounds ridiculous. Challenging! No, we have them at gunpoint, Dammit. What is so wrong with the truth, I hear myself thinking.

Now his claws are out, he has stiffened all fours, as I drag him along the roadway. He’s trying to dig in, get away from me. I can’t stand this. I drag him up to the traffic turnaround and feel a small measure of relief that I cannot hear his claws against the concrete anymore. This is a soft place. It even smells better. Redwood chips, I think. Ok, we are here. The officer has followed along.

“So..Are you ordering me to shoot it, Sarge?” the officer asks. Frustration again. I think soften, Mary, before I answer. I think this is difficult for him too, and all I have been thinking about is the animal and myself. “I am not ordering you to do it, I am giving you supervisory approval as the animal is clearly suffering.” I am nearly quoting our Use of Deadly Force policy. “You want me to do it?”, he asks. “Yes. Yes. I can’t ’cause I am holding the catchpole, ok? First call upstairs and advise them that we will be dispatching an animal in this area so if they get any calls from community members regarding loud reports/gunshots.”

I look to this officer who is standing there with his Smith & Wesson poised. “I’m going to shoot at the heart, right behind the shoulder blade. If it wasn’t so late, I would call my Dad and he would do it for us. He knows how to do this stuff. He would take a stick and there is a way to whack it on the back of the head.” I thought about this officer, his dad, he the son of someone prepared to shoot an animal in the midst of the city.

I waited. I had no ear protection and it was going to be loud. I hoped for only a few shots because I loathe gunshots without muffs on. I turn my head, my arm stretched to its capacity with the catchpole and possum it’s extension. I feel small, a child awaiting a fright. Unable to close my eyes or ears tight enough to get away. At the last moment, I tilt my head to the left onto my shoulder in hopes of shielding at least one ear from the explosion. Pow! When the sound dissipates, I look to the creature, writhing. The officer is still poised assessing whether he needs to shoot again. This is just the death, the twist of life leaving. The tail is the last to settle. We both lean forward like curious kids, apprehensive that the animal is still breathing. No, it’s gone.

“Get a bag. We have to pick the body up and you’ll have to drop it at the animal shelter.” The officer ambles off to his patrol car after holstering his gun, and I stand alone looking at the animal. I did that. I had to decide its fate. Why me? I remembered the dragging from moments before. I was hurting him/her, I know it. I was getting sick to my stomach. The officer returned with a paper bag, and I lifted the possum with the catchpole, all the dead weight awkward to maneuver above the bag. I watch liquid pour from the animal as I drop it into the bag. Urine.

Suddenly we hear a voice. A man in his pajamas was walking sheepishly towards us. I was hunched over trying to get the noose loose and I turned in my slumped posture to acknowledge the man. “I heard a gunshot,” he says softly. “Sir, that was only us,” I reply. Only us, now that sounded stupid, awkward, like oh, it’s just a common thing us peace officers capping off rounds and shooting animals about town. Pajama man continued as he drew closer, “That was a tranquilizer gun right?” I could feel a twinge of rage. Don’t make me have to own this. Justify this to you. I haven’t even had time to deal with it myself. Dammit. I quickly ponder a lie. It would be so easy, but no, the truth is easy too. My job is about telling the truth. I talk to him for a few minutes, sharing diplomatically the options we have. NONE, I think silently. He seems resolved to my explanation finally. “Sir, do you happen to have a big trash bag we can have?” It’s my officer. He doesn’t seem to understand that we are fortunate that this community member is not rallying the neighborhood group to confront us regarding our inhumanity. “Sure Officer. I’ll go get one.” This man trots back a half a minute later and hands us what looks like a white tall kitchen trash bag. It’ll have to do. “Thank you sir. And have a good night,” I offer. “Ok Officers, night” he says as he retreats into the darkness.

Midday in March

General

  

I could feel the sweat finding its way to the small of my back. The soft places that the sun has yet to touch. It is warm for a March day and violence greeted us at the very start of our shift. No time to settle in, look skyward or think about whether I should take a small container of blueberries with me in the car today. Seems silly, I know, but it is these things that can make my day. Reality is that if my water bottle is cold, my coffee to go is hot or my blueberries were chilled, I can’t count on any of it being worth it after hours locked in a hot patrol car. 

Some say they become immune to the violence. I don’t know what that feels like. It has to go somewhere. The blood on roadways and sidewalks, the screaming, the crowds that gather and the questions. Maybe that is another reason that tepid coffee, warm water and hot blueberries aren’t satisfying. I zig zag across the intersection, ever mindful of not stepping on any evidence. I unravel a big roll of yellow crime scene tape and stretch it in front of a woman with a toddler in a stroller. “I need you all to step back please. Please. Step back…Thank you.”, I say. 

I have been here before. This place. The weight of these moments familiar. People often trip upon a scene like this, amble up and it goes something like this – “Excuse me. Officer?  Can I ask you a question? Did something happen?” I waited for it. She looked at me and I returned what felt like a disappointed half smile. It’s not even noon. The woman turns the stroller and leans down to check on the child. She doesn’t want to know. Sometimes I think it is better that way. 

You Never Know When It is Good Bye

Facing Death

I have known too many women and men living on the streets in my career. Some are dead now. Either natural causes – maybe cancer or old age. Others the victims of violence. Still others have disappeared. Once in awhile I hear a story on the street about someone. “Sergeant Mary, did you hear ——passed?” I ask where and how. I am curious, but hope it is not some dreadful tale. Once in awhile, an officer will say, “Hey, Mary, remember so and so? Whatever happened to him?”

This is a piece about one of those people living on the Berkeley streets. I wish her end could have been different.

Winter Salvia

 

Ave Maria

I was standing watching the flames when she seemed to appear out of nowhere. “I’m going to get John some soup, ” she said in that gravely voice of hers. I knew her voice right away. I pulled my turtleneck up over my mouth and nose to shield me from the smoke of the house fire. In a muffled voice, I reply, “Ok. It’s probably better to get away from this chaos anyway. This smoke is bothering me, so it must be bothering you, eh?” She didn’t answer and instantly she was gone. Walking east on Addison likely. This was her stomping ground after all.

The officer’s voice on the radio was so troubled, that I knew the scene must be bloody or otherwise difficult. When I drove up, I saw the body crumpled in the roadway, slightly on its side. With the clothing in layers, I didn’t recognize her. I sucked in air through my nose as I often do to calm me in these moments, and exhaled very slowly. I drew closer and saw the head. Her head, I would come to find out. The officer yelled at me, “It’s Maria King, Sarge.” I bend closer, tilt my head ever so slightly and still cannot process what I see.

This moment of pause, this process, has happened so many times to me over the years. The sights. The sounds. The smells. The imagery. The events. The things that the brain fights with because it has not had to deal with before. Then all of it becomes indelible.

Her face is unrecognizable, not merely because of the blood but by how deformed it was. She was gurgling, fighting to breathe through the mess in her nose, mouth and eyes. But…I just saw her last night at the fire, I whisper out loud to no one but myself. Dammit. What the hell?  Who the hell? Who in God’s name would do this?!

The dispatcher had said that a witness said he saw “someone jumping on what appeared to be a body.” I was baffled. Angry. Intent then. Three of us kneeled over her. Two were trained paramedics as well as cops so they were doing what they could for her. I held a flashlight above the mess, still not fully comprehending her condition.

Officers were dashing in various directions. The officer’s initial broadcast sending the right amount of importance and urgency. I was next barking directions. Officers made detentions and eventually arrested three young men, one with blood on his boots.

Everyone on duty at the time seemed to have some experience with Maria at some point. It became personal. Each reflected on some encounter with her. At times she was angry. It was mostly alcoholic belligerence. Some describe how tiny she was. I heard one officer say, “Anyone who could do this is a true monster.”