Most fairy tales begin with: Once upon a time. And the modern iteration of fairy tales are much less cautionary, and more that of fantastical. The hero always wins. The princess becomes the queen and so on. The reality is that these tales are much darker than their current replications. Those are the fables that I relate to; the deep, desolate and at times dystopian passages of story. I am fond of them because in my own anecdote, I do not feel like the hero at all. Tough to say what I am really. But I do have a story, and it begins with: one night…
“Fuck, that guy was brutal!” Chantel moaned through grimaced lips and repulsed expression.
“Yeah, that dude smelled alright”.
“Fuckin gross! I’m gonna have that on me all shift now, fuck!”
As a paramedic, sometimes we have the misfortune of finding a patient in the latter stages of decomposition—this is accompanied by a very unique and indescribable odor. Anyone who has ever had the displeasure of inhaling it will likely agree with me here. And it’s not just the smell while you are next to the body, no, not at all. The nefarious aroma clings to the microfibers of your uniform and encircles you for the remainder of your day. I have thrown away many uniform shirts and pants because of this.
Chantel and I had just responded for a welfare check that had been kicked from the police over to us (something that happens with great repetition when working in a bustling city service). It would turn out that the person of which we were going to check in on had been left unvisited for some time. They had died in a rocking chair within their living room. The body had begun to merge into the forest green felt of the chair itself. This old man was beyond our help, but he remained with us for the duration of our shift…
After some time and when my endurance of the stench had faded, I decided it was time for a uniform change. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to fib the shift supervisor and tell them that I needed to swing by my place to grab a uniform shirt as I had no clean ones left in my work locker. I was granted permission and then filled with a giddy sense of joy. My spouse of the time was home and on days off. I thought this would be an amazing little surprise for her; sneak in, kiss her forehead and tell her how much I love her. She was not expecting me back until later in the evening, so this would be a pleasantly ephemeral meeting.
We pulled onto my block and I told Chantel that I would be back in a moment. She asked me to grab some perfume from Miranda, I smiled and said of course. As I was leaping out of the truck Chantel screamed out from behind me “NO SEX! I’m not getting any, no one’s getting any!”
“What do you think I am, a minute man?”
“you’re a guy, so, yes! Hurry up!”
I laughed in acknowledgement “10-4. Gimme 5”.
I unlocked the door to my home and quietly entered inside. I took my boots off and began to unbutton my anathematized medic shirt. I ascended the stairs towards our room with quieted gait. The bedroom door was closed and always squawked a wooden groan when it was opened slowly, but I tried. It was in the middle of opening the door that I could hear Miranda’s voice. I was now in our room and witnessed a look of shock slather itself to her face.
“Hey, babe. You’re up??”
“Hey… hi, hey, what are you doing home?”
“Ah, had a bloater, need a uniform change. Figured I’d come surprise you”.
I leaned in to give her a hug. She reciprocated with a stiff and robotic embrace. I leaned back.
“Are you alright? Everything okay?”
“Hmm, yeah, why? How long are you home for?”
I could now hear that something was off in her voice, and my eyes began to relay that something was just as peculiar with her appearance. She had make-up on. Perfume emanated from her skin and her hair was immaculate, she looked stunning. Punishingly pretty.
“Hmm, what? Don’t you have to get back to—”
“Miranda, why are you so dressed up? Thought you’d be in bed?”
“I’m not. I’m-I’m meeting my dad for lunch!”
As she was finishing the last utterance of her statement, a lace filigree from her undershirt slapped the pupils of my eyes. I used my hand to brush back her neckline and revealed to me was my favorite silk lingerie top.
“Why are you wearing lingerie to meet your dad?!”
“It’s not lingerie, it’s just a silky top, Matt!”
“A silky top under your other top? What’s going on?”
I felt a sickening knot begin to tighten in my stomach. Miranda and I had had our troubles in the past with infidelity, but I had assumed that we had worked through all that. I asked to see her phone and she resisted. I asked again and again until she could see that my plea was not going to diminish. She reluctantly handed me her phone and without even having to swipe to unlock the device, a message lunged at me from the screen:
“Hey, gorgeous. FML, I can’t wait to see you. Lemme know when you’re on your way, I’m in St. Albert.”
The message finished with a smiley face emoji and a winky face after that. It was not her father’s number; I knew that much. I also knew that no matter how hard I pressed for answers I would not get any. And I knew that I did not have the luxury of time to be able to suss them out nor fix what was happening. As such, I absorbed all of what was happening within me and thundered into the closet to retrieve a uniform shirt. Without saying another word, I left. Miranda chased after me in a way, begging me to believe that she was not doing anything ill-fated, but I knew better. For better, or for worse…
I hadn’t even gotten my buttons done up by the time I had jumped back into the passenger side of the ambulance. Chantel knew something was up by the way that I was breathing and refusing to make eye-contact.
“Drive, please.” She obliged.
Chantel was privy to some of my relationship woes, so she kept quiet until she felt it safe enough to pry gently. I explained what had happened and her face reformed that same look of disgust from earlier in the day. I had to finish the rest of the day with fabricated images of my girlfriend having sex with another man while wearing my favorite negligee. I can tell you this now, doing the job of a paramedic while having that imagery as background in the mind’s eye makes for a long and arduous day.
Near the end of shift, Chantel had confided in another paramedic about what had happened to me and how badly she felt for me. She basically had to drive and attend all the calls for the rest of that day. Greg, the other medic that she had confided in, was a good guy. He was not ordinarily on our platoon, but he was working overtime for another medic. He came up to me and slammed his hand down onto my shoulder with the weight of a brother.
“We’re going out tonight. Drinking some beer and there is no getting out of it. Gimme your phone…”
“Good. So, here’s the thing. You’re not texting that woman tonight. Tonight, we are going out and you are going to have a great time, I’ll see to that and then we will discuss what you have to do. You can shower at my place.”
“Fuck it, yeah, I’m in. Let’s do it.”
We drove to Greg’s place after the shift had ended. Greg lived in a less than affluent neighbourhood in the city’s downtown core. He had a nice place, don’t get me wrong, it was just surrounded by decay and addicted streets.
We spent a few hours at his place, drinking whiskey, bourbon and even some wine before jetting out into the bar district. We hopped from pub to pub, bar to bar and even danced with a congress of ladies out on a bachelorette party. When all was said and done, we sloppily made our way back to his place. Once there, the drinks continued to pour.
I hadn’t answered my phone all evening and part of me felt guilty, as though I was doing something wrong. A common sensation when in a relationship hallmarked by Gaslighting. But there was also a part of me that felt relief. Relief in that I was avoiding the reality of it all for a few intoxicated hours.
As it often does when medic’s get together, we began to talk shop. Swapping call for call and seeing who could outdo the other along the way. Things took a sullen turn when we discussed our respective time spent in the military. Greg, a military reservist had been over to Afghanistan during the thickest part of the Taliban pushback. He was also there when fellow soldiers were shot and killed directly in front of him. His eyes became dark and lost as his words acted as the fuel of transport to the past. When the mood had descended to blackness, we sat in each other’s company and bathed in the sweltering silence of unspoken word. Occasionally, the sipping sound of a whiskey being consumed could be heard, but that was it.
When we had finished one bottle, Greg reached into his cabinet and pulled forth an unopened bottle of Macallan 18-year.
“I’s wass saving this. Not z’sure for what, but I waz. May as well be now!”
He repelled my polite protestation towards opening a bottle of such fine whiskey by taking my glass and filling it four-fingers deep with the maple brown liquid. As we drank from our glasses, I began to orate one of my calls. I told him about The Boy. The hanging of a young boy that I had responded to. He listened empathically and when I was finished, he said confusingly:
“You gotta dump that s’bitch. Sorry. But you do, brother. You do… I don’t wanna hear about dead kids…”
I knew he was right. I also knew that I wouldn’t and that only fostered the feeling of inadequacy. Greg then went on to revealing a story of his own. A story from that war-torn place where his blood had been spilled. The story was awful. It was sad and it was captivatingly torturous. At the culmination of his deep, dark and dystopian tale, silence refilled the room.
I suddenly began to feel very small. I felt weak when placing my trauma against his. I know and knew that trauma was not a competition, but medics are built to put others first and when I put what he had been through ahead of anything, I felt unworthy to be there.
Greg stood up and wobbled for a moment before indicating that he was going to bed. He fired me a pillow and blanket from his closet and said that I could have the couch. The lights were turned off and I remained seated beside a gifted pillow and blanket. I decided that now would be a good time to check my phone, so I went and retrieved it from Greg’s jacket pocket.
No new messages… She hadn’t even text me…
I went and sat back down. I no longer protested the whiskey bottle. In fact, I embraced it, four-fingers at a time.
There was no happy ending here. The princess may have indeed found a prince, but I was not that prince. A toad, perhaps… a drunk one.
I realized that I could not drive home but I also felt out of place within the home of a hero. I knew that I would not stay there. I had looked at the keys in my hand and was assuring myself that I could make it home. I held within my hand a set of three keys… I saw six. I put the keys down and skulked off onto the streets outside of Greg’s place. I couldn’t sleep there.
As mentioned earlier, it was a seedy neighborhood, but no matter how drunk I was, my vigilance meter was still in working order. I scanned my arcs and examined two intersections ahead of where I was walking, looking for potential threats.
I’m not sure how far I walked but I ended up at a park bench and decided to sit down for a while. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I left the keys at Greg’s place… I took the whiskey instead.
I sat on that bench and pressed the cold glass of the bottle to my lips each time my thoughts became too burdensome. I did this with such staccato that eventually, I just passed out. That’s right, I slept on the streets like the homeless I so often rescued.
The true irony is that, I spent the better part of my waking days and sleepless nights on shift asking if those sequestered to the cement slabs of our streets were “okay.” Asking if they needed help then offering my hand and an ambulance. Come morning, it was not the sun that woke me, though that was watchful and above also. No, it was a sudden and swift kick to my foot from a figure lurking overhead. Through squinted and pained gaze, I brought this apparition into focus—standing before me, was a man obviously sequestered to the cement slabs of the streets asking if I am okay. Asking if I need help…
Even with the weight of a hangover, you wake up pretty quickly during an event such as the one just told to you.
So you see, I am not the hero of the story. Greg, most definitely fits that bill. And the princess? She is painfully absent, off with another prince. And me, well, I’m that dark part of the story. The original aspect of a fairy tale—deep, dark and dystopian… and drunk. Don’t forget drunk…
I have never told anyone that story. Actually, I have never even released it from my lips. Not to Greg, not to Chantel nor Miranda, no one.
So why am I doing it now? Why am I telling all of you? Because this is a medic’s mind. My mind. It’s not always a happy place. Nor a dark one. But it’s the only one I have. And I’m sorry to say, this is not written by Disney…
I am however happy to report that I no longer sleep on park benches. And that I am nine-months sober at the time this is written. Huh, well fuck me… I guess fairy tales DO have happy endings after all…