How do you know if you’re the good guy, or the bad guy? Someone important to me once said that the world is more nuanced than that. It’s not as simple as good versus bad. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be the hero. Standing up for what was right. Lamenting against the injustices wherever they should occur. Transpose that naïve ideology atop of my adult life, and you’ll find a disillusioned boy trapped within a captious man’s body. No cape, no emblem… just a guy who fought against the injustice of death while struggling to find reason in it all.
In life, the only certainty is death. I never struggled with that realization. It was all the stuff in-between. As a paramedic, I knew that I would lose people. I learned that lesson very early on in my career. And I felt like I was fine with it. As fine as someone can be. But like anything that stacks atop of itself—it can only go so far before it wobbles and falls. It was during my time in the rubble that I started to question which guy I was… the good guy, or the bad guy?
I drowned this introspection in many bottles of whiskey. Turns out, booze is a fertilizer. The more I drank, the more I questioned. I knew that the symbolism of being a paramedic gave the optics of a good guy. Thing is, when immersed within humanity’s worst offerings, I wasn’t always good.
I once stood with a body lain at my feet. A body of a boy we failed to save. I was panting, tired yet still engorged by the adrenaline of our efforts. I took in his features, his dead, pale features. And the more I did, the angrier I became. It felt like such a needless loss of life. Like he had just given up at the first sign of struggle. His death was a suicide. He was fourteen. I even cursed downward at him. I was angry that we couldn’t get him back. We worked him for a good while. My vituperation was foisted aloud. I don’t recall if any of the other first responders heard me, though I suspect it impossible that they hadn’t.
When I went back to the ambulance, I felt my body start to shake. Not from adrenaline, but sorrow and remorse. His appearance was barely adolescent, he still looked like a kid. The world didn’t seem fair in that moment. It had taken the life of someone who hadn’t even lived yet, and left a horrible wake of devastation behind for those doomed to continue with living. The boy wasn’t bad… I was. I swore at a dead kid. Nothing heroic or good about that.
Then there was the guy in the grocery store. I was on a day off, getting some stuff for dinner. I was standing idle in-front of a sprawling sea of packages when the voice came in. It was a shaken voice of a man whose appearance was hauntingly familiar to me. You see, the night previous, I had been on a call… it was another suicide. A man had hanged himself in the foyer of his apartment. We worked him and did all we could, but to no avail. The man was dead. Unbeknown to me, this man had a brother… a twin brother. A brother that must have been on scene and witnessed me working on his other copy. I hadn’t seen him, I was busy, I guess. So, by some cruel twist if the universe, we happened to be in the same grocery store at the same time and the man caught sight of me and knew exactly who I was. For me, it was different. See, I recognized him… but to me, it was a damn ghost standing in that aisle talking to me. Asking me why? Begging me for answers. I was frozen stiff. The only thing I could hear outside of his panicked voice was the thunder of my heart pounding between my ears.
I couldn’t respond. I really thought that I was speaking with a ghost. What a fucked-up Wednesday…
Eventually it became clear that this man was the brother, he said so. He was asking me for answers as to why his brother would have chosen to die by way of suicide. This was not my query to answer… as it was not I who held the key to his request.
I believe I told him to contact my supervisor. I put my basket down and walked out of the store. I walked away from his painful voice calling out to me from behind. There’s nothing heroic in that, either. Is there?
So… am I the good guy, or the bad guy? For a long time, the answer felt obvious: the bad guy. Clearly. Who swears at kids and walks away from the bereft? Not the good guy…
Fast forward many years later and countless hours of therapy, and I am still not convinced that I am the good guy. I do however better understand why I did some of the things I did back then. I wasn’t really swearing at the boy, I was swearing at me. When I was fourteen, I wanted to die, too. He showed me what would have happened if I did…
The guy in the store… I really thought I was talking to a ghost; that’s how healthy my mind was. Of course, I walked away, I was a wounded animal trying to survive. So… the question remains: am I the good guy, or the bad one…? Well… the answer is a little more nuanced than that. Others may tell you I am, I will ensure you that I am not. Perhaps both are correct.
We all have a list of regrets. Mine is long and dark. Maybe not too dissimilar from yours.
I will not be able to tell you within this post definitively if I am the good guy or not. All I can do, is inform you that I am a better man—better than I once was. And that is a testament to the true good guys: those who love me, those who care for me and those who look out for me. Irrefutably, they are the real heroes. No question.
This brings me to the end; in lieu of having no clear and concise answer for you, I will simply offer a most humble and sincere gratitude. To those of you who stood with me even when I could not stand myself. It is because of you that I can say with certainty that I know who the good guys are!
I love you all, thank you!!