The Virus

Things had been crazy ever since the outbreak. The hours at work had been long and exhaustive. When I got home, I dropped my kit bag and went for the shower. I stood beneath the decalescent beams of water, struggling to cleanse myself of last night’s shift. My arms outstretched, supporting the weight of my aching body as it leaned against the damp tile. Rivulets of water descended along my skin before vanishing with a gurgle through the perforated holes of the drain.

The orchestra of falling water was music to my tired ears. Anything to drown out the ghostly moans and ululations of the sick and wounded. As a paramedic, I’m not sure that’s a sound that you ever get used to… just frightfully acquainted with.

And last night… last night was horrible.

The shift started is it so often had during that past month—arduous checklists ensuring that our infection control kits were well stocked and easily deployable. For the past while, every call that came into 9-1-1 with a chief complaint of cough, cold or sniffle was equated to the virus. As such, we (the paramedics, or “ditch doctors”) had to suffer our way through donning oversized yellow gowns, surgical shields and N95 face masks, all while carrying the cumbersome weight of our everyday gear into the unknown of someone’s home.

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The virus was no joke. Plastered all over the news were pleas from medical figureheads, decrying visits to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. People were panicked and mostly chose to stay in their homes. But when they became sick with anything even tangentially resembling that of the fabled sickness, they called us… 9-1-1. I guess we’re expendable. Or, as we were so often told: They “paid” their taxes.

It was during those diseased months that I became sure of one thing: should there ever be a zombie apocalypse, paramedics are no doubt going to be the first to go down. Why? Because some shithead zombie will still find a way to call an ambulance and then have the audacity to bite the responding medic. We would walk into these people’s homes and they would cough throaty heaps of lung butter all over our chin and cheeks as though we were somehow impervious to the ill-will of the virus. They didn’t give a flying fuck about possibly infecting us with whatever it was that they may or may not have had, they just demanded that we make them feel better. An impossible ask, but one they foisted with indefatigable zeal.

Despite wearing thick layers of protection, fatigue had made my patience run… a little thin. Frank and I were standing outside of the ambulance, dressing ourselves in isolation gear before making entry into a home that had requested an ambulance. A nearby construction worker witnessed the two of us dancing in place while getting geared up. Instead of letting loose a cat-call, he yelled out while holding his finger in an exaggerative manner, “Hey… fellas, I got a sliver. Can you come suck it out?” Followed by a juvenile laugh. He was looking to his buddies for support in his idiocy. Ordinarily I would have paid this no attention… but considering my current state of prostration, I hocked a reply to his query… “Nah, sorry dude. I’m not allowed to examine vaginas!” His buddies were now laughing.

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Frank and I went into the home and completed the call. In and out, dress up, dress down… this was the cadence of our shift. It had been for the past several weeks in a row. Hospitals were crowded. Patients were coughing and spitting all over the hallway floors of the emergency department. Some people were more ill with incredulity than they were with anything else; they felt that calling an ambulance (warranted or not), meant that they should be seen ahead of anyone else in line. People don’t seem to realize that getting to the hospital is not a race. That the hierarchy is less about entitlement and solely about severity. Simply demanding that you be seen does not further you ahead in line. Nor in our good graces.

It was during a feeble attempt at getting coffee when the call came in. The radio squawked to life with news of a patient in dire straits. A middle-aged woman had collapsed outside of her home after being dropped off by a taxi. Frank and I looked at one another through tired gape. Without looking, he allowed his hand to navigate downward and flipped the switches to the emergency lights and sirens. Away we went. Frank drove and I studied and cleared intersections for him. A constant obstacle course of apathetic drivers and indolent pedestrians always made hot runs just that much more stressful. The excitement of riding hot to a call wears off rather quickly after you’ve experienced the dangers within once or twice.

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The sun was going down and the temperature outside was beginning to reflect that of a flameless sky. When we got to scene, the first thing to greet my eyes was a hefty body lain on the craggy snowscape of the curb. The second, was scared stiff taxi driver, frantically waving at us as we approached. Frank and I got out and went to work. A battle had commenced. In one corner stood, the Reaper. Clad in a flowing gown of black and ominous shadow. And in the other, Frank and myself. Paramedics always fight outside of their weight class. Sometimes as the victor. Sometimes not. That night, we were bested by the demon and his sickle. The woman died.

We chalked it up to her having been grossly overweight. We felt as though we had done all we could, but that battle was not ours to win… apparently.

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The shift would end and I would lumber home. By the time I had unlocked my front door, my girlfriend had already left for work. She was on days and I was on nights. The only intimacy that we could share with one another during that time was in the form of lingering scents that subtly clung to the others’ pillow case. This is romance in the world of being a first responder. Sometimes, the love of your life is invisible—at times, both emotionally and physically.

I would close my eyes and manage to catch a few restless hours before heading back into work. Last shift and then finally, some days off.

Upon getting to work, my eyes had finally started to open. I swiped my badge along the magnetic lock and listened for the latch to snap back before entering the ambulance station. I walked down the hallway and into the crew kitchen. The place was a ghost town, which meant one of two things: 1; the city was on fire and every ambulance was out on a call. Or 2; the zombies had finally gotten to us.

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I heard the supervisors’ door open and out came the dayshift sup. I met him with a sarcastic outburst at the sight of his attire—he was fully gowned up!

“Hey… Dustin Hoffman from Outbreak; where the fuck’s the monkey?!”

“Ha! Yeah… well… technically… you’re the monkey. That patient you had last night, the cardiac arrest—she’s confirmed H1N1.”

“Oh… well that’s just fuckin neat!”

“Were you and Frank wearing your Iso-gear during that call?”

“No… we just ran it like a code. No one said shit to us about her being sick”.

“Yeah… labs came back… that’s why she coded”.

“Cool. So… you telling me I’m gonna die, or…?”

“No… I mean, probably not. But you and Frank are now to be quarantined. Since you’re both out of this station tonight, we are shutting this place down and you and Frank are sequestered to the lounge until we figure out what’s going on”.

“Well, fuckin happy-happy joy-joy! Jesus, dude, I went home and everything!”

“I know. Look, even the doc thinks that you’re likely fine, but we have to follow protocol on this. I’m sorry”.

And just like that, the zombies had got me… me and Frank.

Frank had his fortune told to him as he arrived through the doors just as I had done. His reaction was nicer than mine… he’s a better man than I am. He sat beside me on the couch and offered me some M&M’s. I wasn’t hungry… but they were the peanut kind… so I took a handful.

Throughout the night we had to take each others’ temperature and report hourly to the shift supervisor. No other crews were allowed to rotate through the station. I knew that we were likely to be alright, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a slight gnaw of concern at this whole thing. We were just out doing our jobs, and now we could be really sick. I’d be disingenuous if I said I wasn’t frustrated either. Sitting stationary in the blandness of an ambulance station for 14-hours makes for a long, sluggish evening. The highlight came when Frank called to inform his wife of what was going on…

“Hey, honey. How are you?”

(incomprehensible sounds from the phone)

“Me? Oh yeah, I’m good. Might the HIV1N1, but I’m good!”

(Loud and frightened incomprehensible sounds from the phone)

“Bah, nothing to worry about—Matty said he’d suck the poison out for me…”

“Sure thing, brother… I’ll get the tweezers!”

Frank finished his call and put his wife’s mind at ease.

The night would come and go. Frank and I would be given the all clear with the caveat of monitoring our temperature over the next several days. We would be fine. Unscathed, as you say.

I bring this up because of current global situation; we currently have men and women on the frontline facing a foe of unknown potency. Men and women who have families, lives and loved ones. Men and women who willfully charge into the mouth of the beast while the rest of us seek refuge. I remember what it was like working during an epidemic. It makes an already stressful job just that much more complex and difficult. And you wanna hear something really fucked up…? I really miss being there. Right there at the precipice of chaos. Takes a rare breed to want to do something like that. Takes an even rarer kind to continue doing it day in and day out.

So, to all of you that are out there now, facing off with adversaries well above your weight class, I salute you. Come home safe. Come home healthy. And come home proud… we love you!

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Mum (January 26th, 2020)

Hey, Mum… just figured I’d come chat with you for a while. Kind of having a tough one.

~

Everything I do today is doomed to be weighted and ponderous. Menial tasks from putting the tea bag in the cup, filling it with water, buttering some toast to putting a soiled dish in the awaiting rack of a dishwasher, all of it, slave labour.

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While I may not own the appearance of your typical slave, and certainly no longer reside in a time where bondage is the accepted social norm, I am no less shackled by a master of misery.

Today is January 26th, 2020. What should be an arbitrary square on a calendar, has become a moment immune to the ticking hands. A moment saturated by sadness and forlorn cogitation. To me, that empty square on the waxy pages of time stretches into a pristine canvas, awaiting the stroke of a wounded man’s brush. And from behind my eyes, I begin to paint…

What unfolds is the imagery of loss and pain. I hear his voice and then hers… even yours. All of them, piercing, agonizing… unforgettable.

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The owner of my torment is grief. Today, I am a slave to it. Memory has become the whip. My soul, the recipient of punitive slashes and tears. Today is a day where even skin feels too heavy to wear.

Mum, five years ago I lost a friend. His name was Greg. He was a sort of mentor to me. To many people, really. He was a good medic and a great man. I actually told you about him when you were still around. I called you one night after one of the bad ones, and blathered at you through whiskey breath. Though my speech may have been slurred, I think you were able to comprehend just how kind Greg was to me in my moment of need. You even said through your British timbre: “That was nice of him then, eh?” I agreed and then started to cry. You didn’t say much. You didn’t have to. You just sat on the other end of the phone and listened to me for a while. I could almost feel your hand on the back of my head.

Mum, five years ago, Greg died by way of suicide. The fabric of my black and white world was ripped from under my intoxicated feet. You see, I used to think that suicide was selfish. I used to condemn any and all who even contemplated it, let alone died by way of it. Those calls I went to, some of the rough ones, they were suicide calls. I would walk in with a chip on my shoulder and a weighted brow. I had already passed judgement never having met the person before. That narrative was challenged one night when I responded to a young woman who had died by method of pills. She was lain on her bed. Pale, cold and alone. I walked in wanting to hate her… it was easier that way. On her nightstand was a note. One of the last ones I ever read… until yours…

I won’t tell you what the note said, I’m sure you remember, because I told you in life. But what I will say is this; that note, read on that night beside the lifeless woman, that was the first chop of the axe towards the pillar of my simplistic narrative. How could I possibly label a woman so tortured and wounded as selfish? I couldn’t. So I became a man conflicted. Thus making each of the following suicides that I would attend more painful. More confusing. More debilitating. The unity of those three things would be taken to the forge and melted down to anger, then shaped into a goblet… a bottomless glass from which I would consume the rage. And I would drink from it until my eyes closed and the world around me would fade… I did this for years.

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In fact, on the morning when I received the phone call about Greg, I was terribly hungover. I listened with hefted incredulity and nauseated stomach as the voice of my friend, Rob, spoke on what had happened. That was the fatal blow to my flawed narrative of judgement. Greg was anything but selfish, and now he too had died by way of a wounded mind. In that moment when Rob’s words bled into my ear, I relived each and every suicide that I had ever attended. Even the ones less lethal, leaving the person badly wounded. Every face, every feature and every scent returned to me before the completion of a blink.

I hung up the phone. I went to the bar, sat at the counter and asked for the goblet. I drank the world invisible. You see, in that moment, on that day five-years ago, every death that I had survived by way of labeling as selfish had come back to me with a haunt that was obliterating my fallacy. I could no longer justify calling those poor people selfish. If Greg was unselfish in his pain, then why were they any different…? These people were not selfish. They were hurting. They were frightfully sad and burdened by unfathomable pain. And right there in that dingy alehouse, the weight of that pain came crashing down onto my shoulders like sickening beams from a showerhead. I was drowning.

In order to survive, condemnation and judgement had acted as my life preserver. Erroneous or otherwise. But all of that was gone now. So I drank and pretended the world didn’t exist. During that time, I am glad the goblet was bottomless…

So, that’s part of what today is; Greg’s anniversary. Thing is, I don’t have a goblet anymore. Rage? Sure… plenty. Most of it, self-directed.

But there’s something else about today that seems especially loathsome and abhorrent. The symbolism behind it is nice, I’ll concede. But the reality of why it’s happening is not…

Mum… I have some bad news. Awful news, really. Are you sitting down…? Mum… a few weeks ago, your little girl, my big sis… she died, mum. I don’t know if you’ve seen her yet, and if you haven’t, I am sorry to have been the one to tell you. Believe me, I wish this was all untrue. All of it.

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Today, the town of Beiseker, population 819, is holding a memorial for her… for Lisa. Her death wasn’t expected, so there are a lot of us still reeling. I know memorials are supposed to be celebratory, in a way… It’s just that I am not ready to do any of that just yet. I wonder if you can see now why I think that today sucks. It’s kind of a big one.

I still feel awful that I spent years judging all those people. Mum, there were so many… for a time, it seemed and felt like everyone in the world was dying by their own murderous mind. The repetition of which my job saw me witness suicide was… well… it feels so incalculable. And I feel utterly worthless that all this skill at saving people was useless when it came to trying to help my sister. I feel like I failed you, when you died. And now, I feel like I failed her. Like I should have called more. Like I should have been in better mental health so that I could have travelled to see her… to see you… I hadn’t seen either of you in 11-years. 13, for you now, I guess…

Today is a lot, mum. I’d give anything to feel your hand on the back of my head now. Truth be told, I don’t even believe in an afterlife… making these words even more horribly sad. Because really, I’m just talking to myself. The dead and gone don’t answer me. Not even sure they forgive me. Perhaps that’s why I have so many bad dreams—sentencing for my crimes of judgement.

Bell Let’s Talk day is coming… I guess, maybe that’s what I’m doing—talking.

I’m going to go for a walk now, be by the water for a while. Maybe I can skip a few tears across the bouncing lake. Throw them somewhere deep… so they can rest. So you can rest. So you can all rest…

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Mum, if you see Greg… tell him hi for me, okay? And if you see Lisa… mum, grab onto her and just love her. Tell we all miss her. Tell her thank you for me. We didn’t speak much as adults, but she was a damn good older sister. I love her. I love you. And Greg, brother… I love you too. I promise, for whatever time I have left on this earth, I’ll keep talking. No longer judging. At least… not those around me.

Rest easy, wherever you are. Hopefully I’ll see you sometime.

 

Super Brat

On a modest Spring day, a rural town nestled among the craggy landscape of the Canadian Rockies was beginning to stir. The sky was a brilliant Maya blue. Snow still glazed to the tips of the mountains that overlooked this tranquil place. Birds could be heard singing ubiquitously through bedroom windows, their songs welcoming early risers to the day anew.

I was just a boy back then, so memories of that time are sparse, to say the least. But this one, however, was gifted to me by my older sister, Lisa. And it is one that I will never let go.

I must have been 6, maybe 7 at the time. That would have made my sister… 12… 13. I bring this up because my sister had been tasked with taking me to the park. See, she had plans to go and see some friends. My zealous urchin ears must have caught sound of this and thusly invited myself along. This did not fall in line with my sister’s concepts of the day. As such, she said no; I began to cry and then… mum said yes. Meaning that she was now bound by parental law to bring her nettlesome sibling along.

My sister’s unease at bringing me along went beyond that of simply finding me annoying. Though, that too was likely a factor, it was no doubt heightened by the fact that although I wanted to go with her, I did not want to leave the house without my carefully selected attire… attire that my adolescent sister deemed utterly inappropriate and frightfully embarrassing. Our quarrel continued.

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My mother no doubt shouted at both of us, demanding silence. Lisa pleaded with judge mum, but sentence, fair or not was handed down and she was to acquiesce to all stipulations. I can still feel the smolder of my sister’s piercing blue eyes.

“Fine, let’s go!” she said through shortened tone.

A smile had wiggled its way onto my mischievous face. “One second… I gotta go get it!” I took off into my room, running as fast as a speeding bullet. At least, in my mind anyway.

When I returned to the front door where my sister stood, cross-armed and austere, her mouth fell open… it was worse than she had thought.

“Mum! Mother… come look at this… he cannot come with me dressed like that!” My sister tossed this desperate howl over her shoulder and into the kitchen where my mother had been sat, cigarette in hand, and tea steeping in front of her on the table. The chair legs scraped angrily along the linoleum floor… my mother was coming.

She rounded the corner, still donned in the regalia of the recently woken. An ethereal tail of animated cigarette smoke followed in-behind her as she came into view. She took me in with her weary mother’s gaze and then shot a glance over to my bewildered sister, then back to me.

“What?! He likes to wear it, you know that!”

“Mum, I am going to meet my friends… do you know how embarrassing that is?!” My sister lamented while gesticulating desperately in my direction.

“Lisa, stop it! He’s going with you, period!” My mother retreated back behind the wall. Law had been spoken.

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My sister’s head fell and she watched as all of her hopes for a different outcome crashed to the floor. You could almost hear them breaking like fine china. Her gaze ascended, I once again found myself on the receiving end of a vengeful stare. Beams of red-hot anger shot from her eyes. But it was all for not—I was still very much excited and ready to go!

She pulled the door open and fled through the opening. I followed quickly in-behind her. I stood for a moment on the top step, just passed the door. I felt a juxtaposing breeze of chill and warmth circulate in and around the open spaces of where I stood. I placed my hands on my hips and took a deep inhalation of that crisp mountain air. I closed my eyes and basked in the glory of a morning sun. Even the birds stopped for a moment, likely breathless at what stood before them. I know for certain that my sister was in a state of incredulity, her face informed me of that.

On that spring morning, as the seasons were melting from one into the other, I stood tall, filling out the entirety of my 3-foot, six-inch frame. Hands securely rested onto the boney crests of my juvenile hips. Feet, shoulder width apart, of course. Head purposefully, perhaps even arrogantly canted to the side, staring into the distance at the end of our block. I could not have been more triumphant. I swear, even the mountains bowed to a boy so… super.

Those of you whom know me will know that I love Superman. Those of you who grew up with me (like my poor sister, Lisa) will know that as a boy, I used to love wearing my replica Superman attire everywhere! Yes, even to the park. Hence my sister’s protestations. Futile as they may have been.

“Matthew! Stop standing there… let’s go!” My sister’s voice whipped in my ears. I bound from the top step to the sidewalk below. Landing with childish thuds to the pavement. I ran to match pace with my sister’s ireful strides. My little cape snapped at flapped as I did. That sound was no doubt adding to the fire of my sister’s burning embarrassment.

Upon reaching the park, my sister increased her distance and speed from me. She, like a good older sister, annoyed or not, tossed back a glance to make sure I was nearby. I was. Albeit in my own little world, but I was. She joined her friends and I proceeded to run from monkey bars to fireman’s pole. I jogged across the rickety, swaying bridge back and forth without tire. I crawled atop of the metal obstacles, even hanging from them to pretend that I was in flight!

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And as all little brother’s do, I invaded the sanctity of my sister’s space. I ran over to where my sister and her friends had corralled and attempted to seamlessly join in with whatever it was they were doing.

“Hey, Lisa… watch this! Lisa… watch… Hey, Lis… hey… check this out. Watch!” My sister was doing her best to pretend that I did not exist. She kept her gaze and confabulations firmly cemented onto her friends. Even when I would pull at the sleeve of her shirt, she somehow managed to ignore me. It was at this moment that my young mind fabricated the only possible scenario for my sister’s apathetic dismissal of my presence… Someone had stollen her memory! And that someone was none other than: Lex Luthor!

I ran from person to person, even her friends, asking if they had seen my sister’s memory. I explained that Lex Luthor had stollen it from her. In a frenzy, I galloped over every inch of that grass and gravel filled park. I needed to save my sister! Even if that was the last thing she wanted me to do.

When my sister told me of this memory, we shared in a laugh with one another. It was nice to hear her laugh, because her life had been a little rough for a long time. This took place just before Christmas. I am trying my very best to capture and hold that laughter now. I don’t ever want to let it go.

On January 5th of this past week, my sister died suddenly and without warning. She was robbed from us. The last conversation that I ever had with my sister was about the memory that I just shared with you…

The world feels like an awfully big park right now, and I am feeling anything but super.

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Lisa, I am going to miss you so much! Part of me keeps praying that this is just another one of my horrid nightmares. One of the only times I would place pray and nightmare in the same sentence, but I would do anything to have you back, Lisa. I can’t believe that this is all true.

I love you, Lisa. The world did, too. I wish you could see the impact that you had on so many. I have had multiples of people that I do not know reach out to me. They gift me anecdotes of their time spent with you. A currency I now deem priceless.

We’ve got eyes on Gracie, now. We’ll love that girl as you did.

My heart aches a thousand aches, Lisa. Each beat feels like I’m bleeding. And I guess contextually, if blood was measured in tears, I am… mortally so. A part of me has died with you. A part of all of us…

May you rest now, sis. Thanks for taking me to the park, even when you didn’t want to. Thanks for loving me all those years, especially when I didn’t make it easy. I was a super brat. But you… you were my big sis. Super Lisa!

Fly high, my dear sweet sister. I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight, It’s Hers…

With the piercing shatter of a glass, I hear it… A sound that starts from deep within my ears. A roaming crescendo of haunt that becomes so deafening it forces me from bed, plaguing me with a spasm that crawls along my spine. In those first, frightful moments of wakefulness, I am presented an unwelcomed confusion that plucks at my sinew. My breathing is rapid and my gaze, spastic. I wander over to the front door and press my ear against the cold wood. I close my eyes and listen intently to see if I can capture it in the real. But all I hear is a thunderous heart lamenting from inside my chest.

I thought I heard her screaming… again.

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The argument could be made that I had… however, only by way of remembrance.

I stepped away from the door and fell seated with defeat onto my couch. A place and posture I have assumed many times before. Sometimes I think the screams are the worst. But then I remember the smells and the tastes… and it becomes near impossible to judge which is truly worse within the hierarchy of grotesque.

I will say this about screams though: I hate them. Especially hers…

It belonged to a young woman. A working professional that lived alone and was simply trying to make it in this rat race of life. On a cold, blackened evening in the dead of winter, a man broke into her apartment. He peeled back her sliding glass door and found her sleeping. What happened next was unquestionably scripted from the devil’s pen and written with the flaming ink of hell. This troglodyte began raping her without mercy nor care. When this monster had finished ravaging the poor girl, he stabbed her. And that’s how I met her; dispatched to her apartment after she had managed to call the police. The first thing to greet me upon entry of her modest place, was the tinny taste of copper—blood. A god damned river of it.

My partner (another male) and I proceeded into the bedroom where she lay. When her eyes met with mine and Frank’s, she squirmed with unease. But she had lost a lot of blood, and continued to lose that precious crimson currency of life. So, we had to work quickly. This meant, hands on. The moment my outstretched hand touched her, she screamed wildly and let free a barrage of unhinged kicks and punches. Her scream was of survival. A shrill knife that bit into the flesh of my ears, leaving an everlasting laceration. I guess in that moment, we both bled… but for very different reasons.

This woman’s brain was stuck in fight or flight. As such, she fought us the entire way to the hospital. She spat, bit, cried and lamented… right up until she could no longer. She still had fight in her, no doubt. But her body was getting weaker.

I cannot explain to you the sound a near dying woman who has just been raped makes in the back of an enclosed ambulance. All I can tell you, is that it is intensely unforgettable.

As I stay on my couch, wandering through the twists and turns of this rumination, I think back to how things where when I got home that night. I was in a relationship at the time. When I had rid myself of that blood-stained uniform, I crawled into bed, quietly. I did not want to wake her. I just wanted to feel her next to me and know that she was safe. That she was not scared, alone or battered. I put my ear on her back, and listened to her breathing. I could hear the relaxed ‘lub-dub’ of her heart, and the sound the wind makes as it caresses along the leaves during spring while she inhaled and exhaled softly. I clenched my eyes and tried not to cry.

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How can this world be so cruel? How could anyone do that to another person? And then I continued to feel horrible because this woman, the girl who had been raped, took one look at me and Frank and recoiled with fright. Our likeness was conflated with the rapist. Nothing I did or said helped this woman… she hated me. I hated me. Not because I felt akin to the monster… but because it’s my job to make people feel better. To help them, keep them safe and warm. But all I was to this poor girl was a reminder of what took all that comfort away from her. Stripped her of her dignity. I couldn’t do a god damned thing. Except listen to her screech and wail in agony.

It was no use; I began to tense and jerk in an attempt at keeping tears hidden. This stirred my girlfriend. She rolled over to greet me and when she observed the crippled features of my face, she embraced the sides of my cheeks with cupped hands.

“Matty… what is it? What’s wrong?” She begged. I tried, but no words came out. I just locked eyes with her and refused to blink so that I could hold her in my sight and know that she was forever safe.

I carry the memory of that girl and her pain with me every day. I carry guilt that the rapist was never caught. Wondering if our interventions to save her contaminated any potential evidence… hard to say.

Her scream is not the only lash from the whip of memory that I hold. There are many screams and cries that come back to me, uninvited. But tonight, it’s hers…

In sobriety, I have some coping mechanisms for accepting and navigating these memories. But I would be remiss if I held from you the fact that all I really want in this moment, is the bitter warmth of a whiskey. It won’t take the screams away, but it will disconnect me from myself… at least, that’s how it was used in the past. I understand now that the only way to survive all of this, is to feel when I need to feel. And right now, right here in this moment, my heart is breaking. My ears are aching and my hands recall the slippery skin of a blood-soaked woman.

Sometimes, I think screams are the worst. Sometimes, I think I am… other times I blame the world. The truth may be somewhere in-between.

For now, I think I’ll just listen to a song, try and drown out the sound of the weak and wounded. Make myself feel love, instead of feasting on torment. Pressing play now…

Captive Today

As I walked home tonight beneath the ambient glow of a setting sun, I pleaded inwardly for my beleaguered mind to just stop! For the better part of three days now, I have been held captive by the nefarious will of trauma. To be more exact—PTSD. My nose has held within it, the stench of the dead. For whatever reason, I am remembering that putrid smell at my most unsuspecting of moments.

Standing in line at the coffee shop, and in it floats. Sickeningly. I feel an instant desire to purge. But I can’t, I am next in line. I clench my lips and quietly excuse myself to the outside. Once there, at the behest of my rumbling stomach, I begin to heave. One gag, two gags, three. There, on the street, I tripod and hurl grunts of nausea towards the pavement… nothing comes out. Fearing that I look like a crazy person, I quickly jog from sight.

Now I’m in an alleyway. Alone and befuddled. Angry and lonesome. My eyes, daubed by tears. I want to cry, but the desire to shout stops me. Rage and sadness cancel one another. What am I to do…?

I reach for my peppermint Saje sniffer. I inhale deeply through cursed nares. I can feel the bite of its cool spice graze along the passageways of my airway. I recite to myself that this is not real. That it is not happening. That all I am doing is remembering the dead, not actively smelling them. It begins to work, and I am free to remove myself from the timeout of a darkened alley. I feel foreign to the world in this moment. Everyone around me looks so normal, so happy, even smiling. How? I don’t blame them… I envy them. Blissfully unaware. In the distance, I hear sirens. I am not sure if they are real or if they are mere echoes of a time that’s come and gone, traipsing through the halls of memory then trickling into my ears. Either way, I know where they’re going… to find the dead.

Once I reach home, things improve only in that I am now no longer a burden to the world around me. I am free to suffer in solitude. I do my best to utilize the tools and tips that I have collected while in therapy, but it is somewhat easier to speak of than it is to implement. Not impossible, just easier. I flee to my balcony. The ghostly chill of an approaching winter envelopes my skin. I force my eyes to stay open. Fearing that if I close them, not only will I smell the dead, but see them, too. I hate seeing their faces… especially the young ones.

I look along my street; naming 10 things I see. Then 5. Then three… until I am convinced that I am cemented into the present timeline of existence. The smell fades, the sirens dissipate but they do not disappear. I guess they were real… consequence of city life, I guess.

I fall back onto one of my patio chairs. The urge to cry returns. It hurts being this way… constantly alive within two places at once. The places I have been and the places I am. I take some respite in knowing that in this iteration of me, I am able to combat these things. Symptoms, I mean. Before, not so long ago, I did not do much combating but I did do a lot of drinking. Not the same thing. But I am sober now. Sad… horribly sad… but sober. And with having use of full faculty, I am able to implement healthier aids to what ails me. Naming this, smelling that, introspective colloquy… all combatants against the perfidious nature of PTSD.

As terrible as these moments are (and they are terrible), I am grateful that I am able to find my way back from the recesses of a haunted mind. This paves the way for hope—hope that one day I will be strong enough, skilled enough to prevent these things from coming on so strongly. I wish that day was now, but as a wise woman once said “one day at a time”.

I am unable to tell you why the sudden resurgence of symptoms… I wish I knew that for myself. All I know is: the dead have returned in memory, bringing their foul, odious aroma with them.

By the time you read this, I will have had 6-cups of coffee, 2-teas and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay… maybe not that last one. But the other two, yeah… lots. The bitters of a good or bad coffee help push away the taste that follows the smell, much like whiskey used to. The tea? Well… I like tea! I am British after all.

The stench has been quite obdurate over the course of today. Much to my dismay. And I have a choice: I can either get angry at it, rage against it, or accept that it is there and maneuver through the day knowing that this too shall pass. I’ve chosen the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I am angry. I won’t spin a fable as if I am not. I definitely am. I am just choosing not to drown in that irascible sea. Weathering the storm, you may say.

So, I started out by informing you of a setting sun. What I didn’t tell you, was just how beautiful it was. Like a single ember of flame, it just hovered above everything. Magnificently. Just as a lighthouse promulgates the promise of land, the glow of God or whoever it may be, promises light, warmth and the promise of tomorrow. Tomorrow being a new day. Perhaps one without the dead. When I was a drunk, every day felt the same. No lighthouses to be seen. No land for miles and miles. An abyss of rocky sea.

So what am I saying? I’m saying that I will talk to you tomorrow… because I am going to push through today!

I am sick, not weak. Injured, not broken. Sober… not drunk.

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May the dead rest tomorrow, and may I live.

Be well, everyone.

Bitter Sweet

My pen bit into the imperfections of the sand washed paper. And just like that, it was over. The last copy had been signed and handed away. A kind figure smiled and thanked me before moving to the cashier.

For a split second, everything around me slowed down. It was as if a piece of time had been carved out just for me. Allowing me the opportunity to savor it. My eyes began to ingest everything. The browns, greens and pastels of my surroundings. As well as the superfluous details of passersby. Everything.

I hadn’t been to this place in thirteen years. That’s a lifetime ago for a wounded mind. Now, there I stood; a select attraction in a small-town mall.

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I won’t lie and tell you that I felt special. I didn’t. What I did feel (other than grateful), was forlorn. I had seen many faces come and go throughout the day. But the one face I had searched for the hardest was the one most absent. A face I had seen in this mall so many times in the past. Out of everyone that walked by and continued to traipse in front of my gaze, not a single resemblance was seen or felt. And that’s because she was not there…

I suppose one could argue that she was, in a way. That she had been seated next to me this whole time. But that assertion would merely be that of symbolism. And as beautifully poetic as that can be, it’s not what I want. I’ll willfully wear the label of ‘selfish’ for this one. The missing woman is my mother. Mum. And the papers of which I was signing belonged to me. Well, kind of. What is written on them belongs to me… my story. On Saturday, November 9th of 2019, I returned home to sign copies of my book: A Medic’s Mind. But home was different now… it had not been mine in over a decade. Yet I was welcomed back as though I had never left.

Where is home? Well, the old saying says that it’s where the heart is… and my heart is in Salmon Arm B.C. A piece of it, anyways. My heart broke a long time ago, it’s tough to say where it all lies. But this mountainous landscape, rife with coniferous pines has managed to hold and care for a small piece of it. An idyllic sliver from a once hopeful boy.

Back then, it was lost on me; that these panoramic hills that stretch on for miles once acted as sentries, shielding me from the perfidious realities of an outside world. Looking at them now, through my well-traveled eyes, their majesty is indescribable. Especially when looked at from the aging planks of our town’s fabled wharf. A place I spent many-an-hour as a boy.

When my mum was sick and in hospital, I would stand at the end of the pier and pray to a God of which I did not believe in to heal her and let her come home. As I grew older, my problems became more specific to age related perplexities; I would ponder how to ask out the pretty girl in school, knowing I had the bland, generic looks of an old catcher’s mitt. My mother once said to me, when I asked her about my looks… “You’re not winning any awards, but you could pass in a crowd…” yikes!

On the morning before the book signing, I stood on the damp wood of this far-reaching structure and once again tossed some thoughts into the lakebed below. I pondered what it would be like to have my mum witness me signing copies of a piece of literature that I wrote. She would likely think of me as a celebrity, praise me… then ask for some money. You can’t tell, but I wrote that last statement with a slight smile. That’s just who my mum was.

I never quite got over the feeling of being back there in that old town of mine. It was like walking in echoes of the past. Some great moments… some harrowing ones, too. My buddy, Eric who had come with me was driving us around while I foisted stories of misspent youth upon him. I showed him where I had gotten into my first fight. I toured him around my old neighbourhood, and even showed him where one of the school kids had pulled down his pants and let go of a big, creamy shit in the middle of the street as a form of protest towards some schoolyard bullies. Needless to say, he was not bullied after that. There are certain charms that belong only to small towns… I’m not sure a kid shitting in protest is one of them, but nonetheless, it makes me laugh, even to this day.

I got to see some of my old buddies. Even my best friend in the world, Drew. It was a humbling experience to have been able to sign a book and give it over to his outstretched hands. His parents even came. In those moments, I felt like a teenager again. Drew’s parents standing by he and I; I think maybe that’s why I half-heartedly expected to see my mum there. I always wanted to impress her as a kid. No matter what I did, I always tried my hardest to be good at it. Maybe not school, but… I was a little distracted. Living in a single parent home where cancer and suicide were words of the day had that effect, I guess.

Never in a million years would I have entertained the idea that I would one day publish a book. And not in a million more would I have thought to be back in my hometown signing copies of it. But the reality is I did and I was. And the only parts of my mum that were with me, were in the form of stories etched to the fibers of that book. My mother is immortalized in story, yet painfully absent in the world. A sorry juxtaposition to live with. But I do.

Salmon Arm… a place I will always call home. A place where I last knew my mother to be alive. A place that gave birth to hopeful ideals of one day saving the world. To me, that quaint little town is everything that I needed to willfully offer my life in defense of my country. Why? Because I grew up in chaos and instability. My father beat me, scarred me and left me. My mother was ravaged by disease and crippled by depression. Yet this town, this place, the sprawling hardwoods and maples, lakes and beaches never failed to offer glimpses of hope and peace. You can walk outside and smell clean air. Your eyes can be treated to lakes imitating sheets of glass. You can smile at your neighbour and they’ll smile back. But mostly, it’s a place where lost souls like me can return and find warmth, peace and respite for the wickedness of places beyond the pines.

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My best buddy, Drew and I in Salmon Arm

The book I signed is merely a portion of my story. A fraction. I have many more to tell… and I guess that means I’ll one day find my way back home. To a place where an idyllic boy welcomes a healing man. Coming together as one.

Salmon Arm… to quote a good friend of mine: I’ll be back!

And mum… I love you. Rest easy.

Matty-Watt.

 

Ebb and Flow

I think perhaps one of the reasons that the boy continues to haunt me, is because I am still trying to save myself. In life, I failed to bring him back. The connection between he and I had been unknown to me until recent times. He died at fourteen—I wanted to. With each compression I performed atop of that boy’s diminutive chest, slivers of guilt burrowed their way into my skin, eventually seeping into my soul. Living with a fractured mind can be torturous. Living with a fractured mind and a broken heart… that’s torture of the rarest kind.

The boy did not break my heart… those chambers were already concaved when we met. All the boy did, was communicate with the one that lives inside of me. A boy that has since become an orphaned man.

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For the past three mornings, I have woken up screaming. I can’t say with clarity what I was dreaming about. What I can tell you, is what I was thinking about as the hours of those days progressed—the boy, my mother, Greg… and now, Chris. Seemingly everyone around me dies. Tragically. Part of this is by consequence of career, sure. But to lose so many that were close to me… well, that leaves me scratching my head. What the hell am I still doing here…?

Short answer? Working. Over the past couple of years, I have been introduced to the concept of forgiveness and the worthiness I have of such a token. This is not me proclaiming that I am worthy; this is me telling you what I’ve been working on. There is an ebb and flow to this process. And it is a process made ever harder when everyone around me keeps fucking dying! The list of loss… a loathsome fucking read. But it is a list that I read each time I glare upon my reflection in the mirror, wittingly or otherwise.

I performed CPR in hopes of restarting that boy’s heart; Doc performs psychoanalytic compressions on me, in hopes of restarting mine. Thing is, my heart does not beat… it laments.

Rage

A wall of normative imitation broke within me the day I learned of Chris and his death. I’d been doing a great job of acting like I was okay during this time of year. Maybe even believing that I was. I may still be sober… but I am crumbling. I am in so much God damn pain!

All these people… people that I love, gone. Ordinarily, I would cry to my mum right now… tell her about my friend, Chris. Explain how this all feels so wrong and awful. But I can’t… because she’s gone, too.

The sky is falling to the pavement below outside in the form of rain. My mind is falling onto this page. Rain outside, tears inside. Smiles outside, despondency inside… ebb and flow.

The first hanging I ever went to, was with Chris. We saved him… a boy that tried to die. A boy that would live only to become a man that would sell drugs to kids. Something that I witnessed with my own two incredulous eyes. Ask me if I think the world is fair…?

And now, here I sit… alive… surrounded by those who aren’t. Go ahead, pose that rhetorical to me…

But, regardless of what’s fair or not, I am alive. And so, I work. I work each and everyday in order to better understand why… Maybe, there is no answer to that question. Maybe it just is…? Maybe I just am…? Tough to say. But either way, whether I believe I deserve forgiveness or understanding or not, there are those that do. So, I trust in the process. It’s all I got, really.

That, and anger. Yeah… I’m angry. I’m angry about waking up each day, wondering “who’s next…? Is it me? Someone else I love?” Like a ticking bomb, apprehension lingers beneath my skin. This makes for a tiresome 24-hours.

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I feel bad for saying any of this… it just feels like bitching. Perhaps it is. Anger is a good motivator for that. But I can’t help but think that the injustice is real. That this is all just really unfair.

Chris’ suicide has brought up a lot for me… obviously. His funeral is set for the 1st. I won’t be there—I don’t do funerals anymore.

I came across his obituary in the paper, it was shared online by a mutual friend. Prominently on display was a photograph of Chris. A photograph you could almost hear, if you knew him. His voice, saying something sarcastic.

I didn’t know the boy the way I knew all the other people in mention throughout this prose. But in a way, I knew him better than any of them… suicide has been an insidious and pervasive theme in my life. As a medic… as a boy… and now as a man.

There are days where I have to focus on fighting the bad things… the bad thoughts. Those days are less frequent since putting the bottle down, but they are by no means gone. And when incidents like this come to the forefront of life, bringing with it the bereavement and confusion, my weighted mind stalls within the muck of piteous contemplation.

You see, I look at these people, the ones that are gone, and I see worth and gravitas within them. I do not observe the same merit within me. So, when I’m the one left standing, I find myself perplexed by it all. Perhaps this is the legacy of losing those we love to the poisonous touch of suicide…? Or perhaps my mind is just too feeble to comprehend…

So, it is as I said: an ebb and flow of struggle to survive. Work. I want to live… but I also yearn for the pain to just dim itself ever so slightly. What a tragicomic dichotomy.

I failed to save the boy… I cannot fail to rescue me. I know what happens if I do… So, I will work. I am working. Every god damn day. But Christ, do I miss them. It’s that time of year, I guess. Ever closer to the last day… But, until then… I’ll live. Because I am alive.

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Chris

The irony of life is death. No matter what we do in this existence of ours, all roads lead to the same place. One may think that it should be easier to handle then… knowing this as fact. But the reality is that life is more complex than that. Relationships, family and experience all act as blissful distraction from here to the finish line. This poignant truth is something that I learned a long time ago. I have lived a life of loss. In many ways, I think we all have. After all, we are in this race together, aren’t we…?

Yesterday evening, I received a weighted phone call. The voice on the other end of the line came from a friend. A friend who is more akin to brother. His voice carried a slow timbre. He brought news of the fallen—the reaper had taken one of our own. I sat and listened with mouth agape, jaw slowly falling to the floor. It was beaten by only a tear. A warm, salted stream trundled down my cheek. I learned that a dear friend, a brother and a partner had died by way of suicide. The demons of a medic’s mind had claimed another.

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As he continued to speak, his voice became ever harder to hear and understand. My ears began to ring with memory. A haze of the past, playing out in ghostly echoes of remembrance. I heard Chris, my now fallen brother. His distinct intonation, a drawl like a surfer from the movies. I heard him say “we gotta stick together.” The memory pulled at my resolve. Tugged at my soul to the point where I would hang up on my friend and drop to the couch in a seated and deflated posture. Beside me… on the couch… the ghost of a friend—Chris. I could see his features ethereally etch themselves in-front of me. I heard myself say… “I’m sorry I wasn’t there… we gotta stick together… Chris.”

I cried for a few minutes into cupped hands. Sobs of anguish filled the spaces of my apartment before bouncing back at me. But then something happened… something… unexpected—I laughed! A snotty chortle, followed by another. After a few meaningful chuckles, I removed myself from the couch and went outside to stand on my balcony. What had tickled me at this inopportune time was a fleeting thought of Chris and I. I worked with him on the ambulance for a time. We manned the same station in a rural town festooned by thick brush and oversized pick-up trucks. I thought back to a moment shared between he and I…

It would have been sometime in 2008—the fall, I believe. Chris and I were at the station working a boundless nightshift. My introduction to Chris had come a few months back, during the Summer. I had just gotten hired on and was settling into one of the crew quarters when another medic offered to help me with learning the lay of the land. I said sure, nervously and left my stuff on one of the empty cots. After a tour of the place and some obligatory meet and greets, I walked back to the room where I had stowed my stuff. I turned to head back in and get squared away and to my perplexity my stuff was gone. Figuring this to be a new guy “fuck fuck” game, I smiled and left the room in search of my things. I skulked down the hallway, peering into other quarters, hoping to see my belongings… and I did. Tucked away in one of the other rooms was a tall, sandy blonde man, gently placing my bags onto an already made bed. He must have felt me standing there, dripping with obfuscation and rookie trepidation, because he turned his head and looked over his shoulder at me.

“Hey, new guy… Henny, right?”

“uh… yeah… Heneghan, yeah.”

“Yeah… that’s what I said… Henny!”

“Right.”

“Chris… nice to meet ya.”

“You too.”

“Brought your stuff in here, with me… we gotta stick together… us military boys, right?”

“Hell yeah! You served?”

“Nah. Cadets… but my dad was in for a long time. I know what it’s all about.”

“Fair play.”

That simple, uninvited gesture was enough to bring a modicum of comfort to me. That was Chris; making ya feel like a million bucks without even trying.

Fast forward a few months, and we found ourselves working together. Chris was a gamer and as such had brought his console with him. As he brought the entangled heap of plastic and sloughing wires into the T.V. room he said:

“Henny… you play?”

“Uh… yeah… a bit.”

“Sweet… Imma own you in Call of Duty… bitch!”

My face twisted awkwardly, “probably, yeah.”

“Shut up… pussy… let’s play.”

Chris spent the next few minutes setting up the machine and trash talking me between connections. We would play for a good hour before our first call. A standard transfer from one of the senior living facilities to the hospital, then back to the station for some more pixelated warfare. He was right, he was kicking my ass and loving every minute of it.

“Holy shit, Henny… if you got any worse at this game, I’d almost feel bad for you… almost!” Followed by his throaty chuckle.

Eventually, the tides of virtual war had turned… I was beginning to make a comeback. First, one kill—a sniper shot from across the map. Then, a second… a third and then a fourth. Before either of us knew it, I had caught up. Chris’ bravado had evaporated into predatory concentration. I can’t lie… a slight smirk had birthed itself to the corner of my lips. Time was running out; one more kill and the game would be sealed. Chris rounded the corner of one of the rooms and had neglected to see a claymore that I had placed down in the entryway… BOOM! Instant kill—victory!

“Woooo!” I chirped. “Good game bu…”

SMASH!

In one fluid motion, Chris slammed the controller to the table, causing an eruption of plastic and rubber seals to fly hurriedly about the room. A controller explosion. I froze. There was a brief second of muted air. Chris turned his head and looked at me…

“Fuck… good game, Henny!” The smile had returned, as had his unmistakable laugh. Confused, but trying to keep things light, I grabbed the broken shell of a controller and placed it onto the table and used my fingers to simulate CPR while exclaiming:

“C’mon… c’mon… live, damnit, LIVE!” Chris and I disintegrated into shared hysterics. In the midst of hearty laughter, Chris’ face tightened…

“Oh…! You know what? I got an idea…” He said while leaving the room in a rush.

“What is it?” I called out. Chris returned with a 9-iron gulf club, held in his hand like a knight wields a sword. He gaped downward at the mortally wounded gaming controller and spoke maniacally.

“Wanna lose me the game, eh…? Well… fucker… I’ll show you now!” He picked the controller up and looked back at me. I could tell his demonic demeanour was of a comedic variety. He began walking through the station and out a side door and onto the cement ramp of the station. I was bound by curiosity to follow. He placed the controller down to the paved surface and then stepped back just a hair.

He was now standing in full golfer’s pose.

“Check this out, Henny… somethin’ real special about to happen here…!” Chris wiggled the club near to the controller turned golf ball. One gentle swing back, then another and then… full windup golfers swing. The club sang a windy tune as it rapidly arced downward toward the helpless hunk of plastic and buttons. In one triumphant sound of metal careening through plastic, the controller sailed through the air and pieces broke off, sailing in a multitude of directions, violently cascading through the night sky. We watched as the once functional gaming pad hurtled end over end, upward and beyond. He had connected with such alarming accuracy that the fucking thing flew straighter than most pro-golf shots! It sailed clear over the light pole that stood immovable out-front of the station.

“Holy shit… you see that?! Fuckin’ over the pole!” Chris remarked.

“I saw it, buddy… I saw it.” Now that the controller was irreparably dealt with, I pondered what to say to Chris. I felt somewhat bad for setting him off, even though he appeared to be having fun with this. And I think he was… for me. Looking back on it, I think Chris knew how nervous I was about everything. So, he took it upon himself (and a helpless gaming controller) to help me feel less burdened by my new guy rank. It worked. I was howling in laughter. So was he.

This laughter only increased when he withdrew his phone and called his then girlfriend.

“Hey, baby. How are you? Look… Imma need you to bring me a new controller out here, okay? What happened…? The other one broke. How…? I hit it. With a golf club. Yes, I know, I know… can you just bring me one, please, sexy? Babe? Baby…?” The phone went dead. She was gone…

Chris was a unique guy. Funny. Some people liked him. Some people did not… I loved him.

We once went to a call where there was a dead guy at home, found on his couch. We were called to assess and treat this person. He was beyond what we could do. As we left the residence, Chris tapped me on the shoulder and said:

“Henny… you see that couch in there?” Throwing a thumb back toward the door.

“Yeah… what about it?”

“How long do you think it’ll be before it’s up online?”

“What?!”

“What…?! It’s a nice fucking couch!” More laughter.

There was a charm about Chris that was uniquely his own. He was a good man. A good friend. I am beyond sad to learn of his death. Though we hadn’t spoken in a while, his absence is deeply felt.

I have many more Chris stories… stories I cannot possibly share on this medium. I can however tell you that the world has lost a good one. That somewhere, up among that glittering expanse of our night sky, a medic rests. He’s probably breaking controllers, but he rests.

Chris… brother… I am sorry, man. I’m sorry you hurt so bad. Thank you for showing me how to laugh in a job often stricken by sad. Thank you for always being kind to me. Thank you for your loyalty and comradery. Thank you for being you, and for allowing me the opportunity to know the man we will now sorely miss.

Forever my brother, always in my thoughts,

Henny.

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The Lifeless Driver

I lay beside her in bed, feeling empty and alone. The rhythmic wood of her breathing, completely out of sync with mine. We’d known each other for years, yet she felt like a stranger to me now. So distant and cold. The only relief I felt was in the fact that I had not woken her when I had so rudely stirred. The causation of my restless slumber? A nightmare. A festering sliver of experience.

I quietly removed myself from bed and tiptoed down the stairs toward the kitchen. I knew where I was going; first, to the cupboard—grab the short glass. Then, over to the freezer to remove a spherical rock of ice to compliment said glass. After that, I would pour a beautiful tawny liquid atop of the ice, listening to the snap and crack within the glass. I would fill it near to brim and then take up residency on the couch by the fire place. With whiskey in hand, I attempt to settle my rattled core. Drink myself to sanity.

Nightmares are not unusual for me. They started while I was still in the army, shortly before I got out. And as a paramedic, there are many things seen and done that keep sleep away… or when it does come, poison it. And it was poisoned… horribly so.

Earlier in the day I had been working. I was dispatched to assist police with a man they had found behind the wheel of his car. When they arrived on scene, the man, who appeared to be sleeping had managed to somehow shift into gear and slowly collide with a cement barricade. This caused his engine to rev angrily, causing attention to passersby. The police tried to wake the man, pondering on if he was drunk. He wasn’t. The man was dead. Just like that… got into his car, and died. But not before starting his engine, and stepping on the gas.

When Jeanie and I arrived, there was a rabble of police standing idle by a red SUV. Their faces were equally as perplexed as they were sullen. They knew he was dead, but they needed us to confirm it. This is a less than stellar part of the job… confirming the recently departed. Our job is to try and save people—knowing that you are walking in to merely act as confirmation of death feels like automatic defeat. I find it deflating.

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I got out of the ambulance and donned a pair of blue tint latex gloves. I was attending, so it was my job to go and touch the stiff. I walked with acquiescing gait towards an opened driver-side door. The first thing to catch my eye was a pale hand slackly dangling from the inside. From feet away, I could tell that this was not the skin of the living. I felt a displeasing mood invade my demeanor. I was angry, grumpy that my day was about to start by touching a dead man. I hadn’t even had coffee yet.

“Hey… shit… dude’s definitely dead. No idea how? Figured you guys might…?” The casual nature of the policeman’s remark made me believe that this was not his first dead body, either. By this point in my career, I’d lost count. Is that terrible of me?

“Well… not sure I’ll be able to tell you what it was—unless it’s obvious… but I can tell you from here… this guy is gone.”

“Yeah… he’s got those blue lips…”

The lipstick stain of the reaper. A fatal kiss.

I stood beside the opening to the SUV. The figure inside was slumping towards the centre of the vehicle. His eyes were partially open—I always hated when the dead left their eyes open—no matter where you walk or move to, it’s as though they follow you… even when you close yours.

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I reached in and placed two fingers on the man’s neck. I felt the pads of my gloved fingers push atop of muscle and sinew, hoping for a pushback… but there was nothing. The lifeless driver… that’s who he was now.

The rest of the day went by unremarkably. We did a couple of runs to the homeless shelter downtown and had a lengthy offload delay at one of the hospitals, but when all was said and done, we had managed to get back to station and go home on time. Any medic can tell you; that’s a win.

On my way home, I called to see if Miranda needed anything from the store. We had planned to watch a movie together, so I figured I’d see if she’d like a snack-run. I also used this opportunity to detour to the liquor store and procure a big brown bottle of whiskey. Some of my more favorite nights were the ones where I had a cold glass in hand and a sleeping girlfriend’s head rested atop of my lap, with a quiet movie trundling on in the background. It gave me the opportunity to get a dense buzz going before attempting sleep. When sufficiently numb, I would gently wake Miranda and we would go to bed.

That’s what happened. We even kissed and fucked before closing our eyes. No longer was it making love. Too much shared hate for that. Regardless, I should have been sleeping like a baby. Instead, the insidious wiring of my tortured mind began to misfire. Images and sounds began to crawl into my sleeping space, replaying all manner of grotesque and horrid. It even showed me the lifeless driver, pale and still. I outstretched my hand to check for a pulse, that’s when he grabbed me. His clutch was vice-like and mean. He refused any wiggle from me. The harder I tried, the more breath I lost. I began to suffocate. Without saying a word, he told me I was going to die. In the final moments of life, I shot forth from bed, gasping into the air and frantically scanning my surroundings. The nightmare was over. I was alive, he was not… still.

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I spent a few moments collecting myself in the dark. I could hear Miranda softly breathing through lazy lips of slumber. I almost wanted to wake her. Even though she hated me, I still loved the idea of who she could be… who she once was. She was the beauty to my torment. The antidote to my poison. But not any more… so I just left her alone.

That’s how I ended up on the couch by the fireplace, whiskey in hand. I don’t know why I dreamt that the lifeless driver grabbed me. It’s not as though that was ever a fear or thought of mine. I suppose it could just be from a confused catalogue of trauma that rests in the tenebrous attic of my medic’s mind. I have been grabbed on the job. I have been shoved, kicked, spit on, bitten and even poked with a knife. It hit my ballistic vest… but still. It’s not supposed to be part of the job… but it is.

I would drain and refill three glasses before going back to bed. By that time, the night was beginning to give-way to day. Miranda never moved an inch.

That all happened almost eight-years-ago. And right now, as I type this… it happened again. This time, when I woke, there was no loathsome woman beside me. Just the empty space where I keep my longing rested next to me at night, and a teddy bear. Nightmare Ted… he’s there to help bring me back to the present when I wake from these things. Don’t worry… we don’t fuck or make love, either.

More than eight-years later, and I am still being grabbed by ghosts.

No more whiskey, though. Not anymore. Just these words followed by a long lonesome night. I hope one day the dead can rest… so that I too may sleep.

Goodnight, everyone.

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The Objective Inadequate

Had you met me a few years back, the image that would accompany the thought of me would be that of a solitary man, sitting at a bar-top, tossing forlorn thoughts in to the hickory abyss of a whiskey glass. Slowly sipping. Onward to destination intemperance. A lot has changed in a year. Many things have stayed the same. The most notable change would likely be the fact that I have since retired that chipped whiskey glass and now choose to drown my wounded introspection among the carbonated sparkle of a soda water.

This of course, is a healthy change. One I am happy to have made. But the aching man still resides within my bones. A man pained by experience. I would say that the worst part about the feeling of inadequacy, is the fact that even though it may not be objectively true, each time you draw a breath in, it feels as though you are suffocating beneath the weight of it were.

I’ve spent many years of my life feeling inadequate. In fact, it’s been a rather pervasive theme. This is no truer, than when entering the realm of romance. For me, love and romance has been nothing short of a comedic tragedy of incredulous proportions. I asked a girl out once, when I was in junior high. She pulled on the sleeve of her friend, pointed at me and then laughed. I took that as a hard no. When I did ask out a girl that said “yes,” I was excited. So excited that I snuck into my older brother’s closet and stole a shirt, a good shirt. I stood outside of the burger place, flowers in hand. I stood there for several solitary hours. I had been stood up. The girl never came. I suppose those two examples are more tragic than funny, but I try to remember them light heartedly.

The idea of connection and closeness has always been a highly sought-after commodity for me. Growing up in an environment where everyone vanishes has that effect, I guess. I had a few friends that stuck around, sure. My best friend, Drew being the most noteworthy. But when high school ended and we went our separate ways because, well… that’s life, it felt like another loss, in a way. The loss of youth, and the way things were.

I went on to make new friends, brothers, really. The army has a way of giving birth to new families. Families that you may not necessarily share blood with, but you bleed together, no doubt. But even that family is not permanent; the war came… and it took three of my brothers away. Several more after it ended…

It appeared as though anyone I got close to, disappeared. Wiped off the face of the earth without a trace. I had my mum, that was one thing. But when I was young and through to my time as an adult, she was not always healthy, so the fear of her leaving was always present. Then I met a girl, a girl who said “yes.” And she actually meant it. For a time, anyway. 7 years. That’s how long I was with her. 2 weeks. That’s the period of time when the relationship was fun and enjoyable. The rest… a tragic comedy.

When that relationship ended, I found the bar. The whiskey found me. As time passed, like it does, more loss… more brothers lost to suicide and drink. Then my mum left… the one absence I feared the most had come to fruition.

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So, in the current iteration of me, the conceptualized ideas of closeness and connection are no longer sought after, but rather revered as nice… in idea… not actualization. When it comes to romance, the idea is always better than the person. When it comes to loss, it’s easier to keep people at a distance. Safer. Healthier? Debatable, I suppose.

I met a girl recently. A nice girl, from what I know, anyway. She’s polite and pretty. Driven and motivated. She’s tough, the kind of tough that comes from pain. She has dangerous eyes… the kind of dangerous that if you don’t stop yourself, you become lost in them. She smells like the springtime, flowers in bloom, kissed by the sun.

Keeping my brief romantic resume in mind, it will likely come as no surprise to you that I was stricken with shock when it was she who asked me out! Blown away by her offer, I said yes. I didn’t laugh, and I had no intention of standing her up. I wouldn’t do that to someone.

We hung out a few times. Went down by the water, watched her puppy zealously prance through the fields. It was nice. A sprouting friendship if anything.

I began receiving “good morning” text messages on the daily. A pleasing juxtaposition to wake to as opposed to the cavernous void that has held residency on the other side of my mattress for many years now. We continued chatting and flirting, and things seemed to be progressing organically. Smoothly. She even tried to show me how to stream the hockey game so that I could watch it in the comfort of my place. Things wouldn’t work out. Not just with the game, but the girl, too. I saw her with another man. A tall, dark and dapper lad. She sent me an awkward text the next morning and to me, it revealed everything that I needed to know about her and her intentions for me. The whole thing felt familiar and deceitful. Weather it was or not is irrelevant. Because as I explained before: keep them at arms reach… easier to leave than to be left.

We don’t talk anymore…

But all of those things, the romantic failures, pale in comparison of what it’s like to stand in a room of the dead, knowing it was you who couldn’t bring them back. Wanna talk about the feeling of inadequacy… The young ones bother me the most, the young and dead. I still have a hard time coping with the reality of those images. Feeling a young boy’s ribs pop and break beneath your hand as you perform CPR is not an easily forgettable token of experience, either.

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I guess what I am trying to say in all of this, is that no matter the objective truth of it all, the subjective belief seems to bear more heft.

I suppose one glimmer of positivity could be that at least I am able to observe the difference between objective and subjective… there was once a time that that would have been impossible. Likely due to a whiskey glass.

So, now that you know who you would have met a few years back, I wonder if you are curious about who it is that you would meet today, what this current iteration of me is like…? Well, I can tell you one thing; you’d only ever get to meet part of me… I won’t let you get close enough to meet the other. Subjective or objective, the walls are up. Sorry about that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have to go toss some thoughts into an effervescent glass of soda water. Objectively speaking.