Bad Nuanced

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!!

 

Maggie (Fact… or Fiction)

Have you ever heard a thunder growl so low, so deep that at its most dominant clatter, it jostled the marrow of your bones? Have you ever looked off to the distance and witnessed a grey cloud baptizing the horizon, causing a drifting scent of imminent rain to touch the tip of your nose? I have. And on the night of this unnerving storm, it was considered perfect. The perfect backdrop for… Halloween!

It was relatively early into my shift, but late into the evening when the call came in. Ryan and I were already in the truck when the tones went off. I looked at the screen to see what it was that we were being dispatched to: sick person, no priority symptoms – low acuity response – no lights, no sirens.

I felt the heft of our truck as it pulled forward and caught gear. It was not long after rolling off the ramp of the ambulance bay that the first droplets of rain came in. A sudden “plop” or two against our windshield quickly followed by near biblical downfall. A deluge from an angry sky. The sound of a million tap dancers careened against the metal plating of our ambulance. Ryan drove skillfully through the night befallen streets and avenues.

The sidewalks and doorsteps were all festooned with orange glow and flickering flame, jack-o-lanterns ablaze. Spooky effigies of skeletons and ghouls hanged from arthritic branches and swayed unsteadily in the gale and rain. Had one not known better, this would have been the opening scene of a B-rated horror movie from the 70’s.

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I wasn’t shaken though. I love Halloween. Something about the hyperbole of demonic caricature is appealing to me. Perhaps it comes from my proximity to death during my working hours as a medic on every other day…? Halloween becomes a way to make light of it… I dunno… whatever the reason, I simply love Halloween—the day of the dead. Slutty pumpkin costumes don’t hurt either…

“Matty…”

“Yeah… what’s up, brother?”

“What’s that street sign say…? Is this our turn?” I squeezed my eyes and pressed nearer to the glass of my window, struggling to make out the lettering of the time-worn sign.

“Yeah… I think so. GPS says this is it, too…” Ryan began spinning the wheel and slowly bled further into the residential street. Creeping along, both he and I scanned our respective sides of the roadway, looking for the address matching our dispatch notes.

“There!” Ryan said confidently. “That’s the one… gotta be. Les’go!” The moment we hopped out of the truck, we fell victim to the chill of an All Hallows rain. In a futile attempt at shielding ourselves from the falling sky, we sunk our heads into our shoulders as turtles would do. We bound from sidewalk to doorstep. Ryan thundered against the door with a closed fist and announced our presence. I stood beside a carved pumpkin, complete with menacing grin. I could feel flitting puffs of heat waft out from the cut-outs of its face. We could hear rustling come from inside the home, the kind of sound that informed you of a nearing person about to open a door.

The bucolic wooden structure lamented rusted yelps as it was peeled back. Revealed to us was a decrepit man with terribly hunched posture. His skin, pale and detailed with the etchings of time. He spoke with strenuous pace and tone. As he did, he ushered for us to enter his home. Wishing respite from the rain, we did so willingly.

“Hello, sir. Name’s Ryan… this is Matt. What can we do for you?” There was a brief moment where the man searched for a response.

“Well… boys… it’s Maggie… she’s ran off.”

“Maggie…?” I said inquisitively.

“Yes… Maggie… my wife. She’s up and disappeared.” The old man said coughing into a handkerchief.

“Okay… could she be out at the store? Or with a friend? What has you concerned, sir?” Ryan pried.

“No… no… she’s not too mobile anymore. Not since the stroke some time ago.”

“Okay… when was the last time and place that you saw her?” Before the old man could answer, I chimed in; “Does she have a cell phone? Could we call her?” He looked me in the eye… “We don’t have those bloody things… no.”

“Okay… where do you think she could have gone?” Ryan asked softly.

“That’s just it… nowhere! Her walker is still in the house… there!” The old man pointed to a walker that was adorned by aging newspapers and a tattered tissue box.

“This walker?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yes!” It appeared as though the walker had not been used for some time… a long time. I looked at Ryan. He mouthed the words “Look for meds…” This was a good idea. It may give us an idea as to what kind of medical conditions that either the old man or his wife may have.

I began scanning the countertops in the kitchen and the surface of the dining room table. Upon taking inventory of this place, it became apparent that there was some failure to thrive issues taking place… the house was a disaster. Thick layers of dust coated almost everything in this place. There was even some noticeable dust on the old man’s cardigan.

Rested on one of the kitchen chairs was an old grocery bag that appeared lumpy and overstuffed. This is a sight that many medics are familiar with: plastic bags filled to the hilt with orange medication bottles; empty ones, full ones and some in-between. This bag was no different. I lifted the bag and began sifting through the plethoric capsules and bottles. Many of the labels had been removed by the passage of time and neglect, but on the occasional bottle I could see the name: Maggie… the old man’s wife.

“Sir… a lot of these are really old… is there another place where you keep the meds?” I asked.

“She does all that… we need to find her! I’m afraid that she may have wandered off… she gets confused sometimes. Please… won’t you go look for her, please!” He was pleading with us. I felt bad for him.

“I’ll go take a walk around, see what I can find” I said to Ryan and the old man. As I was leaving, I heard Ryan request police assistance over the radio to dispatch. If this was indeed a missing person, this would require more than two well-intended, sopping wet paramedics.

I walked from one block to the next, keeping a keen eye for anything that could resemble old Maggie. All I came across were children running down the sidewalk with their sugary bounty jingling within their bags and pillow-cases, a stray black cat (how fitting) and a few trundling teenagers pretending that the rain was not at all bothersome.

I stopped one of them… “Hey, have you guys seen an old lady walking around out here?” Their faces revealed to me that they thought I was crazy, but they answered anyway.

“An old lady… no. Walking around out here? In this??”

“Yeah… from that house up the street over there… her husband seems to think she has run off…”

“Up there?” One of the kids pointed to the house.

“Yeah…”

“You sure? Why you looking for her?”

“Never-mind… have a nice night. Happy Halloween,” I called back as I walked past them.

When I had rounded the corner to the street parallel to the old man’s, my radio choked to life. Ryan’s voice was calling through the slits of the handheld.

“Matt… come in, over.”

“Hey… yeah, go ahead, over.”

“Come on back, police are here.”

“Roger that, on my way.”

“Copy. Out.”

I walked with quickened pace back towards the old man’s place. Once I got inside, I was met with the sight of Ryan and two sturdy police officers.

Garden Grove Officers Jason Perkins and Paul Pham.

“Gentlemen… how are ya?” I squawked.

“Drier than you… apparently. What, are you the rookie? He made you go out there…”

“Heh… yeah… seniority… it’s a real bitch—any luck with the old lady?” I asked while flapping my arms away from me.

There was now a shared look of unease between Ryan and the two cops. A look they then cast towards me. The officer closest to me leaned in and spoke quietly into my ear… “The old lady is dead. Has been for 20-plus years… we looked her up on the computer before we arrived”

“No shit…?”

“No shit.”

The look was now held firmly within each of our faces.

“Where’s the old guy?” I shot to Ryan.

“He’s in the bathroom.”

“Should we…” I began with elevating tone.

“Yeah… let’s go get him.”

A parade of clunking work boots stampeded down the hallway towards the restroom. A small sliver of light was seeping out from beneath the door. Ryan knocked and called out to the old man. No answer. He called again, louder this time. No answer… Another shared look between we four, this one of concern. Ryan orated one more time while trying the knob of the door. To our surprise, the door opened with ease. Ryan entered first, I was close behind him. Empty. The bathroom was completely empty. Only the dance of a flickering flame from a lit candle was present.

“What the shit?” Ryan whispered to himself. “He was in here, I swear to…”

“We’ll go look around; you stay here.” The baritone of one of the officers commanded.

I have only seen this level of perplexity coat the features of Ryan’s face once before, and it was for a much less concerning matter… the lady at the drive-thru had given him a veggie burger wrapped in lettuce… he had ordered a Baconator.

“I’m sure he’s around. Probably slipped out the back door… looking for his wife” I reassured.

“Yeah… maybe. Wait… look at this…” Ryan gestured towards the candle rested atop of the counter. It was held by a decorative holder with a picture affixed to the back of it. A picture of a couple in black and white. The similarities between the old man and the man in the photo were uncanny, albeit much less aged.

“I’m assuming that’s Maggie… and that’s our old guy” I said.

“Yeah… seems to be.”

Ryan and I left the bathroom and as we reached the kitchen area of the home, the police officers had returned, now equally as wet as I was. Now who’s a rookie? I thought happily to myself.

The two men paused and stood in place for a second before speaking, even stopping mid-sentence at one point before continuing on. “Ah… okay… so… you for sure spoke to an old guy?” One of the cops asked.

“Yeah…”

“Like… how old? Fifty?

“Fuck no! More like… a stone’s throw away from 90.”

“Huh…” The officers looked at one another before finishing. “Okay… so, here’s the thing… the two names attached to this house; Maggie and Thomas (won’t use the last name for privacy reasons) have been dead for like… twenty years.”

“What?!”

Both Ryan and my face melted into confusion.

“Yeah… we checked with our control centre… both deceased… no one’s lived here in a long time.”

Upon hearing the officer’s revelation, I began to take further note of my surroundings. Not only was everything sitting beneath blankets of dust, but all ornaments, newspapers and addressed mail were at least 20 years out of date…

“Well, who the fuck put the pumpkin out front then?”

“Pumpkin?” The cop recited.

“Yeah… the pumpkin on the railing out front of the house.” I said while walking with steam towards the front door. I walked outside and pointed arrogantly with my hand towards where I had seen the pumpkin sitting upon our arrival, “this one… this pump…” I stopped. There was no pumpkin. Only a decaying railing being pounded mercilessly by a sideways rain.

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There was truly no one at this address. No one, except us: the drenched and the confused.

Ryan and I went back into service but could never quite shake the unease and obfuscation that lingered from that call. Who was the old man we had been speaking to? How had he disappeared?

When we got back to station, we began conversing with another crew about the oddity of our night. As we were divulging details of what had happened, a voice sailed out from the supervisor’s office. “d’you say you were at Old-town Road and Middle street?”

“Yeah…”

“No way… did a call there bunch-a-years back… some old guys wife ran off. Found her wandering the neighbourhood a few houses down. What happened tonight? Thought they’d have died long ago!”

Ryan and I were unable to answer. Our faces simply carved into the shape of two, horribly confused jack-o-lanterns.

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From that night on, Ryan and I always made a point of driving by that old house on Middle street every Halloween. And every Halloween without fail… a pumpkin sat out front… menacing grin and all.

Fact or fiction? You decide. Either way, happy Halloween, everyone.

Responding

There is an ice that flows through the veins of any salted first responder. A calm amidst the chaos. A stoicism irrefutably characterized by experience. This person is sometimes referred to as a veteran. Someone who has weathered the seasons of perdition. I used to have that chill in my blood. Once immovable in the face of uncertainty. Now, from the second I pull my tired, aching body from bed, through to the time I close my weary eyes at night, I am struggling to keep myself composed and together. The world that surrounds me has become a terrible funhouse of fright and startle. My once steady hand now quivers with anticipation of moment to moment.

I can’t tell you exactly when it changed, only that it did. There are some days that I hate myself for appearing and feeling so fragile. Sirens never used to bother me; they were the sound of back-up… the cavalry on its way. Now, a sudden, sharp and near piercing wail from an ignited siren causes an absolute shutdown within me. The hairs on my neck become rigid like the teeth of a wire comb. Even if the temperature is moderate, I drown in a sea of stricken sweat. These are the chains of PTSD. I wear them with heavy reluctance.

Where have I gone? Where is the man who walked through fire, glass and bone? The man who rushed in while others were running away? What is it that I have become…?

The other night, while laying in bed, I became alerted to a crescendo of agitated voices from outside my window, just up the street. Before long, a cacophony of drunken orations and expletives were hurdling through the night air, pushing in through the mesh screen of my bedroom window. Something bad had happened, or, was happening. I could hear competing voices of anger and fear. People pleading for escape while others called to violence.

As my brow furrowed with helpless intrigue, and my ears pulled back for better acceptance of sound, I heard a terrible consequence of truculence: a shrill scream from a panicked female voice, accompanied by the eventual sight of a fleeing car. Someone had been hit and someone else was running away. Chaos had erupted less than one block away from me.

I leapt from my covers and hastily donned a pair of shorts and a shirt, not even taking note on if it was right side out or not. I knew that someone had been hurt… I have heard enough chaos in my day to understand the nuance of a scream. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than getting downstairs and up the street to survey the unfolding situation. I cantered down the stairs of my building and crashed through the sliding doors, spilling onto the street. The cold nip of an impending autumn was the first thing to greet me. The second was a frantic orchestra of clamoring voices from up the road. I began walking with urgency along the pathway. I walked until my body froze as if to have been halted by the press of a button. My eyes captured the sight of a flashing red hue, careening through the darkness and tattooing itself to the surrounding buildings and balconies. It was a fire truck.

In my life as a paramedic, I have seen this spectacular light show many times. Conducted numerous a display myself. But that’s not me, anymore. I’m no longer the healer… I have become the wounded. My mind refused my body one more step. My eyes were manacled to the flickering display of emergency lights. Hypnotizing me, one blink at a time. Before I knew it, I was on the scene of an entirely different emergency at an entirely different point in time, many years in the past. I began to relive and re-experience a call that I once responded to. A call that held hauntingly similar imagery to what was unfolding outside of my apartment. This, too is PTSD. In these moments, my sanity is hijacked. I am a helpless prisoner of my own tortured mind.

I will not beleaguer you with the details of my flashback. All I will say is that when I returned to the present, much time had elapsed. Exactly how much, I do not know. But I know of its passage because there were no longer screaming voices, nor an escalating violence… only multiple emergency vehicles, ones that had not been there ‘a moment ago’ and one very confused, retired medic—me.

I was standing in the midway point of my walkway, damp, cold and shivering. My sweat-laden hair clung to my scalp and face, pulling downward against my skin. My eyes, wide and unsure.

What have I become…?

I am no longer a man who responds to the bad things. Just one who remembers them, I guess…

Something my therapist said to me this afternoon somehow softens the blow of this realization… she said: “It’s no longer your job to respond… it’s someone else’s turn now…” Someone else’s turn… that simple statement reshapes and alleviates the burden I feel for having been halted by my ailments. Someone else’s turn insinuates that I have already had mine… that my time in the batter’s box is over. Not by way of disqualification… but by way of completion. When I was tasked to respond, I did. I responded and kept responding until I could no longer… there is no shame in that. The same as there’s no shame in saying: It’s someone else’s turn now.

I don’t think that part of me will ever go away—the part that wants to rush in—medics aren’t made, they’re born. Like I said, it’s in our blood.

So, what is it that I have become? If not a first responder, then what…? I can tell you one thing I became today… humbled.

Before therapy, while sitting in the waiting room, hating myself for having not helped the wounded that night, my phone came to life. It was an alert to my Medic’s Mind Facebook page. More specifically, a private inbox message. I used my thumb to unlock the phone and began ingesting the contents of this note. It was a lengthy story from someone who had heard me speak at an event earlier in the year. They recalled my story about addiction and trauma. They said that my story impacted them and continued to do so as they navigated a very troublesome issue of their own. The message culminated by saying that they were able to get the help they needed and that they were now on the road to recovery. They credited my story, my words and my existence for that. My jaw dropped.

All I have ever wanted to do in this life, is help people. I am not afraid of death… I am however terrified at the thought of a life lived, having done nothing for anyone. No longer being the one to respond has left a hole in me. A cavernous void of unknown. To read that it was my simple words that helped someone, that responded to someone, filled me with a swell of gratitude and humility.

So… what is it that I have become? Well… the thing I have always been… me! Stethoscope or not, I will always respond. It’ll just be in my own way from now on. My story has become the ambulance. My words, the compressions to stalled hearts.

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I guess the real answer to what I have become is this… grateful. Just grateful. One step closer to healed.

And to all those in the batter’s box… Godspeed. It’s your turn now.

 

 

 

Hey, Mum…

Hey, mum. Haven’t written in a while… sorry about that. Things just got away from me is all. I was awake the other night, sitting on my porch—Oh! I gotta porch now… moreover, a new apartment. A real one. One worthy of hosting guests, should I so choose. Which I’m not likely. I’m not like you in that way. Many other ways, sure… but not that way.

Been sober over a year now! Never thought that I’d see the day, but here I am; sober and somber. I miss you.

Even though I have not written lately, there is not a moment in time where you are not on my mind. The Fall Fair happened recently. You know, the one from back home. Drew was working security and sent me some pictures. Made me think of when I was younger… when both he and I were little shits. If you only knew the shenanigans that we got up to… well… I’m glad you don’t. Or maybe you do now? I dunno…

The leaves are starting to change here, too. You remember how much I love the Fall, right…? You always seemed so alive and present during those marigold months. I think for the rest of my days, the Fall will always be linked with memories of you. A dyad of joy and sorrow.

I do okay, most days… but sometimes I am stricken with an immovable heft of grief when remembering you. I know that you’re gone, but it still seems hard to accept sometimes.

I should tell you about why I was on my porch…

I know you knew of my nightmares; we spoke of them often when you were still here. Well, without the deluge of alcohol swimming through my veins, I am left to confront the nocturnal bellum head on and with full faculty… a somewhat perfidious task some nights.

The other evening was real-bad. I had several ghosts of remembrance haunt me at once. They did not return lovingly. I saw the boy… his smell and likeness returned to swing in front of my weary eyes again. When I lunged forward to cut him down, I fell from my bed, slamming my sweat soaked body along the planks of my hardwood floor. This is when I thought I had woken up… I hadn’t.

I went to the bathroom to spritz cold water onto my face. Prominent crow’s feet stretched from the corners of my aching eyes. After dousing myself many times over, I raised my head and became witness to another ghastly reminder of the past… I saw the girl’s suicide note scrawled across my mirror in red-lipstick. I remember I called you on the day I had responded to her. You gasped when I told you. Well, in that moment on that night, I did, too.

I was frozen solid for a long moment of agonizing fright. I couldn’t breathe, move or even twitch myself away from the mirror. The first thing to be given furlough of movement was my head. I bowed my gaze downward and now realized that I was standing in the human remains of the Pumpkin man. I felt his innards slither across my toes like demonic snakes. I screamed. When my ears heard my panicked pleas, they managed a true wake-up call from within. I was back on my bed, sitting upright having just bellowed out to a darkened room. Knowing that I would not be able to go back to bed and realizing that I needed to put my sheets in the washer, the porch seemed like a welcoming place of respite. I sat outside, coming to terms with the fact that I had once again been handed shards of memory from my time as a medic by a seemingly spiteful mind.

When you were still around, I would call you in moments like these. But now, I can’t. Instead, I just look to the stars and wonder that if hidden within all their resplendent nictation lies you… are you out there, somewhere?

I know how foolish it is to think this way. But mum, I have become a grown man who fears the dark like a child. I am afraid to close my eyes because what lurks behind them is truly abhorrent and sinister. The things I once witnessed in life now play out from a place far beyond. The passage of time means nothing to demons. The same as it means nothing to grief.

Doc, that’s what I call my therapist (you’d like her), says that things will eventually get better. And she’s been right about all the other things, so I have faith that she’s telling the truth. But, mum… it’s so disheartening to live with a terrifying fear of sleep. It’s almost impossible.

I never asked to get injured. The same as you never asked to be sad… but I guess sometimes things just happen.

I’ll eventually get used to my new place and thus navigating back from the heinous realm of nightmares will become easier, I am sure. It’s just that the time in-between is going to suck!

Sidebar: My book comes out soon. Yeah, I know… surreal. Some people have even pre-ordered copies of it! Isn’t that madness…? I write about you in that book. My hope is that with the gift of these pages, you will be granted eternal existence here on earth. Pieces of you will be given to the lexicologically curious. And so you will live forever. The least I could do for the woman who gave me life.

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It’s a nice day here today. I am going to end my writing and head out for a walk. I will likely be by the water. If you feel like joining me, give me a sign, mum… let me know you’re still here.

I love you. From here to the moon and stars beyond, I love you.

Chat soon,

Matty-watt.

My Story

The story I am about to tell you is not unique. But it is uniquely my own. I say that it is not unique because there are many like me. Thousands… millions… and even more. On a damp, muggy summer’s night in June of 2015 my life was about to end.

I stood despondent, hopeless and recklessly alone atop of an overpass that overlooked one of the city’s busiest roads. My eyes pulled heavy with the weight of falling tears. I could feel sweat glissade down my spine. My breathing was frantic yet becoming more controlled by the moment. I had made the decision. It was final. I felt as though I had nothing left to give this world and thus my usefulness had run its course. This was the cacophonous melody banging within my mind. Worthless. Pathetic. Loser. Drunk. Criminal… the lyrics of a dying man’s aching soul.

I placed my hands on the banister and readied myself to jump. I even went as far as to straddle the metal railing. My feet now dangled high above the impending asphalt. I felt a sudden wave of calm and ease warmly push through me. I was at peace with the decision that I had made. Knowing that I had left no note behind, I spoke introspectively, shouting to the universe asking that my family forgive me. I had closed my eyes and began to coach myself ever nearer towards the abyss of the other side of that railing. I opened my eyes to take one last look at this hauntingly wretched world and as if to have been halted by the wink of an angel… I stopped.

A flash had tickled my eyes. I searched for its origin and was completely frozen at what I saw… an ambulance on the roadway below. Two young, fresh faced medics at the helm. I observed as they blew on by. They had not noticed me, dangling above them, but I noticed them. A kaleidoscope of lived experience began to tumble across my vision. I thought of all those that I have loved and lost. I thought of those I was unable to save as a medic. I thought of all the suicides that I had responded to. Thoughts of the families left behind, and their lamenting grief punished my insides in the best possible way. In one fluid motion I swung my legs around and toppled into a seated position on the safe side of the overpass.

I didn’t want to become someone else’s nightmare. Someone else’s reason. I did jump that night, but not onto a roadway many meters below—instead, I leaped into recovery. A long and arduous hop from despair to hope. Nothing happened overnight. And I am not recovered now. I am recovering each and every day. One moment at a time. Why? Because there is always another way. Always another choice. There is always someone… we are never truly alone.

This was not my first suicidal ideation nor plan. I wanted to die when I was fourteen, too. But I didn’t. I lived. And the gift of life is one that gives you tomorrow… and tomorrow is a new day. A day of possibility.

I have lost many I love to suicide. I used to think it was selfish—suicide—it’s not. It’s tragic. It’s incomprehensible. It’s maddening and demoralizing, but it’s not selfish. Why do I say that? Why do I dismiss the notion that suicide is selfish and careless…? Because to be in pain is not selfish… it’s human. We all suffer from one thing or another. And those whom have died by way of suicide were murdered. Murdered by their poisoned mind and aching thoughts. How could I possibly demean someone for simply wanting peace from torment? Now, I am not condoning suicide, not at all. I am simply choosing to understand that it is an issue of complexity rather than simplicity.

I received a diagnosis of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and Major Depressive Disorder in February of 2017. This was attributed to my time in service as well as having grown up in a broken home. A few months after my diagnosis, I called my mum; I was sitting on the uneven floor of my rundown shanty. I spoke through quivering tone through the phone. I told her how I had a knife and how I wanted to cut my wrists. I told her that I was tired of seeing the dead each time I tried to close my eyes for rest. I told her I felt lost without uniform. I felt rudderless and adrift in the expanse of nothingness. There was a brief pause between she and I. A moment of static air hissing into my ear. And then she spoke, and do you know what she said?

“I bet I’ll beat you to it, Boy-o!” …

My mother’s chosen response to hearing that her son wanted to die was to orate that she would do so first. As if death was some heinous form of competition. Did she say this because she was selfish? No… no, I don’t think so. I think she responded this way because she, too, was in so much internal pain and agony that she really hadn’t heard what I had just said. Something as shocking as wishing to die did not register with her because she was too clouded in her own turmoil. Should I judge her for that? Is that fair of me to do? Was my pain worse than hers? Should she have forgotten about her struggle? Who are we to ask anyone to do that…?

Sadly, a few months would go by and my mother’s prophecy would come to fruition… she really did beat me to it. She died by way of suicide on a cold, November morning in 2017.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of her. That I do not wish upon a shooting star that this was all just a bad dream… a nightmare. And then finally, when I wake, my mother would be returned to her rightful place here on earth. And although yes, this is indeed a nightmare, it is no dream. It is reality and my mother is truly gone. Taken by the illness of fallacy.

Today, is World Suicide Prevention Day. I have chosen to share my story with you because it is okay to talk about it. Necessary, even. The more we abolish the shameful narrative of suicide being selfish and “easy,” the sooner we will be able to have open and meaningful dialogue about it. The more we talk about something the more we learn. We should never demonize someone’s pain… we should recognize it. Address it. Fix it. And the only way to do that is to remove the stigma of shame that surrounds it.

I am angry that my mother is dead. Am I angry at her? Not anymore. I was, once… but not now. Am I angry at those I have served with who have died by way of suicide? No. Am I angry that they are gone? You’re god damn right I am. I’m allowed to be. But it’s not their fault. They did not ask to be wounded or stricken with despair. There is no and should never be fault in feeling.

I am choosing to talk today because I can. I will. I must.

You are not alone… and neither am I.

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Canadian Suicide Prevention Services (CSPS)

1-833-456-4566

Text: 686868

Invisible

The air around me was hallow and cold. Each breath danced vaporously in front of my nose. Whenever a voice would bellow out, it would reverberate with a staccato until finally coming to rest in the fibers of the wood benches that had been designed for spectating. I could feel a swell of adrenaline swim through my veins as another player neared the bench—it was my shift.

When he was close enough to touch the boards, I leaped over the side and felt my blades dig into the ice, causing a crunching lamentation beneath each stride. The game was fast and rough. This was beer-league hockey at best, but there were a few guys on either side that seemed to feel as though there were scouts in the stands as opposed to chilly, apathetic wives and girlfriends. There had already been a fight, a big hit in the corner and a time-out that had come with a warning from the ref that each team needed to settle down or the game would be called a “no contest”.

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This stern warning seemed to work for a little while, but in the waning moments of the game, sticks were flying into unprotected chins and groins, elbows were being tossed with careless regard and there was even a knee on knee incident that looked near-lethal at the time. This should have served as a caveat of what was to come—I guess the wives and girlfriends were not the only apathetic bunch in the arena that day.

The final whistle blew sharply. The game was done. Each respective member of their teams began to spill over the sides of the boards of which they had previously been sequestered by. I hadn’t even fully stood up yet when I heard it… a sickening thud akin to that of a flat rock being hurled into a bed of water. When my eyes tracked the ghastly noise, I became privy to an ensuing donnybrook. Amidst the chaos of flailing punches and flying hockey gear, I noticed something that was eerily still—a player unconscious on the ice. When the melee moved a few more feet away from the downed iceman, another sickening jolt punished my insides—it was one of our teammates. A guy by the name of Rory. A real-estate broker, if memory serves me correct. Our team was comprised of paramedics and nurses, Rory was the odd man out… professionally speaking. He was however dating one of our other players, so an honorary spot on the roster was made.

Before I had the chance to glide over to Rory, another teammate had found what I had moments earlier. It was Adam, another medic. A skilled medic with many years of city service. He pushed along the ice with meaningful stride to reach our fallen man. I heard him call out to Rory, but I didn’t hear a response returned. Adam kneeled down and within a moment of doing so, snapped his head upwards to find someone to call out to. He found me.

“Matty, call 9-1-1… he’s seizing…” I immediately turned around and looked into the stands at where my girlfriend had been sitting, watching. I gesticulated with my hand a “phone” pantomime and called out: “Call 9-1-1! Seizure!!!” She reacted swiftly. She was a fellow first responder, so she was not completely disconnected from the world of misadventure and emergency.

When noticing that she had connected with 9-1-1, I skated over to Adam, who had now removed Rory’s helmet. I looked into the features of Rory’s face and noticed nystagmus—this is a common sign in someone having a seizure, uncontrolled, rapid eye movements that look like twitches of the iris. Needless to say, this is not a good thing.

I folded myself until I was lain prone on the ice at the head end of Rory. I was protecting his head from slamming on and off the ice. It was fortunate that the seizure did not last long, but the damage was already done; he had been knocked unconscious and was now horribly confused as to what was transpiring around him, blissfully unaware of his perfidious circumstance. The rabble of ice-boxers had ceased in their truculence and had now became stationary onlookers of what was happening with Rory.

The paramedics would arrive, and I would assist them with getting Rory on a spine-board and readied for transport. Being a healer is a funny thing; always running towards the danger, not wanting to partake in its continuance, but to find and fix the broken.

I watched Rory leave the ice affixed to a stretcher. I knew he was in good hands as I knew the crew taking him away. I stood for a moment, hands rested on my hips, gaze pointed to the blank patch of ice where Rory had once lain. By the time I had lifted my head, all other players had left the ice, and the stands were barren. Not even my girlfriend remained. I couldn’t have been standing there that long…? I propositioned myself.

After I had showered and changed, I went outside into the crisp Fall air and found my girlfriend sitting in our truck with engine running. She wasn’t paying attention as I neared the passenger side, she was texting. I had assumed that she was getting updates on Rory, so when I entered into the cab of the truck, I pressed for details. She seemed perplexed at my line of questioning.

“Babe… any word?”

“Hmm… word? On what…?”

“Uh… Rory! Who are you talking to?” I asked while casting a curious gaze towards the illuminated screen of her phone.

“No one… my sister, why? Who’s Rory?”

“Jesus, really?! You know, Rory… the guy whose melon just got smeared into the ice 2-minutes ago… that Rory!”

“Well, frig… I don’t know his stupid name, Matt!”

“Stupid name…? Nice… real nice.”

“Well… don’t come in barking at me and expect me to know everyone on your teams’ name!”

“Oh, so you were watching? See, cause every time I looked into the stands, you were either buried into your phone! Maybe I shouldn’t be asking you how Rory is and instead question what guy it is that you’re talking to this time…?!”

“Whatever, Matt. Fuck you. Don’t you know how it makes me feel that you would even ask that?!”

“That I would ask that… that I would ask that…?! Miranda, you had a dude in my house when you thought I was at work less than two-weeks ago! HOW COULD I NOT ASK THAT?!”

“THAT WAS TWO-WEEKS AGO! GET OVER IT.”

“Get over it…? Get over it…?”

“Yeah… like, fuck!”

“Did you even see what I did out there…? Did you see me help that man tonight? Or was I as invisible to you as I was two-weeks ago…?”

“Do what tonight, Matt?”

“Jesus, really?”

“Do you mean play? Yes, I fucking watched you, okay!”

“No… not okay. Did you even see me help Rory! Did you see me do what I’m good at?”

I think you can tell by now that there were many layers to this heated colloquy. Our relationship was drawing to an end, I knew that. I could feel it. I had been for a while. She was resistant to its end, even though she seemingly cared little for me and had a rather unappealing proclivity towards sleeping with other men.

I’d been feeling invisible to her for a long time. My question as to weather she had witnessed my actions tonight were born from a naïve hope that if she had, maybe she would fall in love with me all over again. Seeing my skill, my ability and my desire to help those in need would seduce her back to me. A fool’s hope. She didn’t even know who the fuck Rory was. Nor did she care.

There was a period of unspoken exchange between us. I was standing outside of the passenger compartment, and she was behind the wheel of the driver’s side, perplexed and inquisitive as to why I had not gotten in yet. In front of my nose I could see frantic breath escape me, just as it had done in the arena. And just as I had stood alone on the ice, I felt alone and loathsome outside. Invisible.

We shared a lingering look at one another. Each of our expressions saying something vastly different. I took a breath in, and slammed the door closed. She looked through the pane of glass, mouthing the words: “Matthew, what the fuck are you doing?” What was I doing? Why was I allowing myself to be cared for so little all the while caring so much?

I started to walk away. I could hear muffled pleas from inside the truck call out from behind me. She even attempted to drive after me for a ways, but I purposefully navigated pathways that a vehicle simply could not pursue. I went to the bar. Of course I did… that’s the only place I went to back then.

After several stiff drinks and a lingering sensation of feeling invisible among the masses, my phone rang. My inebriated fingers struggled to remove it from my pocket. After I did, my liquor-stained gaze stretched and squinted into focus to see who was calling. To my surprise, it was not Miranda… she’d given up. It was an unknown number. I accepted the call and pressed the cold glass of the phone’s face to my ear. A dry voice spoke in from the other side. It was Rory.

“Matthew…?”

“Yeah… hey… Rory, what’s up man?! You good?”

“Yeah… yeah… they are keeping me for at least the night but look… listen… Linda told me what you did—what you did for me… uh… thank you… okay… thank you, I mean that.”

“Yeah… shit… not an issue, man. Just glad you’re okay. Crazy game, right…?”

“Thanks for helping me, Matt. I won’t forget it.” He hung up the phone after a few more moments of chit-chat.

Turns out, I was not invisible. I was never invisible. And I am not invisible today. Sometimes we are just not seen by the people we wish to see us. That should not dictate our value or worth. Because somewhere to someone, we are as visible as a glowing sun. We can feel a little lonesome sometimes… but it’s nice to know that we are never truly alone.

Rory made a full recovery. And I continued walking away from apathetic eyes. I now stand before all of you… humble and very visible. I am continuing to recover… that’s something that is crystal clear. Not at all invisible.

Moving Day

Anyone who has ever had to move can likely attest to the abhorrent nature of it. The tedious chore of placing one’s life into boxes, bags and footlockers for the purpose of migration are all staples in the song and dance of relocation. On the list of life’s most arduous undertakings, moving must be somewhere near the top of that vexatious enumeration.

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This past weekend, I got to experience that devoir first hand—I moved into a new apartment. For the first time in just over 5-years, I entered into a functional domicile, complete with one-bedroom and a deck many floors above ground level.

When I first moved away from my chaotic cohabitation of broken romance and crumbling sanity, I existed within dwellings of less than reasonable appeal. There was the bachelor/studio apartment downtown, conveniently festooned with undesirables for neighbours. What kind of undesirables? My closest neighbour, a child predator that was later arrested for the attempted luring of a minor from their place to his. The apartment to my right, a woman with a ferociously toxic abuser for a boyfriend—those 03:00am fights were next level. And when I relocated from there to what I had hoped and assumed to be better living accommodations, I was greeted by an apathetic landlord who cared little for the idea of running water and heat in the winter. As long as rent was paid on time, he didn’t care for me in the slightest. All of this was made possible by the fact that I was a raging alcoholic who simply needed a place to rest his drunken head. Modest opulence was of little concern to the inebriated mind.

Upon reaching 1-year of sobriety, I finally made the decision to gift myself a residence befitting that of adulthood and recovery. A laborious search by any measure. Living in a massive city ironically lends itself to plenty of uninhabitable places that boast cheap rent. Inversely to that, egregiously overpriced places of questionable yet sometimes reasonable inhabitancy. It’s like choosing the best worst option. But, after a few appointments and some “no thank you(s),” I found it—the diamond in the rough. Located near the top of an ascending mid-rise was a vacant dwelling that did everything except call my name. It housed an in-suite washer/dryer, air-conditioning, a deck and stainless-steel appliances as well as a real and appropriately sized bedroom—this was it… home!

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I put the application in and was approved almost instantly. A swell of joy and somber reflection competed for thinking space within my head—It’s quite the journey I’ve been on…

Anyway, the day would arrive—moving day. I had readied my belongings for transportation and at the behest of my dear friend, Eric, forewent the rental of any moving trucks. Eric insisted that he would help me move at no cost to me, something he has done from kindness in the past. He text me the night before to inform me that he was bringing his son, a 14-year-old boy standing at the precipice of manhood. I was grateful to have the assistance and even more content with the fact that I would be partaking in this labour-intensive slog with friends as opposed to robotic movers.

On the morning of the move, Eric arrived with son and trailer in tow. His son, eager and lanky to help began hauling boxes and bunches of things from door to truck. Eric and I are good friends, I consider him family, so, we of course devolved into our normal ritual of adolescent behavior rife with name-calling and competitive flatulence—Eric won with a near lethal anal arsenal. Both his son and I doubled over at times, fearing for our lives! (I’m only partially joking).

It was fun. We laughed and joked our way through most of the day. I am pretty sure Eric’s boy developed shredded abs from his continuous laughter at our shenanigans. This was guy time. It was also during this testosterone fueled grind that I became aware of something… something beautiful (beautiful other than the freshness of the outdoors when fleeing Eric’s deadly farts)… in all seriousness, what I was noticing was quite remarkable. I was witnessing what true paternal instinct looked like. I was seeing fatherhood. I watched Eric coach and guide his boy from one task to the next, allowing him the freedom to navigate assignments on his own all the while keeping a watchful eye over his urchin.

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This imagery was in complete juxtaposition of what I had growing up. My father was not kind nor loving. He bestowed upon me no lessons of merit or guidance worthy of adhering to. Eric was and is vastly different. Watching him gleam proudly when his boy would complete something or watching his shoulders drop with annoyance when his son’s zeal became too much were equally satisfying sights to ingest—because both of the aforementioned were saturated by an uncompromising love.

Both as a boy and as a medic, I was thrust into fractured family environments. I do not think I can explain to you the level of angst and turmoil I felt when walking into scenes that had seemingly been scripted from my own childhood. Observing victims of fatherhood neglect and insidious abuse always weighed heavy on my crown. Watching Eric and his boy was a bit like therapy: a demonstration of good triumphing over evil. The good stuff.

I have always known Eric to be a good man, that was never in question. Anyone who is willing to help people move free of cost is damn near saintly in my eyes. But despite having known Eric for almost 5-years, I have never spent much time with him and his family together. So the prolonged exposure to how he operates as a dad gifted me with a new sense of adoration for this man. Like I said before: I witnessed something beautiful… the first thing to move into my new place, was love.

After a hefty 13-plus-hours of moving, I was now situated within my new abode—thanks to Eric and his boy. It was after midnight by the time they had finally left. When the dust of the day had settled, I found myself sitting quietly on my couch, nestled within a darkened room, the only source of light was from the ambient glow of street lamps and far away stars. I could see lingering shadows of the day, watching Eric masterfully implement the perfection of fatherhood. I felt a subtle smile pull at one corner of my mouth. Today had been moving day. And it really was… a moving day.

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Eric, thank you. Many thanks to you and your boy.

 

 

Love And Coffee

I can’t tell you when things became as toxic as they were between us; what I can tell you is that our relationship had devolved into a poisonous cohabitation of tortured matrimony.

I have spent the greater part of today thinking about love and romance. Or rather, the lack thereof. I didn’t wake-up wanting to think this way, it just sort of happened. While on my way to get morning coffee, I witnessed a couple walking with fingers intertwined and helpless smiles adorned to their faces. They were in love; it was easy to see, even easier to feel as they passed by. I couldn’t help but smile, love is after all a beautiful thing. As I stood at the counter, waiting for my order to come to fruition, I overheard one of the barista’s remark effusively on how sweet her boyfriend was to one of her coworkers. She was showing her something on her phone as a form of proof of the aforementioned proclamation. The barista was young… this was more likely a display of infatuation over that of lasting love, but she was happy nonetheless.

When I left the shop and rejoined the relative bustle of my neighbourhood, my mind couldn’t help but wander to times since gone. I remembered my infatuation and its evolution towards love. When looked at through the lens of retrospection, I am unable to say with vehemence that I truly did love the girl I was with… perhaps the idea of her more than who she really was. Either way, she was my introduction to the world of superfluous flowers and overindulged chocolates. She showed me the difference between fucking and making love. She gave me the gift of knowing what it was like to feel wanted. To feel yearned for, even if just ephemerally so.

I found a quiet little bench resting beneath the shade of a swaying tree. I sat down and sipped from my cup, feeling the warm kiss of coffee against my lips. I pulled out my book and intended to read from it. Anthony Bourdain’s: Kitchen Confidential. A book I have been enjoying for its uncompromising honesty. He was a brilliant writer with a sharp eye for perception.

It was my mind that refused the further ingestion of his words, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of love and romance. This could be in part because I have recently rejoined the perfidious world of online dating. I haven’t met with anyone or gone on any dates, but I have dipped my toe in the shallow end of the pool. Sometimes I think I’m ready to date, other times I think… fuck that!

Well, as the theme of the day would have it, I looked up in time to see another passing couple. This pair was less Hallmark and more… Jerry Springer. Through quieted vituperations they jawed back and forth with one another, casting the occasional sideways glare to see if they had unwittingly welcomed any curious gapes from onlookers and paper-readers alike. Now this was a couple I could relate to. Much of my abysmal love life has been spent in conflict—if I am being completely honest… I couldn’t help but smile at this couple, too.

When they had faded from earshot, I heard another injection of scorned feminine soprano. A ghostly echo from within my ears… Miranda. My ex.

I thought back to one night in particular: A hot, muggy summer night. We had been on a tentative cease fire with each other and had acquiescingly tossed the idea of watching a movie together. I was okay with this as it meant that we would not have to speak. Sadly… turns out, she wanted to speak… or, yell, as it were. A resurgence of name calling and angered gesticulations had silenced the movie completely. I can’t even remember how the fight started, but I recall vividly the ferocity of it. Her usually unblemished forehead became enamored by crawling lines of consternation and annoyance. Her voice elevated into a near-deafening shriek. She became more and more unhinged when she took note of how calm I was. I think I was beyond the point of feeling by this time, so her pointed insults and saliva-laden speak was of little concern to me. I recall simply wanting to maneuver passed her so that I could leave our house and run off to a pub or bar somewhere—the thought of loud music and rabbles of drunk people seemed much more appealing than one more moment with her.

When I made my intention known to her, she initiated an arsenal of character attacks and job-related insults in hopes of dissolving my relative calm. I was able to fend off the initial wave, I’d been through this before. However, I was halted in my tracks when she came thundering in from behind me, pushing herself into view. She was holding a jacket—one of my work jackets. She must have gone to the closet behind me at record speed when I had stepped around her and then returned with this garment in hand. Its significance will become clear to you in a moment, but to me in that moment, it was undeniably crystal.

“Look…! Look, Hero… you fucking loser… LOOK!” She was thrusting the bright yellow and reflective coat towards me with each hostile breath. I was sinking into myself. I knew what that was and I had thought that we had thrown it out…

This was as I said, a work jacket. A piece of gear that I wore when performing my duties as a paramedic. One of those said duties came in the form of a death confirmation. There had been a suicide in-behind some dumpsters and the police had called for paramedics to come and declare the individual deceased. This call was in the midst of one of our winter’s worst cold snaps. I was wearing said jacket, buttoned and zipped to its fullest extent. When I approached the slain body from behind the capacious trash canisters, I slipped on some ice and fell to the ground. Due to the cramped nature of that environment, I was uninjured. A little jarred, but otherwise scot-free. It wasn’t until I had emerged from the bins and informed the police that the person left behind was indeed dead, that I noticed the ramifications of my tumble. The individual from behind the bins had died by a self-inflicted injury… one that would leave behind blood, brain and tissue. I had slipped and fallen into pieces of the recently departed. Those pieces had stapled themselves to the outer shell of my jacket… the jacket that Miranda now held within her hand.

Why had she kept it? I swear we got rid of that thing…?

She continued to joust at me with this soiled wear. Each time she did, she berated me with continued claims that I was a “horrible medic… you couldn’t save anyone, you fucking loser! I should be fucking a real medic… not you and your pathetic dick!”

I guess our courtship was more Jerry Springer, too…

I pushed this line of remembrance away and walked around a little to burn off some of the emerging tension. I could smell blood and taste human waste. The scent and flavor became intolerable, I reached down to consume more of my coffee… empty… of course!

Fortunately, I was nearby one of my favorite places; I went inside and pulled up a chair. A captivating waitress was working behind the counter.

“What can I get’cha?”

“Coffee… please.” The first few gulps from my cup were of nothing but the black tar of caffeine, anything to wash away the memory of taste that lingered within my mouth.

Another server soon appeared from behind the counter; a woman I know relatively well. She smiled and waved. I wiggled the corner of my mouth into an ascended smirk of acknowledgment. I may not be good at love or romance… but I am rather capable of allowing myself to get lost in the serenity of a pretty smile… and that’s just fine by me.

In case you were wondering, the jacket is gone. As is the girl. So the pretty waitress isn’t the only one smiling today. There is something remarkably lovely about the idea of peace and closure… it allows you to love yourself… and that’s a pretty good fucking romance!

Ticket To Perdition

A few minutes ago, I lay down to sleep. As I quieted my breathing and coaxed my eyes to embrace as one, the land of now started to fade away. There is a poison that rests within me. It’s always there, even if not always venomous. As I drifted further and further from what surrounds me, the dark ink of pained memory seeped forth from the shadowy corners of a beleaguered mind. I began to see tortured faces of the lost and damned… I began to see the dead.

Horrid, shrill screams accompanied these woeful demons. I saw the pumpkin man, or what was left of his head and face, anyway. When his likeness began to melt from view, the waterlogged complexion of the Jumper cast forward. Followed by the boy, then the girl in the tub, succeeded by that of ruby red—the young woman whose last note was written with red lipstick. If you read these names and they mean nothing to you, just know this: these are the descriptors that I have bestowed upon those souls of which I could not save when asked to do so during my time as a paramedic. I found them this way, dead in all sorts of manner.

 

Now, many years later, they find me… they return to me in the form of nocturnal specters that crawl across the backs of my eyes. They pull me from sanity into a world that feels as real as the one that you and I know so well. There was a time that this world was real, the world of death. But instead of residing in the past where it belongs, it invades the sanctity of my present, obfuscating the two realities for me.

As the dream took hold, my ability to break free from it diminished. I was now in a piteous freefall, gifted to me by my fractured medic’s mind. More and more of the iniquitous coursed through me. I remembered the cold steel of Boomer’s casket; I felt it slap the left side of my face, it’s cold steel biting into my flesh. Then, the rattle. Dancing bones within a coffin.

I felt my face grimace and protest, but to no avail. Eventually, I found myself stood within a bathroom. At my feet lain a body. I could feel the weight of a cardiac monitor pull at my shoulder. I placed the machine down and reached over to the slain person that rested on cold tile. When I reached into check for a pulse, it was my heart that slammed to a halt. Revealed to me by proximity was a face of someone I knew… my mother. My mother was the dead figure on the floor, inches from my now tear stained face. I started chest compressions while muttering the words… ”come on, mum… come on… breathe. Breathe, God damn you!” But she never did. I was now frozen in place, staring at the frightful image of my poor mum.

My ears pulled back against my skull as the sound of sirens began to wail from the ethereal unknown. I could no longer breathe. The sirens pierced through the air, getting louder and louder until finally it felt as though they were right behind me. For the first time since discovering my dead mother at my feet, I was able to look away and peer over my shoulder to where I thought an ambulance might be. But to my surprise, there was nothing in front of me but a darkened wall. My bedroom wall. Confused and alone, I began to search for all that I had just seen. My mother was gone, there was no body. The boy… the pumpkin man… ruby red, all gone. Replaced by the stationary objects of my apartment. I was now awake. One thing remained, one thing really had been behind me… a passing ambulance along my street from outside my window. I was now awake and aware at where I had just been—Hell.

I had lay down to go to sleep and instead I had unwittingly purchased a ticket to Perdition. All aboard the slumber express… next stop: Fucking Nightmareville.

I began to sob. I had been doing CPR on my pillow again. I hate when this happens. I feel so disjointed afterwards. Disjointed and horribly sore. As the adrenaline wears off, my muscles lament in remembrance of their twisted contort during the unsanctioned ballet. My small apartment can seem rather large and empty in these moments.

I am writing this as my bedding is in the laundry, stained by sweat. Some time has passed and I have become more aware of what happened. Nightmares are truly an abhorrent thing. I can wish and wish and wish upon a shooting star not to be like this, but I am. I was once just a boy who learned early that the world was a broken place… I spent the better part of my life simply trying to put a little piece of it back together again, cutting myself on the shards of humanity. I now live with a lingering infection of remembrance.

It has been told to me that I will one day get better. And I trust in those that tell me this, I do. It is just hard not to become impatient when living with ghosts. Like a houseguest that overstays their welcome, all the while having never been invited over to begin with.

My body is sore. My eyes are heavy and red. My skin is damp and my thoughts are soaked in sadness. This is my now. It will pass, sure… but that’s later, so for now, this blog and these words are all I have. Each keystroke is a passage of time. One heinously slow crawl away from the now.

I suppose instead of talking to you folks (you’re all great by the way), I could Google images of Scarlett Johansson as a way of alleviating the burdensome stencils of the dead that remain… but I am not convinced that even she could help me now.

The only thing I can do is: wait for my laundry, remake my bed, and try again. Who knows, maybe this time when I close my eyes, I will dream of that better day. The day when world and I are less broken, less sharp and more whole. Or, maybe I’ll dream of Johansson…?

Be right back, gotta go speed up the dryer! *cheeky wink*

Goodnight, everyone. Let’s try this again…

 

The Man I Have Become

If I am not flawed, I am nothing. This is the truest description I have of myself. I am a man who in many ways lives as a shell of his former being. There are ways in which I have improved, sure. But this does not change nor negate the subjective truth that I am a man crippled by aftershock of lived experience. What I once could do, I can no longer. There was a time where I stood tall, brave… almost immovable in the face of uncertainty and peril. Now… now I am barely able to stand.

In a previous version of me, I have walked into burning buildings, stepped over mangled metal and broken glass to reach a wounded man. I have traipsed into the shadowy unknown with steady hand and keen eye. I have met face to face with those who wished to do me harm, and it was my grit that superseded their intent. And at the end of all this, I was able to go home, wash my face, crawl into bed for a few restless hours and then wake up to do it all again with willful heart. But somewhere along the way, that heart of mine was broken. It no longer beat with the ferocity of a lion. Instead, it struggled to survive. I did, though… survive. Survive to become who I am now. A man whose reflection is as repugnant as it is unrecognizable at times.

When I left my apartment last evening, I did so with calm mind and easy gait. A tired sun was receding from the sky towards the other side of the world, leaving behind a pink memory, visible for only a short time. A gentle breeze meandered along the sidewalks, caressing me with a peaceful embrace. There was a small group of kids, zealously running and jumping through thin pillars of water that ascended from a sprinkler on their yard. Their laughter was jovial, carefree and warm. The chorus of innocence and summer. I couldn’t fight the subtle smirk that crawled across my face as I passed by.

In sobriety, I have grown fond of the summer. Especially in the evenings—the sky melts into brilliant watercolor.

The trajectory of my walk was not directionless… I knew where I was going. I also knew that I had plenty of time to get there, so I was in no hurry. But as is the law of the universe: everything is subject to change… my disposition was not exempt.

When I rounded a corner to rejoin main-street, I was frozen by obfuscation. In front of me was a non-typical mass of people. I mean, people everywhere. The sidewalks were literally bleeding bodies into the roadway, causing traffic to crawl like tortoises. This is when my ears became alerted to the sounds that accompanied this ghastly coagulation of man. Unbeknownst to me, a street festival had kicked off with its annual tradition. I was blissfully unaware of this because this time last year, I was in rehab… where it’s quiet and safe.

There was a varied troupe of performers ranging from: solo stilts-men to clowns juggling, through to musicians of all genres. Face paint stations, food trucks and clamoring masses all jockeying for sight-seeing superiority littered the once quiet street. This meant plethoric numbers of careless travelers, their flailing limbs were horridly ubiquitous. I was boiling over with agitation and anxiety. I had gone from serene to overwhelmed within the blink of an eye.

I do not handle crowds well. A lingering side-effect of my time spent in service. When in uniform, nothing good ever happens in a crowd. I have been spit on, kicked, punched, bitten and rushed all in places of mass congregation. I hate it. This is also a hallmark of PTSD: hypervigilance. One of the more vexatious symptoms to be burdened with.

Suddenly, my head began pivoting as if to be on a swivel. Looking this way and that way, assessing anyone and everyone for potential hostility. I was not at a festival; I was in a goddamn fight. A struggle to remain present in the here and now, while reexperiencing the places I had once been. I have said it before: I am constantly alive within two worlds at the same time—the world of now, and the woeful existence of yesterday…

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I turned to retreat back along the street that had led me here, and to my dismay, a slow-moving wall of humans had blocked its access. I felt trapped. My breathing began to falter. I could feel beads of sweat trickle down my back. My eyes felt stretched and wide, it was as though they had taken hold of half my face. I attempted another egress… blocked. Another… also blocked. I was drowning in a current of bodies.

My breathing had become so spastic that my hands had started to claw inward—hyperventilation syndrome.

Run, Matty… run. A quiet voice begged of me. But I couldn’t. I could barely move. Not just because of the crowd, but because my body had become poisoned with deoxygenation. I heard myself whimper aloud. The quiet voice castigated me for it. I felt like I was dying. I mean I really feared death was near. What happened next, I am not proud of: I knew the street behind me was my only chance at salvation, and although a wall of man was blocking me, I demanded I go through it. So, I inhaled as deeply as I could, and much like a footballer on the line of scrimmage, I pushed my way through.

I kept walking at accelerated pace while hearing indignant protestations slap the backs of my ears. I did not bother to turn around. This was full on retreat. I was able to make it a ways up the street before collapsing into hunched posture. My breathing was even worse now. It must have been noticeable, as a kind woman and her family decided to approach me and inquire as to what the distress was all about. Unable to answer, and filled with a deflating sense of shame, I refused their attempts. Even swatting with gesticulations of “no” at one point. I tried to orate that I was “fine,” but no words came out. Only tears. I retreated once more.

Eventually, I made it home and closed the blinds to my window. Shutting the world from view. I fell to my bed and sobbed into cupped hands.

How did I go from tall and strong to frantic and crumpled in the same life? I was once brave. Called upon to save others… now I can’t even make it to the grocery store. A flawed man, indeed…

me

These are my symptoms… some of them, anyway. Innocuous happenings that most traverse without care nor thought have become my Kryptonite. I have lived in Toronto for almost five-years… I have not been to a Jays game… nor a period of the Leafs. I hate busses, malls and concerts. Everything about them feels like impending doom.

Despite these shortcomings, with the stability of a sober mind, I am able to force myself into places of immeasurable un-comfortability. I do grocery shopping during “normal” people hours. I am always drenched in sweat by the end of it, but I do it.

And that’s why this evening, I am going back outside. I am going to walk and bask beneath the pastel sky and watch a setting sun drift away. Why? Because this is who I am now… a man who must be brave in other ways. A man who must face demons that no on else can see nor feel.

I’m the patient now. And I must also be patient. One day at a time. Or, as a previous iteration of me once said: left, right, left… always marching forward. This is the man I have become. What I was once unable to do… I now can… live.

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