“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“My name is Jonothon Edgewater; that’s E-d-g-e-w-a-t-e-r. I’m currently on Highway five-two-five, eastbound towards Central City; I’m stopped in the leftmost lane. I drive a yellow Acura, license plate number Zebra-four-five-Whiskey-Tango-Charlie. The emergency flashers are on. I have a Caucasian female, approximately between eighteen and twenty eight years of age, likely victim of multiple stab wounds. She’s pale and unresponsive, severe blood loss, possible arterial lacerations, and internal hemorrhaging. Her vitals are weak and she needs medical assistance immediately. Send an emergency response vehicle here as soon as possible; I’m doing what I can to keep her alive, but I do not have anything on hand to stabilize her, and I don’t know how long she will last. Please help me!”
As I knelt beside this girl, trying my damndest to keep her alive, to keep her conscious, to make her look at me, I never thought that my day would end like this. How many dead bodies had I seen before tonight? How many times had I given CPR to an elderly person who had died in a retirement home, away from family, forgotten, ignored. How many victimized wives of drunk bastards were mercilessly beaten bloody, laid comatose, dying before me while their kids watched? How many children perished in car accidents, innocent victims of some DUI that crossed the centerline and slammed into their vehicle head on. How many men, women, and children had died in my hands and on my shift before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore? I had finally lost count when I walked into work that morning and told my boss I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t have a plan; I just knew I couldn’t see one more life lost.
I didn’t expect any of this to happen when I woke up this morning. I got out of bed at 8:00AM; turned off the alarm, and poured myself a cup of coffee. There, splattered across the front page of the newspaper was another vile article. With jaded indifference I read that an ex-soldier had come home from the war, gotten drunk, shot his wife and kids, and then wound up getting wounded in a shootout with police. He had won a lawsuit against the PD for the use of excessive force; because he was a hero, who faithfully served his country and came home . . . sick, a victim of a larger tragedy. One more warped soul that will never be held accountable for his actions, because none of it was his fault, he was a victim of American Society.
I didn’t finish the article, I couldn‘t. It was just so . . . disgusting; the corruption, the meanness, the hate; the world was sick, and there was little hope for recovery. As an emergency medical technician I’m supposed to save people’s lives, but lately I find myself surrounded more and more by death. This pollution within society, this decay, is rotting away at the core of every human being I see, and I . . . I don’t think I can stomach it anymore. I don’t know if it’s the newspaper article, if it’s the calls I have to respond to, if it’s the numerous e-mails, or the nightly reports from the EMTs that work opposite of me, but all I see are statistics that tell how many people die. How many overdoses never opened their eyes again. How many old folks pass because it was ‘their time’, and how many babies will never see another birthday. I don’t know what it was; I just knew I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I’ve worked as an EMT for fifteen years, and today was going to be my last day…maybe I should introduce myself first.
My name is Jonothon Allen Edgewater. Thirty-eight years old, five feet ten inches tall, one-hundred and eighty pounds, fit, brown hair, brown eyes, ex-army . . . widower. I had a daughter . . . once.
I shuffled into the office that day . . . and I knew that I just couldn’t do it again. I stared at my bag, the tools that I was supposed to use to save people’s lives, and I couldn’t make myself pick it up. I couldn’t make myself put on the vest. I couldn’t make myself take my keys and get into my ambulance. I couldn’t make myself face another dead teenager. I couldn’t make myself give CPR to another neglected child. I just . . . couldn’t, there was nothing left to give. I stood in a stupor, staring at my gear, not wanting to touch any of it. I felt as if it belonged to someone who gave a crap and I had no right to handle the equipment. My boss just nudged me. “What’s your fucking problem?” he asked in a tone that was half serious and half joking.
I just gave him a blank look and said “I can’t do this anymore.”
He looked at me and all of the teasing and cajoling vanished, and I could see in his face; he’d seen this . . . defeat in others before me. I wasn’t the first one that had thrown in the towel. I knew that I couldn’t have been the only one to walk in and go ‘Too many people have died in front of me. I can’t watch as one more life just…slips away no matter how hard I try.’ But it was my pain, my cross to bear, and it was still so . . . significant. He looked at me sadly and said “Go home Jon.”
I didn’t go home. I just drove around for awhile, staring at the cars, listened to the police scanner. All I heard was ‘this guy crashed here’, or ‘drug this’, or ‘shooter that’, etcetera. I wondered what sort of god could have created this cosmic shithole. What sort of god could have made a world so full of sickness? Was he just some . . . sadistic bastard, and this was how he got his jollies? Was he sitting up on a cloud somewhere, playing with himself, watching mothers drown their children in soapy dishwater? Or was the omnipotence a lie, and he was as powerless to stop the madness as I? Did he give up his power, use up everything he had making us, this world, and now he’s sitting somewhere weak and recovering, watching us and asking himself, “Where did I go wrong?” Or maybe he doesn’t even exist at all. I’ve wondered about that a few times. You know? Maybe it’s like all those atheists, those nihilists claim; that when you die, you turn into soil; you’re just…in the dirt, no heaven, no hell. You were and now you’re worm food and then someday, a flower springs up from the ground and that’s YOU man. Maybe they got it right. Who am I to say?
I drove around until two in the afternoon, when I went down to visit Molly’s grave. She would have been sixteen today.
What a waste.
I don’t know how long I sat there; that’s kind of how it always goes when I visit her. I just kind of . . . blink, and hours have gone by. I used to wonder what it would have been like. “She would have been four today; would she have a cute little sundress? Would her mother braid her hair? She was supposed to be eight; would she be a straight ‘A’ student, or would I be grounding her from the TV because she wouldn’t pull her head out of her ‘My Little Pony’ long enough to learn division?” I use to talk to her while sitting next to her grave, tell her I loved her. Like she could hear me; wherever she is, if she is; she hasn’t a clue I even exist. I know she once existed; I used to hold her in my arms and sing lullabies to her. I used to stroke her head and coo stupidly just so she would smile at me, but not anymore.
What a waste.
It was just after six when I left the cemetery. I didn’t go home, I was alone there. I went to the bar instead, and realized I was alone there too. I used to drink with my buddies, but I can’t do that anymore. It’s not because I’m unhealthy; God, all I ever do is exercise and fail miserably at saving people’s lives. No, I could drink if I wanted to; I could drink most of them under the table if I wanted to, I used to. I used to enjoy my brews, used to party with the friends, but not anymore. Now, I go into the bar and I just . . . watch people kill themselves. I watch thirty year-old men who look like their grandfathers with that permanent, saggy, whiskey face that says they can’t feel anything anymore. They’re just so damn . . . gone. I watch them and sip my Pepsi. They are the old gods, the paragons to the decay of society. I stare at them, killing themselves and I wonder; if I tried to stop them, if I said anything would they even bother listening to me, or would I just look like some jackass miscreant screaming, “Stop killing yourselves! Give me faith that, in a year, I won’t look as pathetic and wasted and dead inside as you!”
I buy a drink just for the hell of it. I can’t finish it; the taste of beer is sour and moldy, and the taste of hard whiskey . . . it makes me remember. It makes me think of things I want to forget. I go back out to my car, and just . . . sit. I watch people come and go. I watch people stagger out of the bar, drunk, and it is still early in the evening. I watch them get into their cars and drive off to God knows where. I take down their license plate numbers. I don’t call the cops, I call the paramedics and tell them, “drunk in a blue mustang just left the 41st street bar“ or “drunk in an white escalade driving southbound on highway 7”. I give them the license plate numbers, they call the police, at least, I suppose they do. I have done my duty; it’s all out of me hands . . . right? If they don’t call then they’re just making themselves more work. Oh well, everyone needs job security. Cynicism used to feel childish and puerile, like a headache from hitting myself; it doesn’t feel like anything anymore, nothing does. I am . . . hollow.
It’s eight thirty when I finally start the car. I still don’t want to go home. I can’t stand being in my house, with its hollow emptiness that plagues me. It makes me . . . think. The still quiet makes me remember things I don’t want to remember. It makes me think of Molly. I think of the room with the boarded over door. It was her room, exactly as she had left it, and I couldn’t face going in there ever again. She’d be sixteen today; I wonder if she’d be . . . I wonder if she’d be on a date. Would she have a taste for young men in letterman jackets, or guys with so many facial piercings that they can’t board airplanes.
. . . I don’t want to think about that anymore.
I drive by the park, where Laura and I would take Molly to play . . . it seems so long ago, when my life was . . . well . . . a life. Molly looked so much like Laura; same golden ringlets of hair, same curious blue eyes, same perfect lips and warming smile. When she smiled, snow melted and flowers sprang up from the ground; and when her mother smiled, I could never say no.
. . . I don’t want to think about it anymore . . .
. . . I think about it anyway . . .
That day was business as usual; a routine dispatch; head on collision on the interstate, four-door compact versus a crew cab pickup. Drunk driver. Police were en route, thirty minutes out. I was in the ERV with a few others; Hendrickson, Guthrie, both good men, but rookies, I was the senior staff, it’s my bus. We’re right up the road, so we radio in and proceed to the scene. It’s a mess; the truck is smoldering, leaking gas all over the place. The windshield is blown out, driver’s been ejected, and God knows where or even if he’s alive. Probably doesn’t deserve to be alive if he is; stupidity shouldn’t bear that sort of reward, I think. There’s a shoe on the guardrail…probably has a foot still in it. I don’t go check. I look at the car . . . no, scratch that . . . I stared stupidly at the car. Shock and disbelief keep me from breathing.
That’s my car.
There are rules and procedures about EMTs being on the scene at collisions involving their family; by law, I’m supposed to walk calmly back to the ambulance and radio in a second unit, wait for them to come process the scene. Yeah, like anyone in their right mind would walk away from their loved ones while they lay injured and dying. Screw procedure, I ran to the car, screaming my wife’s name. I check on my wife . . . the woman in the driver seat, no one is supposed to do this, no one should have to do this . . . I will admit now that my mind was trying to protect me some. The world took on this hazy, unreal . . . dissonance. I knew that she was my wife, but at the same time she was just another victim as I assessed her . . . The driver was dead; I could tell by the way she stared blankly with her clear blue, unfocussed, dead eyes that saw through me into nothingness. They were so beautiful once, now I could barely make out the whites with all of the blood on her face. No airbags, head collision into the steering wheel at a combined speed of one-hundred miles per hour at least, I can hardly tell it’s my wife anymore. It‘s not my wife anymore . . . a closed casket funeral in the works. There’s nothing I can do here. God hates me.
The blood-curdling scream of a baby girl in the back-seat makes my heart stop for a second. My little Molly is strapped into the child seat, bloody, but alive. Moving a few feet down to the backseat window is like swimming against the tide.
I should be moving faster than this, dammit!
Nobody else is reacting! Why is nobody else coming to help? A man is watching from a few feet away, smoking a cigarette while he gets his fix of human mortality. Chances are good that he is the driver of one of the other cars that were stopped; the wreck had caused quite a backup. Part of me thinks he’s beating off, aroused at the sight of a pretty, dead girl. I hate him. “There’s a child inside!” I want to scream, but there is no sound in my throat. The civilian comes closer; not to help, but to see if I can get the girl out. I’m officially better than TV now, and this is more awesome than Survivor. I grab at the handle, pull hard enough to nearly tear it off, but the door is locked. A smart man would have smashed out the window, cut the seat belt, and saved the girl; but it’s my car, my baby, and I am an idiot. I fish for my keys.
I get the door open and the car explodes. It shields me from the fire, but the blast lifts me up and carries me over the railing. I land on a snoring drunk, he smells like beer, vomit and cheap cologne. I feel the hot wetness of his spontaneous emulsion soak through my vest and cling to my skin like self-depreciating regret. My leg snapped when I hit the guard rail; it’s bent funny and I can see my shin bone jutting through my Levis. The drunk, he gets to live, no injuries, but receives felony charges for DUI and vehicular manslaughter.
I lost everything in that instant. My existence became devoid of meaning. I am empty shell, going through the motions of life. I continue to work because people expect me to live and move on, so I act like I have moved on. I’m supposed to have a house to go home to, so I pay for one. I have to carry on appearances for some reason. Perhaps, someone needs to believe that I have a life so that they can go home and feel absolved of me once the day is done. My life is a fraud and I am dead on the inside; anyone with eyes could see that, if they wanted to.
I pull over at some point because I can’t see through my own tears. Nobody stops or wonders. I’m just some crazy, broken man crying his eyes out and no one wants to be bothered with any troubles, but their own.
I don’t know how long I’ve been crying, but it’s midnight, and I realize that I have to kill myself. The clock tells me a new day has arrived and I’m supposed to embrace it and the infinite possibilities that may come. Life is for the living, death is for the dead. I’m dead on the inside, and can‘t stand living anymore.
I should be scared of the pure, lucid calm that washes over me when I realize that the only logical thing to do at this point is take my own life, but I’m not. Actually, I feel . . . peaceful, like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders and all my sins cleansed from my soul. So many people have died in my hands, died while I gave them CPR, died while I tried to make them open their eyes and shrug off the deadly things they’ve put into themselves. One more life should die in my hands, mine, and then I can finally be at rest. Sunrise . . . sunset.
I find myself on the interstate. By the time I’m on 525 I’ve already mapped out how I’ll do it; turn off the lights, turn on the gas, go to sleep. Easy, simple, and painless. Nothing dramatic or messy. I make a note to go by the drug store for some laxatives; I want to spare someone the indignity of having to clean up after my last dying spasms. I add paper to the shopping list. I need a will of sorts, just to make sure they donate my liquidated assets to the Fire Fighter’s Fund; firefighters save lives, they deserve the money. I don’t. People die when I touch them.
I’m so busy going over my death, that I almost miss the thing in the road. My high beams make it glow. Thank God I put on my high beams; I don’t remember doing it, but they’re on. I see it, crimson on gold, and I slam on my brakes so hard I swear I touch the street under my car. There’s a girl in the road. I crank the e-brake, the car fish tails, screeching, complaining, but somehow I manage to stop before I run her over. I don’t know how, but I used skills I never knew I had to keep that car under control and in the lane. It’s 12:34.
I get out. I look at her. Just another dead girl in the street, blood matting her blonde hair; she could have been my Molly. I stare at her; I should feel remorse, but I just feel cold . . . empty. Just another dead girl.
Her eyes flutter open, and she looks at me. Dark blood seeps from the cut in her throat as she mouths the words ‘help me’. Everything changes, and I change with it. My cell phone is in my hand, I place the call. I didn’t know there was enough life in me to put so much urgency in my tone; purpose flowers in needful soil, and I NEED this girl to survive.
I hang up the phone, ignoring the operator insisting I stay on the line. I know that’s what they’re supposed to do. They have a script: 1) Keep them on the line, 2) keep talking to them, the person on the line is someone who does stupid things and can’t think for themselves. I am not stupid. I am a trained EMT and I need both hands to try and keep her alive. I have to keep her alive.
Training isn’t driving me. Fear isn’t driving. Need drives me; someone needs to live so that when I die, I can tell myself that I was someone who was once worth existing. I work feverishly to control her wounds; I take off my shoelaces and tie tourniquets on her arms to keep her wrists from bleeding out any more. The wound on her side; it’s shallow, not a heavy bleeder, not critical. The slash marks across her wrists are bad, so is the stab wound on her leg, near the femoral artery. I tear a strip from my pants leg and tie it around her upper thigh as tight as I can. The bleeding slows, and a small wave of relief washes over me. She could bleed out faster from there than her wrists. The stab wounds on her chest ooze black. I take off my shirt and press hard on them, staunch the flow. There’s so much blood here, more than a single girl like this should have in her. She can’t have much left. A car screams by, I’m thankful I put on the hazard lights; I don’t remember doing that, but the macabre scene before me is hued in amber strobes. Cars pass by, nobody stops, and nobody cares. The world rots from moral cancer while I am trying to save a girl’s life.
I try to stop as much of the bleeding as possible to protect her organs. The limbs might survive being starved of oxygen rich blood, but in the end they are expendable. Her life is not, so I bind what I can. I wrap her in my leather jacket; she’s pale and going into shock. I probably shouldn’t move her, risk of spinal trauma, but the stab wounds say this is a malicious act of violence, not a car accident. I grab a blanket from the trunk of my car, the mini skirt she wears is so short it makes me cry; if my Molly had worn something like that I’d have died of a heart attack. Her legs have turned a pale blue from exposure and blood loss.
I look at her, grab her purse, check the wallet. She is sixteen years old; Jesus Christ she’s just a baby. Her name . . . her name is . . . Molly . . .
My heart hurts. I brush the blood caked hair out of her face, it is starting to get stiff, drying out. I check her pulse, and then rub her icy hands to give them warmth, trying to make her open her eyes. “Molly, can you hear me?” She opens her eyes again. I have to keep her alive. My mind falters; talk to her about something dammit. God dammit she’s a girl, she’s a baby girl! I see her, and she’s my own Molly in front of me. I pull her to me, I know I shouldn’t but leaving her on the hard concrete is…wrong. I cradle her, stroking her face, and I kiss her on top of the head. I talk nonsense to her, to try and keep her in the here and now. “Can you talk to me? Molly, can you hear me? My name is Jon, hi Molly.” She says hi, her voice is so small. I ask her how old she is, she says she’s fifteen. I say fifteen year old girls shouldn’t be out this late on a school night. God, what a wonderful smile she gives me. A smile that melts snow.
“Where’s your family at, Molly?”
“I don’t know.” The words make me hurt. Nothing should ever make a little girl this sad.
“What are you doing out here Molly?” She tells me she’s trying to find her sister, trying to get her to leave her pimp. “Molly, is your sister on the interstate?” She shakes her head, tears running down her cheeks, her eyes scream with pain. I want to cry, I want to scream, I want to tear the face off the sonnuvabitch responsible for this. There’s so much blood . . . WHY AREN’T THEY HERE YET?
“My sister Sarah.” She . . . she blanks out. God that scares the hell out of me.
“Molly? MOLLY CAN YOU HEAR ME? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” I shout into her face. She opens her eyes again, and I laugh, “Don’t scare me like that Molly. Can you stay awake for me please?”
She nods. “I’m so cold, so sleepy.” Jesus . . . God. I hug her; I’m so terrified I’ll crush her. I give her as much warmth as I can. God I’ll do anything . . . GIVE ANYTHING . . . just let her live. Don’t let her die, don’t let Molly die. Not again. It hurts too much, she has to live. She just HAS to. DAMMIT! I’m begging you, please God, I don’t know if you’re listening but just let her live!
The flashing red lights make me cry. A cop and an aid car. I pick her up and carry her to the back of the ambulance. It’s Guthrie; he pays me no mind as he takes the girl from me. I climb into the back with her. Nobody asks any questions while I wipe the tears from my face with bloody hands.
His face is grim. I know that look; he can’t find a pulse. She’s dying; she’s dying right there in front of me. My Molly is dying. “There’s not enough blood in her,” Guthrie says in a southern drawl.
I thrust an arm out, fist clenched. “She’s AB positive, so am I. Here, stick me.” I don’t know if she’s AB positive; I don’t know why I said she’s AB positive. If she isn’t my blood will kill her, but I know she is, for some reason. Maybe it’s the desperation in my voice. Nobody in their right mind would do this! . . . Ever! It’s illegal, we could be arrested! But she’s going to die, something has to be done. We both know this. He gets air out of the line, sticks it in her arm, then mine and I start to bleed.
I tighten my fist and pump my arm furiously. I work myself up trying to get more blood out faster; I can’t seem to bleed fast enough and she’s fading before my eyes. I’m so afraid. God, she has to live. SHE HAS TO LIVE! Guthrie’s not paying attention to me; he doesn’t see me grab the bottle of ephedrine off the side lab, stick a needle in it. I push the air out and inject myself; not a lot, just a little, just enough to make my heart race faster. Not like it isn’t now, God, I feel like I’m the one dying on the gurney, and in a way, I am. It’s 1984 and Molly’s dying in front of me while I jiggle the fucking door handle. I’m Sisyphus, but no matter how many times I roll it up hill, it won’t roll down and crush me; I’m Judas, but no matter how many times I beg and plead, Cerberus’ jaws won’t come down.
The ephedrine works. My heart pounds away: I wonder if I got the air out of the needle before I injected it, but to be honest I don’t care. If she lives, then I can die peacefully, and if she dies then I don’t see any reason to put it off any longer. There’s blood racing, seeping, pouring from me into her empty veins.
Her eyes flutter and she moans a little. Thank you God, maybe she’ll make it after all. I don’t want her to die. I can’t watch Molly die again and be expected to go on, pretending to live. The world has an interesting black haze around it and Guthrie is moving real slow, then incredibly fast. I think I’m delirious.
Her eyes are mere slits, but they are open; she’s smiling at me. They’re taping off the wounds.
I think . . . I can rest now.
Molly . . . Daddy just needs . . . a little . . .
I wake up to the steady sound of a heart monitor, and realize the slow beep is my own. My eyes open to searing brightness, and I shut them again. I try again a little more slowly, letting them adjust. Off to the side, Guthrie and Paige are sitting in chairs, sleeping. I adjust my position and the creak to the hospital bed wakes them; they practically fly out of their chairs when they see me awake. Paige hugs me, invading my personal space to the nth degree. For the moment, I don’t care. Guthrie punches me in the shoulder, “You scared the shit out of me, old man. I turn my back on you to talk to Hendricks, and you go and die on me!”
“I died?” My voice is a croak.
“You were dead for three minutes,” Paige is crying, “you’ve been unconscious for two days. We thought we’d lost you.” She points, and my eyes follow her hand to a pile of ‘get well’ cards and flowers. Apparently, everyone also forgot I’m allergic to pollen. Then again, when you’re dying why worry with little things like allergies.
“The girl,” I ask, trying to get up, my legs feel like jell-o. “Where’s Molly?” The two of them exchange looks, I get this cold feeling in my stomach as I slump back into the bed. Everything goes grey; part of me feels like I’m dying again. “She didn’t make it . . .”
“Of course she made it.” Paige smiles warmly, “You pumped damn near every drop of blood you had into her, kept her alive until they could hook her up for a real transfusion. It’s just . . .” she trails off.
“Knowing her name, it makes sense why you were so willing to give everything up, trying to save her.” Ryan Guthrie shakes his head, “She’s fine, moved out of the ICU yesterday, already working with the police to arrest the guy who stabbed her and save her sister. You did good, you saved her life.”
The month following waking up is a whirlwind; news interviews, testimony, getting my ass chewed, passed around and chewed on some more for breaking every rule EMTs are taught. But I don’t care. It is all worth it. She lived.
Molly breaks the hug, tears wetting her face. “I can’t think you enough, Mister Edgewater.”
“Call me Jon,” I can’t stop smiling, no matter how stupid I’m sure I look.
“Okay, Jon.” She laughs in that perfect warm voice, “I’ll never be able to express how thankful I am. You helped me save my sister, and you saved my life.”
I died in the back of the ambulance, thinking about how much I didn’t care; all that mattered was that she lived. I feel different now, I have a new purpose. For the first time in years I’m happy to be alive. I smile at her. “I’m glad I could help,” I say with sincere modesty.
Inside, I want to thank her; I didn’t save her life, she saved mine.