Keeping Pieces (Short Story)
HIPPA demands that we don’t talk about our calls, except in a very generalized fashion, and I adhere to this rule strongly enough to have tweaked the call that this story is based upon very nearly into the arena of unreality. So, here’s what is real and true – the spirit of the child, the sorrow and shock, and finally, the redemption.
For me, this is a springtime story, and no matter how many springs go by, my mind still worries the memory; and I still see this boy when the air begins to gentle into long warm days. Every EMT carries a few pieces around with them – these are mine.
I took a boy on the ambulance once, and he left a piece of himself there with me. I’ve been carrying it around ever since, and sometimes in the black early morning when I am on my way to work, he morphs out of that piece and sits beside me whole. On those days, the scent of spring in the air is only a trick of the mind, lilacs and pussy willows as far away as tomorrow.
He shimmers in death, fresh from another world that my soul knew in infancy. A place that the cold and practical adult, the professional, has forgotten, and wants no part of now.
When I knew him, he was just one of us; on the last day that I saw him, the blood seeping through his wrist bandages was tangible and real - the only color in an otherwise gray day. I knew him, I guess, in the way that most adults know their children’s friends. He was a familiar face, a bright redhead in my yard on beautiful blue football mornings, an easy grin and a maturity that set him a little apart from the other boys.
The kid on my cot that day bore no relation whatsoever to that other bright child. My boys – the boys who decorated my furniture with their lanky forms, ate my food, made me laugh - were at that age where they were as immortal as Huckleberry Finn, and they hadn’t cried in years. If the Jabberwocky lived under their beds, he did so unacknowledged.
But I can tell you now that two weeks later, the monsters won, and this boy was dead. His mother found him curled in the tub like half formed reality, bled out, already gone. And in my profession, helplessness is something that seeps beneath your skin; it lays there like lividity, a large black bruise that won’t go away. And so. The pieces.
You carry them around with you, and you work at them a little, rubbing them the way that a worried thumb will smooth a lucky stone. Sometimes you take them out and look at them, turn them in your palm, and they still look the same. Your failure mocks you.
I should have been able to save that one.
* * *
If not this spring, then the next.
It will come when you are able to let it, and everything will smell so sweet that you have to stop crying. You can’t throw those pieces away, but they seem to weigh less now. Go outside, and look at the branches of the trees against a smooth dove colored sky. Take your little girl on a bike ride, and watch the magical play of sunlight in her hair. Listen and remember. Where you came from, to whom you belong.
Understand that it’s all right to carry those pieces around; you couldn’t get rid of them now if you tried. They soaked into your skin and they course through your veins, and they live. In you.
We carry each other until we get to the other side.
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