I have mixed feeling about this post. I feel that I might be disgracing the memory of this child by telling of her death. But if some further good might come from it then should I post these words?
This is my Tomb of the Unknown Child.
A lifetime ago…
I was on the afternoon shift working 4 pm till midnight. I had enough time on the job to be considered “Senior Deputy”. After about 5 years you start to earn your pay, until then its all a learning curve. I had a rookie with me, just fresh from the police academy. I had seen his type before, a lifelong dream to be a Police Officer. Bright eyed and bushy tailed and he didn’t know shit from Shine-ola. Some make it but many don’t, always hard to predict the winners from the losers. I thought picking a career path at 5 years old was akin to setting a trap in one‘s future, often hard to un-spring.
People should be careful what they wish for. Before the shift would end this Recruit would be doubting his choice.
Fall in the Midwest can be and often is brutal. This was one of those days. A harsh freeze with blowing snow had jumped us. Wind that bites, pockets of blinding white, every footstep squeaks like rusty nails being pulled from old wood. Winter has arrived with the power and fury of a rock slide. A lifeless day when no wild thing would move without reason.
The sky was grey blue as we loaded the cruiser. I stowed my 12 gauge under the leading edge of the front seat. I blip the siren and test the overhear light. Two bulbs under a canopy of blue plastic make their slow rotation and that low whir-whir-whir sound as the rubber belt twisted its never ending course. The take-down spots on either side lit our trunks as we transferred gear. Finally I checked the medical kit, a green ammo box full of Korean War era bandages. All neatly arranged (but slightly yellowing) grey boxes, each wrapped in crisp cellophane. When opened you would find a white bandage wound as tight as a chunk of wood. Cartoon images on the package told which bandage was for what injury. Government cost cutting run amuck.
“Lights, camera, action” I called out to the recruit, “Mount up little brother”. Into the night, into the gathering storm, into another nightmare we drive. Lives would be changed and lost. Things would forever be different for all of us. I can’t remember who I was before this day.
I knew that we were in for a shitload of accidents and I needed to serve a subpoena outside of my patrol area. I cleared it with dispatch and headed for the address, which was in a rural farming community. A small town that didn’t grow beyond it’s initial footprint in the slow twitch of the past 150 years. A four corner town with mammoth oaks down both streets converging at the blinking yellow light. A beer store and a couple of old Churches. Two lanes of blacktop intersecting at 90 degree angles. A checkerboard land split into squares by wire and post. A flat place of cornfield stubble and harrow scars, tinged white by the snow swept out to the distant horizon.
The wind hissed against the wire.
We pull into our destination after a 30 minute ride. The car door yanked against my hand as I opened it. I tag the witness with the subpoena and jump back into the warmth of the always running cruiser. I told the rookie to call us back in service and returning to our area of patrol. As he did the dispatcher asked if we could check the status of an “unknown accident” not far from our location.
As I approach the yellow light intersection I expect to see mangled automobiles, as these sort of crossroads were notoriously bad for T Bone crashes and they always spread out like a hillbilly yard sale. Instead I find nothing. I’m just about to grab the mike and tell dispatch the call was unfounded when I noticed lumps in the road. I turn the car and my headlights lit this stage of horror.
“Those are people” I scream at the now wider eyed and more confused rookie.
“Fuck“, I say to nobody in particular. I can see a car up ahead, on the right shoulder, beyond the carnage. I thumb the trunk release and grab the medical kit and yell at the rookie to re-position the patrol car to close the road, start popping flares and get us some firefighters or EMT out here pronto.
I would again like to point out that I have all the respect in the world for the emergency medical personnel who experience these situations on a daily basis. I have no idea how they do it. I worked in a city and could rely on a quick response from either the fire department or ambulance, or better described, people with medical training that far outweighed mine.
That would not be the case this night. As our situation worsened so did the weather and road conditions. The radio called out a cascade of bad accidents with confirmed injuries. Dispatch had even pulled the Sergeant out of the office to handle calls.
I hear the rookie call for help and by then we both knew we had serious injuries. I was about to find out how bad.
I can remember the finest detail of the next few moments of my life and the ending of another. This is a memory that will never leave me. At times it is almost visible, like a scar. I have learned to live with it. It is part of me.
The rotating blue beacon froze falling snow in time and space like jewels in the dimming light. I start to take notice of a woman screaming. The screams come from the car on the side of the road. I can just see her rocking back and forth behind the wheel. She is screaming, not words but something more like the sounds of a wounded animal, all throaty and dark, guttural. Her screams are muffled by the windows that slowly fog over. A crimson red spider web spreads out from the center of the windshield.
Groans and moans, more animal sounds at my feet.
The father is conscious but completely overtaken by shock. He has suffered an exposed compound fracture of his femur, or upper leg bone. I’m surprised as there is little bleeding. I know that shock has removed his ability to feel the pain. He drags himself on the ground, like a dog that had been hit. I looked at my med kit and this injured human and thought, I haven’t got anything in here that will fix that, and walked towards the next victim.
I took a quick look over my shoulder and noted the rookie was back in the cruiser. I think he was suddenly re-evaluating his career choice.
Hello Mom. This family had been crossing the street together when they were struck by the screaming woman. Mom was lucky, she lost her arm, mangled at the elbow. I do have a bandage for that but she isn’t bleeding too bad either and I’ve got another victim that isn’t moving. Sorry Mom, gotta go.
“Oh no, little princess” I mumble. This final victim is a little girl child about the age of my daughter. I don’t know her name but I have thought of her every day for 20 years now. She was dressed for Church but now sprawled on the frozen asphalt, a marionette puppet with her strings cut, bright white against the swirling darkness of the road. I knelt beside her and listened to her breathing, guppy breaths, I know she is hurt bad. I scoop her head off the ground with my hand and feel broken skull. I breathed into this child and begged her to live. I screamed at her to breathe. I wish I was anywhere but here. Please live beautiful child.
After what seemed like hours I hear the wail of the approaching fire truck. I check this child for signs of life. The guppy breaths are gone. Her eyes are black pools of emptiness. I know she died in my hands. I have failed. The woman still screams in the distance, I feel like joining her.
A firefighter took over for me. I stumbled towards the ditch and toss my medical kit down the slope. I sat on the edge and fished out a Marlboro and lighter. At that time I smoked 3 packs a day, if it wasn’t bowling night. Try as I might I couldn’t get my Bic to flick. I look down and see a blood soaked cigarette and lighter in my hands. I laugh and drop them both. Behind me and around me was all the help I could use. I was trying to muster the strength to stand when a State Trooper tapped me on the shoulder, “You alright Bro” he asked. I shook my head and said, “No”. He said, “I’ll take this case, go home”.
This friend of mine and fellow officer relieved me from this nightmare, I still owe him for that. I drove the rookie to the station and radioed the Sergeant that I was going 10-7 (out of service). He didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t have any answers.
NOTE: I don’t write these vignettes of my experiences to gain your sympathy or praise. I write, this was my life, if I worked for the Circus I‘m sure it would be lighter fare. Feel compassion for these victims, these destroyed families. I was paid well for the job and always knew what I might have to do.
I couldn’t imagine being anything but the Police after I discovered life inside the tape.
I have no regrets.
© 2015, Michael Fulcher. All rights reserved.