There are times I see something that will trigger a memory from years past. It falls on me like a ton of bricks, and brings me back to that time and place. I guess the worst part of it, is that it happens when I least expect it. I zone out to the world around me, and in my mind, relive what I had done before. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lose sleep over any of this, and I function just fine in public, in relationships, and so on. I actually find it comical most of the time.
Occasionally, my wife and I try to get out of the house at least once a week, if only for a few minutes. It’s a nice way to take a break from the daily routine that we find ourselves stuck in. I would recommend it to any married couple who work, and have kids. Usually we go get a coffee, or dessert together, and hope the house is still in one piece when we return. I always instruct the kids to call only if it’s an emergency while we are gone. It’s funny what they perceive is an emergency. Usually, it’s a dispute over what they are watching on TV, or what video game they want to play.
So we head out to get a quiet cup of coffee at a local cafe the other night. We picked up our order, and sat down at a table in the corner. I like my back to a wall, with a view of all the exits. A guy comes in, talking on his phone, rude, arrogant, you know… He orders his drink, and is obviously upset at the amount of time the girl was taking in preparing it.
Finally, they call his name and he picks up his drink. He walks over to the counter where you get extra cream, sugar, cocoa etc., and doing so while he is still talking on his phone. I’m not sure how he did it, but he spilt his “skinny mocha latte” all over his jeans. He turned around towards us, and I saw the brown stain all over the front of his pants. Immediately I was back at the scene of a head-on collision. An 18-wheeler vs. a small imported car.
I got the call on my MDC at about 12:00. I hit the “en-route” button on the touch-screen, and started the 25 minute drive across the county. I was reading the on-screen information, and knew it was gonna be ugly. The fire department already ripped the door off to get the guy out, but he was obviously dead, so they left him in place. The driver was torn in half from the impact, and his head and face were crushed to the point where he was unrecognizable. I needed to get a solid identification. Later, I would have to find his family, and tell them that he would not be coming home. In search of his wallet, I began looking through the passenger compartment. I needed to check his back pocket, where I keep mine. When I pulled him from the wreckage, his legs were still in his jeans, and covered by a cup of coffee. That was the only real similarity to the guy at the cafe.
I must have zoned out for a minute. My wife called my name a few times before I returned back to the real world and heard her. She became upset at me when I told her I wasn’t thinking about anything, and accused me a looking at a girl across the room. I didn’t want to tell her I was thinking about how I pieced a poor guy back together, who’s intestines were thrown about the inside of his car. Didn’t think it was good table talk. I smiled, held her hand, and told her how glad I was to be spending time with her.
As a rookie, I used to have breakfast at the end of my graveyard shift with a wise, gray-haired officer on the verge of retirement. He didn’t speak much, but everyone knew that his word was policy, if not law. He told me to start jotting down some of the things I see at work in a diary. He said I could write a book some day with the material.
In that first year, I saw so much pain, suffering, and dysfunction. I thought it was so profound, that these events would permanently be etched into my memory. As the years passed, all the names and faces began to melt together, and blur. They started to look all the same. Today, I think I am one of those guys who have forgotten more about death, suffering, and dysfunctional people, than most people ever see in a lifetime. I never kept a diary like he insisted. I always thought diaries were for girls.
Now, the memories come back to me at the weirdest times. Like when I’m at a cafe, having coffee with my wife.
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