Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chapter 3

I've been struggling with finding material-and with getting the clarity of mind to turn the ideas into words. Here's another chapter of the fictional story I've posted earlier. The first two chapters are in earlier posts, titled "Chapter 1" and "Chapter 2", respectively. I have no idea how to link to them. Yes, I'm internet retarded.

When I’d finished, I tiptoed over to the refrigerator. I’d forgotten what day it was. Saturday, April 10th. Amy was a teacher at the Elementary School. Since she didn’t have to go into work, I let her sleep and looked over the “Honey-Do List” on the fridge. There was a woodpile in the backyard that had plenty of logs for splitting, and the yard needed a serious clean-up after a snowy winter. I headed down the hallway to the bedroom. I changed my boxers and paused in front of the mirror.

I’d aged a little in the years. My hair wasn’t thinning yet, but there were lines on my face-crows feet around my eyes, and some wrinkles on my cheeks. My skin was getting leathery. My hair was still cropped short, but I’d long since given up the clean shaven look in favor of a trimmed beard. I’d stayed in shape, too, but there were love handles beginning to show, despite my best efforts to the contrary. Luckily, my arms had stayed muscular. The daily grind of lifting obese people into the backs of ambulances had been enough to keep tone and definition, along with my daily exercise regimen.

The scars were still there. Three spots of puckered flesh, faded into my skin. They looked like cigar burns, two on my left side, within an inch of one another, and one more on the side of my neck. They were bullet wounds, shrouds covering the spots where a 7.62 bullet had torn its way through my body and spilled my blood in the sands of a foreign land. Long, jagged lines still crossed my neck and chest, where a grenade had gone off, sending me home. There was a long scar across my chest from a bar fight after I‘d gotten back, too.. The marks had grown lighter, nearly matching the light tan of my skin, but there were still there as a constant reminder of a more violent youth My eyes had grown softer, along with the scars. They were no longer the hard blue ice chips of Sergeant Paul Bauer. They had definitely seen their share of sorrow, that was very evident. But there was love in my eyes now too. It was a far more pleasing sight than what had been.

I threw on a pair of faded jeans, so old I couldn’t tell what brand they were, a plain black tee shirt, and a plaid lined denim jacket. I headed out the back door, and stretched briefly on the patio. We had about a half acre, on the edge of a large tract of state park. There was a lone, battered tool shed in the back right corner. The yard itself had no trees, except a slowly dying Japanese Maple right in the middle of the grass. The yard was yellowed from the winter, but patches of green were beginning to show up randomly. There were sticks, and leftover leaf piles that I’d neglected the previous fall. I ignored them for now and headed to the woodpile on the edge of the property line.

I’d cut down a big pine tree last fall that was threatening to take out the shed. I’d cut the log into sections a foot and a half long, but hadn’t had the time to split them before the snow had hit. I picked up one of those logs up now, and propped it upright between a couple of two by fours. The idea with splitting logs is to go with the grain of the wood, and to let the weight of the axe do most of the work for you. Done properly and even a huge log will split in one or two strokes. Then you have to quarter them so they can fit into a fireplace easier. I went through about twenty logs , then stacked as much as possible in the wheelbarrow and brought them close to the house. It took me two trips.

I enjoyed yard work. It was tedious, but it was mindless, and that gave me a chance to think things over at a basic level. I had never known anything other than Emergency Medicine. I’d enlisted in the Army straight out of high school., and spent three years on active duty before an AK-47 burst had put two bullets within inches of severing my spine. They almost finished the job with a grenade as I lay on the floor. The Army discharged me and sent me home, and I’d nearly drowned in alcohol and self-pity until Amy dragged me out of that hole.

I’d started working as a civilian EMT soon after that and never looked back. I was always frustrated about being an EMT basic, but I never went for my Paramedic. I loved doing my job, but I had never gotten to the point where it truly felt where I should be-the one secret that I’d kept from my wife all this time was that I was always on the verge of quitting, I just couldn’t think of anything else that I was ever good at besides helping folks. Or hurting them. I’d hated that part of me, but even as a medic, I’d been a good soldier, and I’d put down several people that needed it. Part of me missed that, but going back wasn’t an option. I didn’t think I had any options.

I stopped smoking years ago but I wanted one now. I remembered that my partner, Joe had left a pack in my glove box last week and went to get it. Camel silvers-they weren’t my brand and they were stale but I lit one anyway, and turned around as the back door opened. Gracie, our Black lab/beagle mix , came bounding out the door and circled me briefly before running to the far corner of the yard to do her business. Amy saw me smoking from the door but she didn’t say anything. A disapproving look passed her face, but she let me continue. I took a few more drags and reluctantly crushed it out on the driveway, then picked up a pink Frisbee on the lawn and tossed it for Gracie to chase. She took off after it with gusto, and we went back and forth like that for the next half hour before I decided to head in and shower.

Amy was sitting at the table, reading my letter on the laptop. She turned towards me as the sliding glass back door closed, Her eyes were troubled. “I love you,” she said. “And I’ve missed you these past few days. I know it’s been tough, and I don’t mean to push you too hard, if you really don’t feel up to it anymore.” I walked over and placed my calloused hand on her shoulder.
“I sense a ‘but’ coming, hon.” She giggled a little, and it lightened the mood. For a moment she sounded twenty years old all over again.
“BUT…you can’t just quit your job. You need to find something else first. Or we’ll be out of a house.”

I nodded. We’d properly invested my deployment cash and ended up with far more money than most young couples could imagine having. It had served well as a down payment for the house, and helped get Amy through school, but what was left wasn’t enough to live off of. We didn’t have a huge safety net. Without a college degree there weren’t many good jobs out there. Going back to college as a married twenty-seven year old didn’t appeal much to me either. Not to mention that I still had no ideas on what I’d even study. I gave up, went into the bedroom and grabbed a couple of small fishing poles from a rack on our den wall. Amy smiled when I emerged. “Trout’s open.”

We drove down to the creek a few miles away, and climbed down a slope of slippery, wet, leaves. The ground was still very damp from the nights storm, and the distinctive smell of spring earth hung low in the air, heavy with a feeling of growth and new life to come. The little stream was swollen and swift with runoff from the ice melt, and the previous nights storm combined to turn what was normally a trickling, tame creek into a roaring cascade of water, swirling and crashing over rocks. They held unmoving against the deluge, but it didn’t make our prospects for catching newly stocked trout very good. The water would have moved them downstream unless they could find a gentle eddy to suspend in. We found a calm spot and cast a spinner into the foam.

A few hours later we each had two fish. They would be dinner tonight. We’d neglected to take anything out of the freezer, and fish were best fresh anyhow. Amy was an excellent cook. She stuffed the fish with rice, butter and spices, then grilled them over a cedar plank. I opened up a can of corn and green beans and heated them up, then cracked a bottle of white wine. We ate together slowly, though I still had to focus on the slow part. The Army had ingrained in my mind eating quickly and it had stayed that way even years later. My wife found it humorous, but it wasn’t a romantic way to eat.

With a full stomach and a good buzz from a half a bottle of wine, I curled under the covers and wrapped my wife in my arms, but sleep was a long time coming. I watched the red numbers on our alarm clock change from minute to minute and stared over Amy’s shoulder at the wall behind her. I finally dropped off sometime after 3am, an hour before the alarm jarred me back awake to get ready for work. I was working in two hours and dreading the day. Amy rolled out of bed and slipped into her robe to brew coffee and start frying some eggs so I would have breakfast waiting when I got out of the shower. I was perfectly capable of making breakfast, but she was far better. I loved her more every morning that we woke up next to one another.

A pressed blue shirt lay on the dresser on top of a darker set of cargo pants. I dressed reluctantly and padded out into the kitchen in bare feet. I always put my boots on at the last minute. There were three eggs on a plate sprinkled with cheese and peppers and bacon off to the side. A black cup of coffee was steaming next to it. I ate quickly and kissed Amy goodbye at the door. “Hang in there.” she told me. Her eyes were bright even at this early hour. I knew that she could see my pain.

In EMS, they call what I was feeling burnout. It’s when you’ve seen all you can bear seeing, and it manifests itself in many different ways. Some guys get angry at the job, and get belligerent with patients and partners. Some start to freeze up, or worse, completely break down on scenes. Some plod through the day with a blank stare, with no emotions left to stand. I wasn’t sure where I fell on that scale. Most days it was the blank stare, but some days I felt like I was on the verge of breaking. I’d never frozen up yet. I couldn’t even be sure that I was burned out, because I was never entirely sure that this was where I wanted to be in the first place. Shaking my head, I laced up my boots on the tailgate of my pickup, took a deep breath, and walked through the station doors

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